Making jewelry can be a dirty business, and I don't just mean all the dirt we get on our hands making it. Precious metals, diamonds, and gemstones can come with a side of negative environmental impacts, human rights issues, and corruption if you are not careful. That is why as jewelers and metalsmiths, we have a responsibility to work with ethical vendors and apply practices to ensure that our work does not negatively impact the world or the people in it. Learn a little more about the issues we face and how we address them below. 

Precious Metals

Gold mining, and mining for all precious metals, often destroys the environment and the communities around the mine. 

Gold nugget

Environmental impacts include destroying landscapes with strip mines. Those of us in Colorado are usually familiar with this as we have our fair share of strip/open pit mines. In addition to destroying a landscape, mining also leaves behind polluted, toxic land and water. 

The impact to communities around mines includes displacement and loss of land, with the strongest negative impacts for women, whose access and rights to land is already tenuous in many countries and cultures were mining is prevalent. Additionally, when mines come in they often take the place of other forms of livelihood and replace them with jobs that are dangerous, underpaid, and rife with human rights abuses. 

How we address this: For the items crafted in-store or by the artists we carry, we work with vendors who use recycled metals, such as Hoover & Strong, or ethically sourced precious metals, such as the alluvial gold used in the rings crafted by Ash Hilton

Diamonds and Gemstones

You have likely heard the story of "blood diamonds", which have been used to pay for war and genocide in Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. While those social impacts alone should make you think about the source of your stones, there are environmental issues and other negative impacts on local communities with mining gemstones just as there are with metal mining. 

gemstonesHow we address this: When it comes to diamonds and gemstones, there are a few options we suggest to ensure you are getting a stone with minimal negative impacts. One of the first is to use an heirloom or recycled stone. This can be something from your own family or another piece of jewelry you already own. We also work with a selection of vendors that carry recycled stones which were removed from other pieces of jewelry. These can be a great option as many of these stones are not only a better social and environmental choice but they are often more unique stones. 

Another option we employ is to work with companies, like the Columbia Gem House, that carry fair trade gems with mine-to-market traceability. 

Lastly, we often suggest people consider lab-grown diamonds and gemstones, which have the same physical, chemical, and optical characteristics as their natural counterparts—even trained gemologists often can't tell the difference. 

Sources: Earthworks, Slate Magazine, Ethical Metalsmiths