Would you knowingly wear a wedding ring or a pair of earrings created by mistreated labor or made with metal that was mined without regard to the environment?

Though we buy jewelry to mark special occasions or commitments, jewelry, to many independent jewelers, is just a commodity. Please know that if you’re not asking your jeweler the ten questions in this article you may well be supporting practices that are – at best – morally unacceptable.

Knowledge is power – and so are your dollars. Believe me, as the owner of a jewelry company, I know jewelry companies pay attention to their customers’ questions and concerns. Certainly many in the jewelry industry who I count as my friends want to be socially and environmentally responsible, but they don’t believe the market is there. Help me prove them wrong!

1. Do you have any fair trade jewelry products?

This is an obvious place to start the conversation, but it’s important and their manner of responding to you will tell you a great deal about their overall commitment to your peace of mind.

Do they seek to change the subject quickly? Or do they answer with a proud “yes”?

At present, Fair Trade jewelry manufacturing is just in its initial phases in the mainstream jewelry industry. Third party fair trade certification is not available for any jewelry products and there are some companies that make valiant attempts to adhere to basic principals of fair and equitable exchange. These include companies that are manufacturing in the US and a few that are manufacturing internationally.

2. Who made this piece of jewelry?

Try to drill down with this question and ask about components, such as the metal, gem and even chain, all of which can come from different places. The answer, “I do not know,” can be perfectly legitimate because this information is not commonly known by all sales people. At that point, you might ask for the answer to be researched.

The jewelry business, like many other businesses, purchases outsourced materials from places such as China, Thailand, India and Indonesia. A few American designers still have small shops, and it is not unusual to have a bench worker with a CADCAM in an independent jewelry store. Though technically not fair trade, jewelry from an American manufacturer is more likely to be able to be traced to its sources.

3. Where did the gold and silver from the jewelry come from?

It is possible to purchase domestic gold and silver from a major refining company that recycle metal, as we do for in house fabrication. It just might cost a little bit more.

Outsourced pieces can come from any source-even dirty gold. Even a company that tries to work only with gold from recycled sources cannot be assured in all cases where the metal comes from simply because it takes so many components to creates one piece of jewelry.

Ideally you will be able to get this level of disclosure from your vendor.

4. Where were the gemstones mined?

Your jeweler may not be able to offer up an immediate answer, but he or she should be able to with time, find the answer to this question. Even in my small company, we have hundreds of gemstones and they come from just about every continent. Yet research is possible.

5. How does the mining at this site impact the environment?

A jeweler might have difficulty with answering this question, yet you may learn something which influences your decision. Particularly with the more boutique gems, a jeweler might have a direct relationship with a mine source, which results in particular gems which can be sold at a premium.

If the gem is mined in Canada or some part of the US, you can be more certain that it follows certain environmental standards.

6. Do you know the labor conditions at this specific mine?

As in question five, this question is perhaps easiest to answer in the larger, more expensive stones which at times can be traced to a source. In many cases, a jeweler is dealing with a secondary source in a gemstone purchase-buying from someone who has no direct contact with the mine itself.

7. Can you tell me about where the piece was cut and the labor standards they practice in the gem factory?

After gems are mined, they go to a cutting factory. There are thousands of small, artisan cutting factories. Conditions vary from place to place. Some gem dealers, however, cut their own stones and it might be possible for a jeweler to actually know what the conditions of the factory are.

8. Do you have a fair trade gemstone available as an alternative?

One can get some gemstones on a fair trade basis. This is particularly true for rubies, emeralds, sapphires and many other precious gemstones.

9. How sure are you that this diamond is one hundred percent conflict free?

No jeweler in the US in his right mind would knowingly purchase a conflict diamond. Yet Amnesty International still reports conflict diamonds are being sold. Canadian diamonds are an option, and there is a movement to produce Fair Trade diamonds, but ultimately where you buy your diamond becomes a matter of how much you trust the seller.

10. What do you – retailer or manufacturer – do in your business to support environmental sustainability?

There are a number of things that a jeweler can do to support environmental sustainability, from recycling to using chemicals which are less toxic to the environment, all of which will save money. To see how aware your jeweler is of these issues is good information to know as it’s an indicator of their overall conscientiousness towards sustainable and responsible business practices. See my article on this subject also in this blog.

In Conclusion:

It’s up to all of us – precious gem and metal suppliers, jewelry manufacturers, retailers and customers – to promote trade that is fair and equitable to everyone involved. Knowledge is power – and asking these questions gives you the power to spend your money in a way that will change the world.

With your support, we can create a grass roots movement that will change the way business is done.