Finally, the time comes for you to buy the rings...
You and your partner pass through the glass doors of your store. The jeweler knows why you have come—he can see it in the light in your faces, how your bodies casually lean into each other as you look into the cases.
“We’re looking for a unique wedding and engagement ring set,” you say. Already, she is pointing to a white gold designer ring with a floral pattern and a one-carat diamond.
For years you’ve dreamed about getting married and now, with the ring, it can feel a little scary. But you can feel the beauty of what you have together and the mysterious connection you share that make life a miraculous gift.
Yet as she picks up the ring, she expresses some hesitation. It was hard enough for you to even get her to come into a jewelry store. You had to tell her, this store is different—really.
“What about the issue of blood diamonds,” she asks.
“Our Canadian diamonds are traceable straight to a mine that has third party oversight,” he says.
She likes diamonds, but for yourself, you’re not 100% percent sure about getting one.
“If you prefer a colored gem, we have fair trade sapphire from Malawi,” he says, pulling out a tray of gemstones.
“What about the gold?” she asks, mentioning the news magazine television shows about conflict gold… dirty gold….child labor gold.
“You have a choice—wedding rings made with recycled gold, or fair trade gold wedding rings, where the gold is traced straight back to a small-scale mining community in Peru that is third party certified.”
The jeweler pauses a moment, and looks you in the eye and asks, “Shouldn’t the sourcing of the ring reflect a life-giving, hopeful future?”
Of course. It makes total sense. And the amazing thing is, for the first time, such rings are available.
How we got here
Until the last few years, with the birth of the ethical sourcing movement within the jewelry sector, the material from which jewelers make their products was viewed only as commodity-- no different than lumber or oil.
That material that makes up jewelry is sourced from mines and what usually comes to mind when most people think of mines are huge open pits and earthmovers with ten-foot tall tires. Yet between 13 and 20 million men, women, and children from over 50 developing countries work in small scale artisan mines, often in impoverished areas associated with corruption, war, and terrible environmental conditions.
According to the World Bank, over 100 million people depend upon small scale mining for survival. These artisanal miners produce more raw materials and benefit more people than all the large scale multinational operations combined. The small-scale miners around the world supply 20 to 30 percent of newly mined gold and up to 90 percent of all colored gemstones. Almost all of them live in abject poverty.
The gold mining by small scale miners, in particular, is an extremely toxic activity. Mercury, one of the most dangerous of all neurotoxins, is used to extract gold from ore. Once it gets into an ecosystem, it wreaks havoc on human and ecological communities.
Over the last few years, a few jewelers around the world have begun to create wedding rings made from recycled precious and fair trade gold. These jewelers are passionate about creating ethical jewelry that really benefits small scale producer communities.
How To Buy Ethical Wedding Rings
These days, the ethical movement in the jewelry sector represents only a tiny percentage of its overall sales. Few mainstream jewelers will truly be concerned about the sourcing issues until they feel they can make money from the trend. You can actually make a difference by choosing to work with an ethical jeweler, or even by walking into a mainstream store and asking about mine-to-market traceability and transparency. In doing so, you will bring your humanistic values in alignment with your purchasing decisions.
The challenge for the conscious customer is that the market is a bit like a jungle. There is a huge amount of spin. The term, “conflict free” actually is meaningless. In fact, about 15% of diamonds entering the supply chain are conflict diamonds labeled as “conflict free diamonds.” These include those from Zimbabwe, where human rights atrocities are common.
What you need to do is actually pretty simple. When you go into a store or visit a jewelry website, you simply need to know where exactly the gold, diamond or gemstone actually comes from. If the jeweler cannot tell you this simple information, just assume that their product is not conflict free.
The good news is, there are many small jewelry companies that are actually making ethical jewelry. Their unique wedding and engagement rings are not only truly conflict-free, they are also competitively priced. By supporting these companies, you not only will have an artisanal wedding ring that is beautiful—you will also be helping to create a more beautiful world.
Marc Choyt is President of Reflective Images, an ethical jewelry company that selling unique designer wedding rings online and conflict free diamond artisan wedding and engagement rings at Artisan Wedding Rings. His company produces eco-friendly, recycled gold, platinum and palladium wedding and engagement rings and ethical Celtic wedding and engagement rings. Marc also a jeweler activist and Director of Fair Jewelry Action, USA, supporting green, fair trade, socially responsible jewelry practices.
Can you imagine walking into a bridal expo with vendors who will turn you away based on who you choose to marry? Unfortunately, this may be easy to imagine, because it’s not abnormal for vendors to decline services to same-sex couples. Co-owner of Rainbow Wedding Network, Cindy Puechl-Sproul, often says, “LGBT couples can walk down the aisle in the morning and in many locations still get fired from their jobs that same afternoon for who they’ve married.” In today’s world, we’ve come so far as a nation in regard to equality; however, in many ways we’ve taken steps back. Even though gay and lesbian couples can now legally get marry in all 50 states, since the SCOTUS decision in June 2015 there have been over 200 anti-LGBT pieces of legislation proposed in locales all across our country!
Did you know that many wedding expos actually have an employee walk around with a piece of paper that has an equality sign printed on it? These employees are tasked to ask vendors if they support equality and same-sex couples getting married. If the vendor does support and accept LGBT couples, they will put the equality sign on their booth. If a vendor declines and chooses not to put the sign of equality on their booth, they’re making it known that same-sex couples are not welcome to do business with their company.
Joel Bagnal with Joel Bagnal, Goldsmith experienced this when he participated in a larger bridal expo in the Orlando area. At first, his immediate response was shock that he was even being asked if he would turn same-sex couples away and quickly replied, “Yes, I want the equality sign on my booth! Why would you NOT want to be a part of EVERYONE’S wedding?!” He was so dismayed by the amount of vendors who did not accept same-sex couples, that Joel himself decided to create jewelry to specifically honor the LGBT community.
Joel is an expert goldsmith with an M.Ed. and an M.F.A. in Metalsmithing, he teaches and creates metals programs for Cedar Crest College and Boston University, and he is a National Endowment for the Arts grant recipient. You can find his work in the Smithsonian Institute Collections, the Collections of the Minnesota Museum of Art, and at his current shop located at 11C, Aviles Street, St. Augustine, FL.
Joel has also worked with LGBT couples for many years to create that perfect wedding ring.“For over 40 years, we have offered distinctively handmade designs in gold and silver jewelry. We commemorate marriages, partnerships, and any special occasion or relationship with collaboratively designed objects of adornment. We provide expert advice in diamonds and gemstones. We serve clients,” he emphasizes, “not customers.”
Needless to say, Joel was ecstatic with the recent inspiration to get started on his new equality line. Immediately after the bridal fair, Joel got to work on his fresh ideas. Shortly after, the Heart of Equality line was created. Together, Joel blends a heart symbol with an equal symbol inside to represent love and equality. This uniquely delicate design is a timeless piece that one can wear at any time with any wardrobe. The Heart of Equality line is offered in studded earrings, beautiful earrings that hang, charm bracelets that can also be worn as an anklet, and as a necklace pendant. This exquisite jewelry line can be worn by all genders in any walk of life - anyone who supports the LGBT community’s right to equaity.
You can find Joel’s Heart of Equality line on his website, https://www.joelbagnalgoldsmith.com/. Also, if you’re looking for unique wedding rings, Joel creates custom wedding bands that are designed specifically for you and made to reflect your personalities as individuals as well as your union as a couple.
Joel Bagnal, Goldsmith