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Better Bling

Wear Jewelry with a Conscience for Enlightened Sparkle



In the world of jewelry, all that glitters may, indeed be gold—or platinum, diamonds and other precious gems. Beneath their come-hither sparkle, though, may be a dark side, whose hidden facets reflect a disturbing legacy of greed and violence. This Valentine season, learn to shop wisely for the kinds of bling and ice that help humanity and the planet shine.

The Troubling Problem

The 2006 film, Blood Diamond, brought worldwide attention to one of these hidden facets—diamonds mined under dangerous conditions to fund international conflicts. Some examples:

• In Sierra Leone, a long civil war that cost the lives of as many as 200,000 people was partially financed by profits from the diamond trade.
• In Angola, a guerrilla group responsible for considerable violence earned $430 million in just one year by selling diamonds illegally mined and shipped though Zaire to Europe, and then to the rest of the world.
•Al Qaeda has been linked to the illegal diamond trade.
•The world’s largest diamond mining company, DeBeers, has admitted to price fixing in its efforts to control global trade.

Semiprecious gemstones also may hide troubling histories. Much of the mining for lapis lazuli, a gorgeous blue mineral, is controlled by Afghanistan’s Taliban, and rubies often come from the military dictatorship in Myanmar (Burma).

Violence against the environment is another dark fact that can dim jewelry’s luster: Gold mining is one of the world’s dirtiest industries. According to WorldWatch Institute, the gold in a single 18-karat ring generates as much as 18 tons of arsenic, cyanide and mercury-laced mining waste. This highly toxic material can persist for decades and enter the food chain.

When jewelry is ablaze in a showcase, its shadowy background is usually invisible. But consumers need not be clueless about the origins of their adornments. In 2002, the United Nations adopted the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) to ensure that diamonds are humanely mined and shipped. Conflict-free diamonds carry a Kimberley Process certificate.

According to the Green Guide, the UN process has reduced conflict-related gems to no more than 1 percent of the rough diamond trade, but many abuses still occur. To avoid a confusing shopping experience, the safest route is to turn to retailers and jewelry manufacturers known to offer guilt-free bling.


Satisfying Solutions

Walmart has teamed up with Conservation International to introduce the Love, Earth fine jewelry line (www.LoveEarthInfo.com), said to be completely traceable from mine to store. The company certifies that all jewelry sold under that name meets its corporate sustainability standards. According to Pam Mortensen, a Walmart vice president, Love, Earth customers “are getting an affordable and beautiful piece of jewelry that also helps sustain resources and strengthen communities.”

The line is sold in Walmart and Sam’s Club stores nationwide. Some critics charge that not all the mines in the program are fully sustainable, but most observers are supportive of the concept. According to Dan Randolph, of the nonprofit environmental justice organization Great Basin Resource Watch, “The traceability aspect is a good step forward.” By 2010, the company hopes to have 10 percent of the jewelry it sells meeting Love, Earth standards.

Leber Jewelers (LeberJeweler.com) offers an Earthwise Jewelry Collection, which includes conflict-free diamonds, fairly traded colored gemstones and environmentally friendly precious metals. Leber’s diamonds, sourced from Canada, are accompanied by a numbered certificate of origin, with detailed technical information and an identifying serial number. Mining operations meet and sometimes exceed Canada’s environmental laws. (Other conflict-free diamond producers include Russia and Australia.) Leber’s gemstones, which include aquamarines and sapphires procured from around the globe, are guaranteed to have been mined by workers earning a fair living wage.

www.NoDirtyGold.org offers a clickable list of retailers who have taken the first step toward more responsible sourcing of gold. And Brilliant Earth (www.BrilliantEarth.com) makes its earrings, necklaces and rings from recycled gold and Canadian diamonds.

“By using recycled metals, we decrease the global demand for newly mined gold and diminish the environmentally and socially destructive effects of dirty gold and other metal mining practices,” says company co-founder Eric Grossberg. “Because precious metals can be recycled repeatedly with no degradation in quality, they are a naturally renewable resource.” Five percent of Brilliant Earth’s profits go to African communities victimized by the diamond trade.

The wedding and engagement rings, earrings and necklaces offered by GreenKarat (www.GreenKarat.com) are made from recycled gold, silver and titanium, as well as synthetic gemstones. “Buying recycled gold is one of the most ecologically and socially responsible choices a consumer can make,” advises GreenKarat President Matthew White.

www.PristinePlanet.com’s online catalog brims with eco-friendly jewelry at a variety of price points, qualified as conflict-free, fair traded or reclaimed and recycled.

Antique jewelry always serves as a thoughtful, conscientious and welcome gift. Delightful heirloom pieces often turn up at local shops. The Antique Jewelry Mall (AntiqueJewelryMall.com) also stocks a wide selection, including birthstone jewelry, necklaces, earrings and wedding and engagement rings.

The irresistible glow of precious metals and gems has always led us to buy jewelry with our heart. Now, our good intentions can be doubly congruent with our conscience.

For more information, visit the Council for Responsible Jewelry Practices at www.ResponsibleJewellery.com. A group working for mining reform is Washington, D.C.-based Earthworks at www.EarthworksAction.org.

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