With a feverish focus on eco-friendly materials in top fashion and jewelry houses, considerable effort is being made to bring awareness to human rights, welfare, sustainability and responsibility when it comes to the raw materials that produce luxury goods.
Until the movie Blood Diamond came out in 2006, few knew about the dark side of the sparkling gems so many sell, buy and wear without a thought. Today’s consumer, however is equally concerned with provenance as Color, Clarity, Cut and Carat, the 4Cs standardized by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Luckily, there are organizations that are offering clarity of another kind, transparency in practices.
The Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) began in 2004 with the aim to improve the lives of gold miners as well as their families and communities. They work to create better environments in artisan and small-scale mining operations by protecting the wildlife habitats and natural resources people in the communities rely on.
The Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) was organized in 2008 to offer practices and compliance guidance to help jewelry makers source and track precious metals. Based in the UK, they created a certification in 2012 that guarantees tracking of raw materials from mine to retail, named Chain of Custody (CoC). The goal is to make sure recognized standards are met regarding human rights, labor, environmental impact and business practices.
“Do you know where your diamonds come from?” It can seem to be an innocuous question, when your first response might innocently be, “from my grandmother,” or, “from the jewelry store.” But it is questions like this that have inspired executives at some of the world’s leading jewelry houses to take note and start taking steps to become luxury’s top names in conscious consumerism.
Richard Mille worked with Natalie Portman on a design project to raise money for the Free the Children Charity, and she wore their first conflict-free diamond set watch, the RM 007 on the red carpet.
Tiffany and Co. has been recognized in a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) study. They are hailed for spearheading efforts to raise awareness of human rights at all points in the multi-phase process of taking gold and diamonds from mine to market. They have helped bring forth the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) and Development Diamond Initiative (DDI) which organizes and educates about responsible artisanal mining.
July, 2018 marks the deadline Chopard set for itself to become the first jewelry maker to use only responsibly sourced gold. This is the result of supporting independent cooperatives and helping them achieve Fairmined certification, meaning they meet “world leading standards for responsible practices.” Chopard’s responsibility initiative, launched in 2013 was inspired by the work done by Livia Firth and her Green Carpet Challenge. Firth encourages the idea that glamour and sustainable and responsible practices as well as eco-manufacturing can coexist beautifully.
In the fashion industry, the focus is on replacing certain materials with other, more eco-friendly ones. When it comes to diamonds, there are synthetics and real lab-grown diamonds. Swarovski and even DeBeers have been creating diamonds in the lab with a process of replicating and speeding up the conditions necessary to create them. The resulting stones are indistinguishable to the naked eye, and chemically and physically identical to one coming out of a mine. The GIA is also investing in growing diamonds in labs, not to sell, but to study, and currently has one of the only machines that can distinguish a grown diamond from a mined one.
The Diamond Foundry, formed in 2013 by engineers at Stanford, Princeton and MIT was one of the first to address the issue of conflict-free sustainability, and it is no wonder they drew in Leonardo DiCaprio as an initial investor after his experience filming Blood Diamond. CEO Martin Roscheisen says their goal is to “produce aboveground diamonds in America that are 100 percent carbon-neutral.” Already celebrities like Emma Watson have been seen on the red carpet wearing these lab-grown sparklers.
Fairmined gold is also making a showing in other circles. The 2016 Nobel Peace Prize medal, awarded to Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos was minted of Fairmined gold that came from two small-scale mines in Colombia. The medal is not only fitting to the recipient, but also to the premise of the prize itself, which is awarded to those whose efforts will benefit mankind.