Gold Part two: History and Ethics
I hope you enjoyed my last blog post all about gold. If you missed it you can read it here.
Last time in part one I took you through all the gold coloured jewellery options, and this one is dedicated to the holy grail, solid gold. First we'll look at its history and ethics.
So we learned last time that anything that’s gold plated, filled, vermeil or toned is another metal or material given a gold colour in some form or other, and that while these can be a great option in achieving a gold sheen at an affordable price, they aren’t valuable, hard wearing or the most sustainable option.
So lets learn about the real deal, solid gold, starting with its history and where we are now in terms of ethics...
Gold has had huge cultural significance since the dawn of civilization. As civilisations developed on different continents, and before they had even encountered each other, one thing they had in common was the importance they placed on gold. And this is with good reason. Not only is gold beautiful, it is also arguably the most useful metal there is. It doesn’t tarnish, it conducts electricity, and it is very malleable, meaning it can be shaped and formed without breaking. Although long abandoned as actual currency it has remained a consistent asset through the ages, not losing its value in times of economic turmoil (forget crypto, give me gold any day).
Gold mining began on a very small scale. In the 1900’s gold rushes were widespread across Australia, New Zealand, and the Americas, and fueled mass migration. We’ve all seen the old western films where they pan for gold right? My kids try to do that in any stream they come across and regularly gift me brown rocks to melt down and make my jewellery out of. Thanks kids.
In the 20th and 21st centuries gold has largely been mined by large corporations, although because of its increased value, there are now increasingly more small scale artisanal mines.
In recent years we are increasingly more aware of the significant environmental and human rights issues in large scale gold mining. Because it uses toxic chemicals, mining can cause contaminated water both through these chemicals themselves and damns failing due to mine waste. Mine waste can also cause enviromental damage on land as deforestation occurs and waste heaps leach toxic chemicals into the soil.
Workers rights are another issue in the industry and are not just limited to low wages but also child labour and exposure to often dangerous working conditions. There can be human rights issues associated with jewellery manufacture also, similar to those in other areas of fashion.
So where does that leave us?
Thankfully, increased awareness of these issues along with the wider sustainability movement has led to wider availability of recycled gold. There’s really no need to use anything else these days as there is so much gold already in circulation. There has also been a movement towards supporting small scale miners through fairtrade gold.
I make all my pieces in recycled gold. I am also a registered fairtrade goldsmith so I can source fairtrade gold for commissioned pieces. This is gold that is sourced from small scale miners who receive a fair deal for their hard work, and mines that reach the internationally recognized fairtrade gold standard.
Manufacturing wise, as you know I handcraft every piece myself in my workshop in Dublin. But just like with clothes, I would always encourage you to ask where and by whom your jewellery is being made. Don't make assumptions based on imagery, clever wording, or a hefty price tag. Anyone selling you jewellery should be delighted to talk you through how its made and by whom (getting us to stop talking about it is often the bigger problem).
Although I only use recycled or fairtrade gold, I believe that I can do more with my business to help. That’s why, when you buy a piece from me, 10% of the profits go to TLM. TLM is an incredible charity founded by Irish paediatric oncologist Dr Trish Scanlan which supports children with cancer in Tanzania. Tanzania is one of the worlds largest gold and gemstone mining countries. Before TLM began their work, 9 out of 10 children there did not survive their cancer as treatments were largely unavailable. You can read more about the work of TLM here.
The final instalment of the gold series will look at gold karat and colours. If you’d like to sign up for my email list I’ll keep you informed when a new blog post is published. You can email me at email@example.com to sign up, or just sign up via the form on the website (bottom of the home page).