Why Fairtrade Fairmined gold is for us
With World Fair Trade Day on 12 May we thought it was a good time to share the stories of those who are making fair trade an important part of weddings by working with or choosing Fairtrade and Fairmined gold wedding and engagement rings.
We asked couples and jewellers to give us their thoughts on why Fairtrade and Fairmined gold - launched just last year - makes sense to them.
Fairtrade jewellery: a credible choice
We began our tour of Fairtrade Fairmined gold supporters with CRED Jewellery, whose founder, Greg Valerio, spearheaded the campaign to bring Fairtrade and Fairmined gold to market and who were the first jewellery company to bring Fairtrade wedding rings to the public. They created the first jewellery to be hallmarked with the Fairtrade and Fairmined standard for Livia Firth to wear on the Oscars red carpet in 2011.
Annabel Panes is a designer for CRED who has helped to create the company's first off-the-shelf Fairtrade wedding ring range which went into the shops in February 2012. Annabel tells us:
"The thing I love about using Fairtrade gold is that you know that every aspect of the piece is beautiful. I know exactly where every piece of gold in my designs has come from.
"The importance of Fairtrade and Fairmined gold is in recognising that the gold brings value and worth to those who have mined it. That worth is forwarded on to the person who buys it - marking an event in their lives with a piece which is of equal significance to the people who mined it.
"From a design point of view, the journey to use the gold hasn't been an easy process. As Fairtrade gold has grown and developed, the way I have been able to design has equally grown. Fairtrade gold shapes the way I design.
"For my new wedding rings collection for CRED Jewellery, which has just launched, I looked at the place the gold has come from to influence the forms found on the ring. As a designer I think it's important that a Fairtrade piece of jewellery is luxurious in its finish, that it is not just bought because of the certification, but because of the quality of design."
Beautiful design and a beautiful story - why wouldn't you choose Fairtrade? But too often there is an assumption that the premium Fairtrade delivers to the producer will demand too high a premium from the consumer. CRED dispels this myth with their off-the-shelf Fairtrade wedding ring range that starts at just £315.
Alongside CRED, Harriet Kelsall Jewellery Design is one of the first twenty companies to offer fully certified Fairtrade and Fairmined gold. In response to our questions about why people choose Fairtrade gold we were thrilled to receive the stories they had gathered directly from couples taking this path.
Robert and Anne's Fairtrade engagement
Robert and Anne met through an online dating site (even though Anne - wrongly - thought she had cancelled her profile!) and Robert proposed with a "commission in a box" from Harriet Kelsall Jewellery Design at Compass Point above Bude bay in Cornwall.
"We are Christians and the principles of Fairtrade are closely allied with our faith and attitude to other people and the environment.
"Both of us have supported Fairtrade for a long time - I was helping to run a Fairtrade stall when at University twenty years ago; Anne had first-hand experience of Fairtrade in action while working in Rwanda ten years ago.
"Both of us have been excited to see the range of products available in Fairtrade increase over time - Fairtrade gold was a natural choice for the symbols of our new life together. We're looking forward to the time when Fairmined gems are also available."
After the success of the engagement ring, the couple have since commissioned Harriet Kelsall to make their wedding rings in Fairtrade Fairmined gold too.
Mark and Rachel's Fairtrade engagement ring
Mark and Rachel also met online in 2009 and Mark proposed while they were on holiday in Tuscany.
"When we got back Rachel started looking at what type of ring she would like. She already knew she wanted a Fairtrade yellow gold ring with an ethically sourced diamond and Harriet Kelsall Jewellery Design was the obvious choice because of the fair minded principles behind the business.
"For us using Fairtrade gold for Rachel's ring was the only option, especially as an engagement ring is such an important piece of jewellery. Rachel wouldn't feel comfortable wearing gold which people and the environment had suffered to produce."
"We have had a lot of positive comments from friends and family, most of whom had no idea Fairtrade and Fairmined gold even existed before we showed them our ring.
"Although Fairtrade gold is slightly more expensive, we think that it is worth it to know that out ring is as ethical as possible. We compromised on the gold content of our ring (we originally wanted 18c but went for 9c) in order to have Fairtrade gold within our budget."
Carole and Bernard's Fairtrade wedding ring
Carole and Bernard married in 1986. Carole's wedding ring was beautiful but fragile and spent most of its life sitting in a drawer waiting for a lost diamond to be replaced. So with their 25th wedding anniversary approaching they decided to buy a new ring.
