In the age of corporate social responsibility and a consumer who is more informed than ever, the topic of sustainability is coming into focus for the hard luxury category.
Efforts to provide an industrywide mine-to-market responsible sourcing and traceability solution have yielded some results since the movement to combat conflict diamonds from 15 years ago, including the Kimberley Process, a joint government, industry and civil society initiative to combat conflict diamonds, and the Responsible Jewelry Council, which sets standards and issues certifications for the jewelry trade from mine-to-market.
However, sustainability in the jewelry category is a much broader topic, dealing with issues like ensuring that stones don’t contribute to the harm of workers, environmental impact from the mining process, and the use of recycled gold grain for jewelry castings.
“There is an emerging appreciation among customers and across the industry for ethically sourced materials with increased transparency on where and how materials are being acquired. As a member of the Responsible Jewellery Council, Net-a-porter is committed to the removal of conflict diamonds from the global supply chain, as well as ensuring that all fine jewelry is hallmarked to guarantee the purity of precious metals,” said Elizabeth von der Goltz, global buying director at Net-a-porter.
Sourcing and ethics guides are produced by various nonprofit organizations — such as the Accredited Gemologists Association, or membership-driven organizations like the American Gem Trade Association — which are dedicated to promoting standards in education, research and ethics. But because sourcing spans continents and deals with a variety of governments and regulations, there is no one clear-cut standard set for the industry.
“Responsible sourcing is a key part of our business, from operations through to how we run our businesses, through the end strategy and supporting the communities, it is integral to everything we do,” said Emily Dungey, marketing and communications director of Gemfields, one of the world’s leading suppliers of sourced colored gemstones, which maintains its own standards of sourcing and sustainable practices.
Similar to Gemfields, other large industry players like Tiffany & Co. are committed to not only their sourcing practices, but also engage in supporting communities where the mining operations exist.
“If you are middle of the supply chain, and you want to deal with the big players you have to adhere to their standards. That is how it is all being enforced for now and I think it will continue to evolve. Their process is voluntary but I think they see it as being ethically important in general and it works to help maintain consumer confidence as well. It’s about minimizing the number of hands that things go through so you can get a clearer story of where things have been,” said Tiffany Stevens, president and chief executive officer of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee.
A new narrative is also emerging from the tech sector with companies developing various blockchain platforms to ensure traceability. Last month De Beers launched a pilot program called GemFair, which includes an app that aims to ensure the ethical sourcing of diamonds in Sierra Leone. The De Beer’s software is designed to track a diamond’s journey at all stages and other major players in the category are developing similar programs to ensure ethical sourcing and traceability of gemstones.
“People really think blockchain will revolutionize the industry because you’ll be able to track stones from mine to market, in a very concrete way,” said Stevens.
Here WWD speaks with several designers in advance of the jewelry shows in Las Vegas about how transparency factors into their design process and how they include the consumer in the sustainability conversation.
Designer: Page Sargisson
Retail channels: Love Adorned, Museum of Art and Design and Barneys New York Tokyo.
Any groups or organizations you are a member of: Gold Collective started by jewelers like Blair Lauren Brown, whose family has been mining in Alaska for generations, and Ethical Metalsmiths. I also buy recycled gold from Stuller and Hoover and Strong.
Sourcing in design: It’s hard to control everything in making a custom piece of jewelry, but trying to educate myself and work with gem and metal vendors who have the same values seems to be the best solution for now.
Customer perspective of responsible sourcing: I try to showcase how I reset stones from people’s grandmothers’ rings and so forth. I don’t ram it down customers’ throats, but by showing how we can re-create a weird Eighties ring into a gorgeous pair of earrings, people get the idea. Instagram has been a great venue to share those stories. My wedding clients definitely care and ask specifically for old mine-cut diamonds or to reuse a diamond or gemstone that they have in their family. But the day-to-day clients don’t seem to care as much. Sadly, stores don’t seem to, either, since I don’t think their customers are asking about it. There’s a lack of awareness and it just doesn’t cross customers’ minds.
Designer: Todd Reed
Retail channels: Mitchell’s, Neiman Marcus and Marissa collection.
Any groups or organizations you are a member of: No Dirty Gold
Sourcing in design: Sourcing as responsibly as possible is a core value. I use recycled diamonds primarily in various forms, from fine-diamond “breakouts” to reuse of client material, to the purchase of collections to vintage stones, and industrial lots. The stance is around mining and believing that there is already a lot out there, let’s just reuse and make the old stones beautiful by use of creative design and unique vision. I look at by-products whenever possible.
