A Call to Jewelers, Artists, And Artisans PART 1 (of 3): Makers of Things Great and Small

May 12th, 2013
Posted in Fairtrade, Fairtrade and Fairmined, General News, Gold, Take Action


Ethical Metalsmiths has partnered with the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) to encourage dialogue about the ethical implications of jewelry. Essays by EM members will be engaging, challenging and hopeful. The topics will range from visionary to practical. Writers for this series are professional jewelers, professors, theorists and in general, aficionados of jewelry.

The first entry representing this partnership is a three-part essay by Martin Taber, Jeweler and Chair of EM’s Futuring Committee.

A Call to Jewelers, Artists, And Artisans PART 1 (of 3): Makers of Things Great and Small

By: Martin Taber

“From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”

–John F. Kennedy, paraphrasing Luke 12:48

Why is it we do what we do?  Certainly there are easier ways of succeeding as entrepreneurs.  For those seeking profit the jewelry craft arts are hardly the ideal. And from the artistic perspective jewelers lack much of the freedom associated with many of the other arts – painting, sculpting, music.  We generally have to adhere in greater degree to a functionality bounded and communicated to us by a highly competitive and demanding marketplace.

For me it is the joy of exploring my craft that keeps me grounded. The limitations of my materials, my techniques, and my creativity are constantly being stretched and remolded by my mind and my hands.  Likewise, my expression of my business as a whole requires a constant balancing act of competing interests that I find oddly compelling. Ultimately, there is an integrity of purpose in helping to sustain a hand crafted world that brings me peace of mind in the present, a deep appreciation of the past, and great hope for the future.

I try never to take these opportunities for creative expression for granted. Nor can I forget the responsibilities I feel for the integrity behind each piece I create. I often refer to what I do as sculpting in miniature. And while the work I create is small I am constantly reminded by the customers I work hand-in-hand with that the meaning associated with my jewelry can be GREAT and lasting.

So when the substance of the thing itself and the meaning behind it fall into stark contradiction and are no longer unified I have to ask myself, “How do I return to a place of integrity?”

Over the past several years it has become increasingly difficult for me to reconcile what I know about the conditions in which gold and other precious metals are  acquired with the integrity my business has always laid claim to.

30 tons of crushed, cyanide-soaked ore to make one wedding ring? 


Millions of displaced peoples around the globe scrabbling in lead contaminated gold fields, or panning downstream of highly contaminated industrial mining sites for a few flecks of gold just to feed their families for a few more days? 

I think I just lost my appetite… 

Industrial mining operations gouging massive holes in the earth that can be seen from outer space, extracting massive profits with little responsibility for what happens to the land after they leave? 

Not on my watch!

And yet this is the foundation of how the materials we use every day come into our supply chain.

What can we do?

Fortunately there are small voices in the wilderness calling for a change.  From the jungles of Bolivia, the plateaus of Peru, the rivers of Columbia, the plains of Africa, the hills of California small cooperatives of artisan miners are helping to lead the way.  Oro Verde, Cotapata, Sotrami, Aurelsa, Bella Rica – these are just of few of the cooperatives being supported and educated by the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) to extract gold responsibly while respecting the needs of their local communities and the long term impact on the environment.

On the other end of these important sourcing ventures there is a need for much greater demand for ethically sourced, fairtrade certified gold.  That is where we artisan jewelers, with our unique multi-faceted role as designers, makers, buyers, and business owners have an incredible opportunity to get involved and, at the same time, significantly increase the integrity of our products and the long-term strength of our businesses.

We artisans of conscience can create a unified voice, proclaiming the value of ethically mined gold.  Through our purchasing power and the intimate, personal relationships we cultivate with our customers on a daily basis we can help redefine our industry and begin telling a different story about mining and the value of gold.

In essence we have the opportunity of using market forces to educate customers about the true costs associated with their purchase while giving them the opportunity to effect significant, market-driven change.

By supporting institutions such as ARM and the miners they represent we can make a tangible difference in the lives of many thousands of people around the world.  Helping them use the wealth of their lands as a catalyst for change. To educate themselves and their children and to empower them to a greater sense of self determination. To support them in being responsible stewards of their local environments and communities.

We have the potential to create a qualitative shift in how all of us – miners, refiners, jewelers, retailers and consumers – relate to our industry, our art, and each other. And we can offer a true gift from ourselves to participating miners in acknowledgment of their desire for self-improvement and their willingness to responsibly source the materials we all want and need.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Whatever we have the creative capacity to envision RIGHT NOW, WILL BECOME the world we see made manifest in the NOT TOO DISTANT FUTURE.  If all we can SEE is continuing business as usual, then eventually all we will HAVE is a barren, sterilized, monotone planet overfilled with pretty, little trinkets…echoing a hollow and empty passion for another place and another time.

If we want green, rolling hills, robust landscapes with self-sustaining ecosystems that nurture us and inspire the spirit for generations to come, we must create more than just elegant distractions and clever baubles–we must forge robust and authentic talismans of a truer life, a life connected to a PRESENT PLACE and a PRESENT TIME.

This is the time for leaders, for people of courage, entrepreneurs of the spirit, and makers of things great and small to stand up and be counted, to reap the rewards of their boldness and initiative and to repay the debt for all that has been given them along the way.

At what point do you say to yourself, “How much is enough? HERE is where I draw the line.”

As entrepreneurs and artisans it is our privilege and our responsibility to do so.  We have been blessed with good fortune and the opportunities to successfully pursue the dreams and visions of our creative desires.  As mature, responsible human beings it is imperative, therefore, that we repay a debt of gratitude for all of the intangibles that have contributed in bringing us to this place, and help restore a greater sense of integrity to our industry as a whole.

If not us, who? If not now, when?


 Martin Taber is a second generation artisan jeweler with over 17 years   personal experience in the wholesale and retail trade. He has a degree in Environmental Studies from UC Santa Cruz and holds the rank of shodan (black belt) in the Japanese martial art of Aikido – often described as a practice of “conflict done well.” In December 2012 he was appointed to chair the Ethical Metalsmiths Futuring Committee, where he has been instrumental in helping to develop EM’s Ethical Gold Buying Consortium.


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