"Unable to find the ring we had envisaged we arrived at Harriet Kelsall and realised that we could design our perfect ring. During a conversation with Alice we were introduced to the concept of Fairtrade and Fairmined gold. We immediately felt that this was right for us and we became part of the story of the first 18 carat Fairtrade Fairmined gold in the UK.
"The idea that our special ring could be made by people who were being paid fairly for their work and that our pleasure was not at the expense of people in another part of the world was very important to us.
"During the long wait for the first bar of gold to arrive from South America we learned more about gold mining and how it is often children who risk their lives squeezing into narrow shafts and being subjected to dangerous chemicals down the mine and during the processing. This is the reason that Fairtrade and Fairmined gold is so important.
"It is not only the gold in Carole's ring that has an ethical source. The main diamond has been reclaimed at Harriet Kelsall Jewellery Design from an old brooch and the two smaller diamonds are conflict free.
"Now that the supply of Fairtrade gold is flowing, new customers can have the satisfaction of knowing they are doing a lot of good for gold miners without the long wait.
"The quality of the ring is wonderful as would be expected from something that has been produced in a fair and just way. We believe that the ring shines brighter for having been mined and produced for the benefit not only of us but for the miners and villagers of South America."
A beautiful story
Harriet Kelsall's designers were also keen to tell us why they feel it is important to work with Fairtrade and Fairmined gold. Here is Alice Rochester's story.
Alice Rochester - senior jewellery designer
"I have always been aware of the idea of fair trade, since my Mum used to buy gifts from Traidcraft when my sister and I were little.
"I have tried to support Fairtrade wherever I can, so when I joined Harriet Kelsall Jewellery Design and was asked to do a bit of further research into the ethics of jewellery I jumped at the chance.
"Harriet has always pushed our dealers to tell us more about where our stones and our gold come from, and so we were absolutely delighted when we discovered we could source pre certified, fairly traded gold.
"To begin with it was only available in limited forms which made it a little more difficult to work with - the 'grain' form they were offering is great to cast with if you're making lots of identical pieces but each of our unique designs had always been made by hand!
Hard work pays off
"We started a two prong attack - persuading our suppliers to form fairly traded 18ct yellow and white gold into sheet and square wire so we could at least work by hand with this, as well as investing in a CAD system so we could eventually do some construction work on the computer for the single item of jewellery to be cast into the fairly traded alloy our customers had chosen.
"Meanwhile, we spent lots of time talking to the people who were involved with trying to make the ‘pre certified' gold certifiable by Fairtrade International (FLO) and the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM).
"We were so excited when this all came through! We were told that the launch of Fairtrade and Fairmined gold would be on Valentine's Day 2011 and we were invited to be one of the first of twenty companies worldwide licensed to use it.
"While all this was going on we kept talking to our customers about the imminent arrival of the certified Fairtrade and Fairmined gold and this was how we began work on Carole and Bernard's ring (read their story above).
"Of course the point of Fairtrade is to work with small scale, artisanal workers and their communities. As a result there was rather a lull between the actual launch of the Fairtrade and Fairmined gold and its arrival in the UK for general use - the miners had to mine enough gold to export it to us once the paperwork had all cleared.
"This meant that even in February we still couldn't get started on making the rings for Carole and Bernard who had been waiting since November.
"Luckily they completely appreciated the pioneering nature of the Fairtrade and Fairmined certification process and were happy to wait to be a part of this process from the beginning."
We asked Alice how things had changed for the company since being able to offer fully certified Fairtrade and Fairmined gold.
"We take great pride in knowing that we can now offer Fairtrade and Fairmined gold to our customers. As consumer awareness of Fairtrade grows people are more likely to search online for an ethical option for their jewellery and find us this way, but we offer it to most customers even if they haven't asked for it - generally the difference in cost between making a piece in Fairtrade gold and ‘standard' gold isn't as much as they expect.
"We're finding that people are more and more likely to go ahead with the Fairtrade option because of this and they are really pleased to know that their jewellery is as ethical as possible.
Not too good to be true
"The great thing is that, unlike the first incarnations of Fairtrade coffee (which sounded good but tasted horrible!) Fairtrade gold is physically identical to ‘standard' gold, but you've got the reassurance that the people who have mined it and their communities have been well treated and well paid for their work. There is no reason not to use it!"