Customer perspective of responsible sourcing: I like to believe that customers care about the same things I care about. Sometimes the client cares less about my social or environmental concerns and just really loves my design and that is great for me, too. I do the same social, civic and environmental practice regardless of the client or project.
Designer: Wing Yau, founder and designer of Wwake
Founded: Fall 2013
Retail Channels: Net-a-porter.com, Nordstrom Space, Ylang23, Totokaelo, Bird and WhiteBird.
Any groups or organizations you are a member of: Jewelry Industry Summit, Ethical Metalsmiths, Fairmined Gold Licensee and Winners of CFDA x Lexus Fashion Initiative for sustainable fashion.
Sourcing in design: As a trained sculptor, I think a lot about my materials and what they mean — after all, mythology behind a material is part of the ancient history of mankind. So, from a poetic perspective, I think the path a stone has taken before coming into my hands contributes to the story of the material — if there isn’t transparency on a stone’s provenance, it completely loses meaning for me. Beyond poetry, it’s my responsibility as a designer to source my materials as responsibly as I can, and ensure that my stones don’t contribute to the harm of workers and the environment involved in my process. It’s not rocket science — it’s being a decent human being. I think we all can get on board with that.
Customer perspective of responsible sourcing: Social media has been key to educating our customers. Many of our customers come to Wwake for our designs before our sustainability ethos, so we’re careful to pair our sustainability messages with meaningful photography and personalized text to make sure they feel authentic. These pockets of information are marked with the hashtag #Wwakeethos, and are meant to be a peek into the foundation of the brand without being overbearing. It’s important to me that customers appreciate the artistry behind the design first. Customers are often apprehensive about the origins of diamonds and other colored stones and want to be sure that their purchases don’t contribute to the harm of other people or even the environment. It’s an exciting time, because customers have real purchasing power today. When they want to support companies like ours, they’re making a real statement about what they want to buy, and this, ultimately, changes the direction of the entire industry. With Wwake, they know their purchases will change lives. It’s very special.
Designer: Ana-Katarina Vinkler-Petrovic, designer of AnaKatarina
Founded: 2007 as a bespoke jewelry designer. The collection launched in 2015.
Retail channels: Stanley Korshak, Swoonery, Maison de Mode and Latest Revival.
Any groups or organizations you are a member of: I am a member of Ethical Metalsmiths. I use Ethical Metalsmiths and its network to vet the origins and cutting practices of new materials and gems, and have altered my designs to incorporate only sustainable elements. For example, although Ethiopian opals are much cheaper than Australian Lighting Ridge opals, they are not sustainably mined. I will only use the latter in my creations. In another example, I choose to just use casters who use recycled grain sourced from United Casting.
Sourcing in design: Ethical sourcing and sustainable business practices are at the foundation of my business. Since 1999, I have been using ethically sourced Canadian diamonds in my creations. In 2007, I started sourcing recycled gold grain for my castings and in 2012 added fair trade, ethically sourced, and reclaimed gems to my sourcing practices. I only produce my jewelry in the country where I live. In the past 19 years, I have lived and have had ateliers in Boston, Istanbul, Kuwait and now New York.
Customer perspective of responsible sourcing: My responsible sourcing practices are an integral part of my brand identity and my personal ethos. I am very transparent about the journey I took as a humanitarian and war correspondent, which led me to live a life and create work mindful of my effects on the earth and humans. I am known as a passionate communicator and educate not only my customers, but anyone who will listen.
Designer: Tom Heyman of Oscar Heyman
Retail channels: Mitchell’s, Bigham Jewelers, Packouz Jewelers, Josephs Jewelers and Neiman Marcus locations around the country.
Any groups or organizations you are a member of: Jewelers Vigilance Committee, Diamond Manufacturers and Importers of America and American Gem Trade Association.
Sourcing in Design: Ethical sourcing is integral to our business. It is very important to us that our pieces, from the mine to the client, bring beauty and joy into the world. For more than 60 years we have traveled as close as possible to the mines and sources of gemstones. We have worked with some of the same family businesses in Sri Lanka and Thailand for several generations; families that have the same respect and ethics that we do.
Customer perspective of responsible sourcing: Part of the function of our salespeople is to spend time in retail stores educating the store’s staff and their clients about ethical sourcing. We receive and disseminate educational materials from various sources in the industry. Our feeling is that it matters to us at Oscar Heyman that what we sell is ethically and responsibly sourced. This is more important than if it matters to the client. It will always be part of who we are.