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April 28, 2019

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Ethical rush for ‘fairtrade’ gold free of any tarnish

FORGET how many carats — how ethical is your gold? As high-end consumers demand to know the origin of their treasures, some jewelers are ensuring they use responsibly sourced, eco-friendly or recycled gold.

Specialized producers now tack a “fairmined” ecologically friendly label on their output, and the Swiss house Chopard last year became the first big name to commit to “100 percent ethical” creations. The Geneva-based firm, which makes the Palme d’Or trophy for the Cannes Film Festival, says it now uses only verified suppliers of gold that meet strict standards to minimize negative environmental impacts of mining the precious metal.

Among the many certificates and standards claiming to codify “responsible” goldmining, two labels stand out.

They are “fairmined” gold — a label certified by a Colombian NGO — and the more widely known “fairtrade” label launched by Swiss foundation Max Havelaar. Both support artisanal mines that seek to preserve the environment in terms of extraction methods, along with decent working conditions and wages for the miners. Such production remains limited — just a few hundred kilograms annually. Global gold output by comparison totals around 3,300 tons.

Concerned jewelers are keen to ensure they can trace the source of their entire supply to an ethical production cycle and to firms certified by the not-for-profit Responsible Jewellery Council, which has developed norms for the entire supply chain. RJC members must adhere to tough standards governing ethical, human rights, social and environmental practices across the precious metals industry.

The French luxury group Kering, which says it has bought more than 3.5 tons of “responsibly produced” gold since 2015 for its Boucheron, Pomellato, Dodo and Gucci brands, has committed to 100 percent use of “ethical” gold by 2020.

“We are trying to maximize the proportion of Fairmined and Fairtrade gold — but their modest production is in great demand so the bulk of our sourcing remains recycled gold, (which is) certified RJC Chain of Custody,” said Claire Piroddi, sustainability manager for Kering’s jewelery and watches.

Fairmined or Fairtrade gold is “about 10 to 12 percent more expensive. But recycled gold barely generates any additional cost premium,” Piroddi said, since it was already refined for a previous life in the form of jewelery or part of a high-tech product. Going a step further, using only precious metal from electronic or industrial waste is an original idea developed by Courbet.

“We do not want to promote mining extraction or use recently extracted gold, so we sought suppliers who recycle gold used in graphics cards or computer processors. That’s because we know today that more than half of gold’s available reserves have already been extracted,” Marie-Ann Wachtmeister, Courbet’s co-founder and artistic director, said.

She says the brand’s watchwords are ethical and environmental consciousness.

“In a mine, a ton of terrain might contain 5 grams of gold, whereas a ton of electronic waste might generate 200 grams,” Wachtmeister said. “Clients are also demanding an ecological approach more and more — they are aware of their day-to-day impact and consider the origin of what they wear.”

“The issue of supply really resonates with the public at large,” added Thierry Lemaire, director general of Ponce, a jewelery firm that was established in Paris’s fashionable Marais district in 1886.


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