Harriet Kelsall designer, Rebecca Howarth added these thoughts on her experience.
Rebecca Howarth - Head of Design
"It was tricky at the beginning to get our hands on the Fairtrade and Fairmined gold. Customers were keen to use it but we had a delay with the metal while the process was being sorted.
"Initially we could order the gold in 4mm square wire and sheet in 18ct yellow and white gold to hand forge the rings. But now we can cast into 9ct white and yellow gold as well as the 18ct allowing most designs to be made in Fairtrade and Fairmined gold. Once we are able to source rose gold the sky is the limit with Fairtrade and Fairmined gold!
"The process for recording the Fairtrade and Fairmined gold rings is strict. All Fairtrade and Fairmined jobs must be approved by the Fairtrade Foundation before we can start ordering or making the project.
"The making instructions along with information on the weights and how we will purchase the metal (from which supplier) need to be specified before the project begins. When everything is confirmed we can start the project.
"Once we have made the ring it is sent off to have the Fairtrade and Fairmined stamp applied. The company is audited regularly to make sure we comply with the standards at every stage.
"Not only does the customer receive a unique piece of jewellery crafted especially for them, they have the satisfaction of knowing it has been made as ethically as possible."
All's fair in Mayfair
Our next stop was 35 Bruton Street, Mayfair with jewellery designers, Ingle & Rhode. We asked them what they thought about the impact of the new certification for gold:
"From our point of view, the Fairtrade mark does a lot to raise public awareness of the ethical problems in the jewellery industry - these days most consumers recognize what the Fairtrade logo means, and this is very helpful in drawing attention to the issues.
"Increased consumer awareness is sure to lead to increased consumer demand for ethical jewellery, and in the long run that is good news for the miners."
We wondered whether the bureaucracy involved in being a part of something as huge as Fairtrade posed a problem for jewellers but Ingle & Rhode said:
"Logistically, it hasn't been a big problem. Last week we were audited for the first time by the Fairtrade Foundation, and the process was less of a headache than we might have expected.
"The Fairtrade Foundation seem to be very much on top of what they are doing, and running things very efficiently."
Honouring the origins of Fairtrade gold
On the other side of the Atlantic, Brilliant Earth said they were delighted to add the option of Fairtrade gold to their collection of ethical jewellery (they also offer recycled gold, traceable precious stones including diamonds and lab created diamonds).
In recognition of the origins of their Fairtrade gold - Oro Verde in the Chocó region of Colombia, South America - they have produced a Fairtrade gold pendant with a polished Colombian petroglyph design on one side while the other has a rough-hewn hammered finish.
Building on strong foundations
We ended our Fairtrade Fairmined tour with Vivien Johnston of Fifi Bijoux who was on tenterhooks waiting for the certification to come through.
"As you know, Fifi Bijoux was the original 'ethical jewellery brand' - we've been waiting since 2006 to use the words 'Fair Trade' in the branding (until the gold was certified as such). I'm delighted to see the reaction from customers since we created our first ring last year which could be stamped with the Fairtrade Fairmined ECO mark.
"We're working with our original mining partners, Oro Verde in Colombia, who really led the way in the Fairtrade Fairmined gold story. As we've had such a longstanding relationship with them, I can't say it has been anything other than a pleasure to continue to create custom- made rings which can now be certified as both Fairtrade and Eco.
"I know Oro Verde are keen to bring more miners to their programme; we hope that as the demand for the mark continues to grow it strengthens their model and enables this growth.
"Fifi Bijoux is also the first jeweller to sign the Fair Gems Process mandate: this initiative in Sri Lanka created by a French NGO is producing stunning sapphires and gems which are polished by young disadvantaged women (aged 18-24) who are given a scholarship to a 2-year course in the art and science of gem polishing and gemmology.
"Given the scale of Sri Lanka's gem export economy, this is a valuable career for young women who have faced challenging situations. The charter covers the supply chain from mining right through to retailer, which fits exactly with our ethos. I'm also the UK distributor for Open Source Minerals for traceable and ethical diamonds.
"Who knows - we might see Fairtrade Fairmined diamonds and coloured gemstones in the future!"
Who knows Vivien? After hearing from couples and designers so dedicated to the cause of fair trade jewellery, we're sure we won't have to wait long.
- Find out more about the ethical jewellers on Ethical Weddings
- Read posts on the Ethical Weddings blog about fair trade gold