Argyle diamond image courtesy of Origin Australia

Jewellery Ethics … it doesn’t start and finish with diamonds

One of the things that really strikes me in the current dialogue about the shifting interest towards ethically sourced jewellery is the largely singular focus on diamonds.

The diamond industry is getting it act together — slowly

No question things are improving in the diamond sector. Though the tens of millions of people directly and indirectly involved in Artisanal Small Mining (ASM) in developing nations still have it pretty bad.

By comparison, diamond miners aren’t the worst offenders

Don’t get me wrong, diamond mining isn’t good for the planet — certainly not from a habitat destruction point of view. But let’s put it in perspective.

Precious metals are significantly more damaging

Basically the same social issues exist in the precious metal mining industries as do in the diamond sector. There are ASMs (though only producing gold and silver, not platinum) that suffer in largely the same ways as diamond miners.

What’s the carbon cost of a diamond ring?

Transparency, traceability, habitat destruction and all those things are important when it comes to diamonds, but they’re not the whole story when it comes to jewellery.

What about platinum?

ASM is not a thing when it comes to the platinum group metals (PGMs), but there are still social problems associated with large scale mining in developing countries.

Off-setting the carbon footprint of a wedding set like this made with a mined diamond and newly mined platinum would require planting several hundred trees. As it happens, this ring set was made with recycled platinum and a post-consumer diamond. Off-setting its emissions required planting only half a dozen trees.

What’s the solution?

Well, on the social responsibility side, fair-mined gold is a very good alternative compared with gold produced by large-scale mining enterprises. But it doesn’t address the greenhouse gas issue.

Recycled precious metals are an ethically robust alternative

Efficient, regulated, large scale recycling infrastructures are already in place for precious metals like gold, platinum, palladium and rhodium. Recycled precious metals are readily available and are essentially identical to their mined counterparts.

  • Recycled PGMs produce around 8kgs of GHGs per gram vs 77kgs per gram for mined PGMs. (From data provided by the International Platinum Group Metals Association — IPA, and from proceedings of the World Congress on Engineering, 2015.)
Metal source is a major factor in determining the carbon footprint of a piece of jewellery.

Where do Lab-grown Diamonds fit in?

Until very recently, laboratory-grown diamonds were consider the golden-haired children in terms of GHG emissions.

What about coloured gemstones?

Environmental data relating to the coloured gemstone sector (mined and lab-grown) is scarce.

What’s my point?

My point is, if you want to be an ethical consumer of jewellery, or you want to hold yourself up as an ethical producer, then getting the diamond bit right is, on its own, nowhere near enough.

Jewellery industry consumer advocate and Blogger + Co-founder of bespoke jewellery company, Ethical Jewellery Australia

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