A Call to Jewelers, Artists, And Artisans PART 2 (of 3): The Miner’s GiftJune 25th, 2013
ETHICAL METALSMITHS DIALOGUES: A VOICE FOR ETHICS IN JEWELRY
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.
The Miner’s Gift (Part 2 of 3) (Missed Part One? Read it here)
By: Martin Taber
“…Art that matters to us – which moves the heart, or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offeres courage for living…is a gift received.”
–The Gift, Lewis Hyde
As artisan jewelers those of us involved in the craft arts walk a distinctive path between entrepreneur and artist. While we have a definite interest in creating success for ourselves and those individuals with whom we share our businesses, we are also engaged in a labor of love, manifesting the gift of our creativity in substantive objects that have their own integrity and meaning. In his seminal work, The Gift, Lewis Hyde writes about the use of the term “gift” as having a multitude of different applications, especially as it relates to the arts.
First there is the gift of talent, both inherited as well as that developed over long years of practice – the relationship between artists and some deeper Source. Next there is the gift of inspiration, derived from the dialogue between the artist and his/her individual artworks. Third is the gift of transmission, the relationship between the artist and each individual experiencing his/her work and the quality of experience the piece evokes in them. Last but not least is the gift of communion, the one we most commonly think of in the context of presents, in which an object or an experience is conferred in order to celebrate the relationship between two or more people.
In all of these usages are the common factors of relationship and the act of a gift freely given without expectation of direct compensation. In this way gifts become part of the social glue that helps bind us together in a deeply personal way.
“Any object, any item of commerce, becomes one kind of property or another depending on how we use it. Even if a work of art contains the spirit of the artist’s gift, it does not follow that the work itself is a gift. It is what we make of it.”
Let us envision the development of ethically mined gold sourcing and the establishment of transparent supply chains as a several years long performance art piece–one that involves the miner, the refiner, the jeweler, the consumer, and the wearer. An emerging story of beauty and symmetry, of integrity and justice, in which the various players are struggling against market forces, local, regional, and international politics, environmental impacts, their own desires for personal gain, and rights of self-determination to forge a more perfect union between our collective wants and our needs, our opportunities, our responsibilities, and our desires. I would argue that this co-created story is in itself a gift. One that needs to be practices and expressed – shared, revered, and rewarded.
To reaffirm ethical gold’s value, both metaphorically and as an actual economic driver of change, I believe we should treat it, in Lewis Hyde’s terms, as a “gift” — to ourselves, to the planet, and to generations yet to come. While the buying and selling of the objects themselves entail a more commodity-based function, the more ephemeral aspect of the story of ethical gold associated with it remains available as a gift, freely given to all.
Yet even as the experience of this gift is free to everyone and of personal benefit to all who engage it, the reality of our capital driven world requires something more to support and sustain this model. With respect to the market, and in accordance with the kind of “conceptual” value often added to works of art, I believe it is possible, in certain instances, to establish a bold and challenging pricing model — a 40-60% increase on one-of-a-kind and limited edition pieces to help fund additional community and environmental programs — that allows for profit distribution throughout the supply chain; a more tangible sharing of this story’s gift to support the miners who steward the initial harvesting of raw materials, without whom none of our creative desires would ever come to fruition.
I often say to my customers, “buying well-crafted, well-designed artisanal jewelry is like eating a carefully prepared meal made from the freshest ingredients. It may take a little longer to prepare and cost a bit more, but the satisfaction derived is priceless.” A single high quality, well chosen purchase will usually bring greater, and ultimately less expensive, satisfaction than a multitude of impulse-driven “cheaper” acquisitions. And over time it also helps support a system that is more robust and adaptable, filled with integrity and purpose.
At it’s heart this is about the intimate nature of well-founded relationship and the effort to turn the transactional nature of our marketplace interactions into ones of deeper respect and gratitude. In addition to making our relationships with each other less usury, this is about making our use of inanimate objects more personal and relational as well. Not only are we doing something to help better society and the environment, we are increasing our day-to-day quality of life by enhancing the true value of those things we choose to have in our lives.
In the very most concrete terms, this is a call for supportive, external structures provided by cause marketing and backed by individuals of conscience (you!) to help people in regions destabilized by economic and environmental distress to operate as responsible stewards of both their lands and their communities.
In my last post I wrote about “offer[ing] a true gift from ourselves to participating miners in acknowledgement of their desire for self-improvement and their willingness to responsibly source the materials we all want and need…” This, then, is the foundation upon which I base the artistic and market-based merits of such a project. In my third and final post I will address the specifics of how this can fit into a bold and successful new marketing strategy while strengthening our support of ethical business practices from source to market.
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 of 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.
To learn more about Ethical Metalsmiths initiative to bring Fairtrade gold to the US, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on artisanal mining visit the following sites: