The Incorporation of Goldsmiths has been up to great adventures in the field of ethical jewellery and sustainability. We hear about their recent ethical jewellery symposium and get some key takeaways from the day. Plus, find out about their soon-to-be-launched online resource for informing jewellery designers who want to work towards an ethical practice. Take it away, guys!
In partnership with the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, we held our first ethical jewellery symposium. It’s in our Hands – The Future of Ethical Making in Scotland was a one-day workshop which supported sustainable jewellery practices.
The symposium looked at issues of ethics in the jewellery industry, how and why to adopt an ethical jewellery practice. We had an incredible line-up of internationally renowned activists, jewellery makers and professionals in the luxury industry who offered a wide range of perspectives on the most important steps of setting up a sustainable fine jewellery business. These included:
- Greg Valerio - pioneering ethical jewellery designer and activist
- Ute Decker - ethical jeweller and researcher
- Karen Westland - jeweller and silversmith
- Dr Peter Oakley - the Royal School of Art
- Vivien Johnston
- Marian Brown - founder of Ostrero
- Mary Michel - Director of the Incorporation
Tips on Starting Your Ethical Jewellery Practice
We have selected the most important takeaways from the Symposium and the following workshop.
Greg Valerio’s Advice: Know Your Source!
Fairtrade ethical jeweller and passionate activist Greg Valerio fights for social and environmental justice within the jewellery sector. He started the symposium off with a bang, gold bullet in hand. Greg pioneered the ethical jewellery sector in 2004 when he launched CRED, the first ever ethical jewellery brand. Greg did not come into his jewellery business as a jeweller. He was an activist first, maker second. He stressed that to ignore the realities of the industry, to remove jewellery from where it begins in the destructive mining industry, is to lie to yourself and to your customers. He began his talk by telling all of us that we are all in the mining industry. His advice for future ethical designers is to first ask ourselves how we are going to tell our unique stories (and the story of what you create). “Objects with a genuine story sell, when you can tell your buyers about the provenance and systems of production of your creation, they will sell themselves”. A phrase that seemed to ring true for the makers was Greg’s claim that “there is no blueprint for being an ethical jeweller and being ethical can’t be defined on the external, there is only what is inside you”. During the practical workshop, he also stressed the importance of giving yourself time to develop your ethical practice.
Greg’s final words of wisdom: Before you can even talk about ethics in the jewellery sector, two critical elements must be met - transparency and traceability in the supply chain, without which there is no foundation for an ethical practice. You, the small-batch maker can put pressure on your suppliers! Never stop asking what, who, why and how and where - know your source!
Ute Decker: Storytelling in the Centre of your Practice
Coming from a background in political economics and journalism, Ute Decker was brought to a career in ethical jewellery making by her indignation to matters of injustice in the mining industry. For her, jewellery is a creative passion and her ethics come from inside, they are not market led and this is what creates the beauty in the story of her pieces. Ute, like Greg, is a proponent of Fairtrade gold and of fully traceable supply chains. She pointed out that being able to tell the positive story of the origin of her designs is what has earned her tremendous market success because the practice of storytelling helped her build a relationship of trust and identification with her customers. During the practical workshop, she shared her ethical studio practices and resources covering her nine years of research into ethical jewellery practices. Many of Ute’s studio tips and supplier lists can be found on her website.
Led by Greg and Ute, the practical workshop on ethical jewellery practices explained often confused terms, such as Fairtrade and Fairmined, eco-gold and fair-trade and provided ground for debate on further controversies, such as the use of recycled metals.
The Ethical Jewellery Resource
At the start of 2017, Incorporation of Goldsmiths started gathering practical information from jewellers, activists and researchers on work techniques, material sources and suppliers, and networking opportunities. The aim is to bring together the fragmented information surrounding ethical making and present it in an easily understandable and accessible format. This information will soon form the basis of an online living document and meeting place for makers to share information, challenges and tips. We hope that the community of ethical makers will help with this growth by continuing to tell us about their experiences and challenges. Please let us know what would be most useful for you in the resource via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to Ava for the fabulous summary of the event. If you want to know more, head over to the Incorporation of Goldsmiths.