A Call to Jewelers, Artists, And Artisans PART 3 (of 3): The Body PoliticJune 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.
A Call to Jewelers, Artists, And Artisans PART 1 (of 3): The Body Politic
By: Martin Taber
Stop thinking with your head, with your ego, and let the system of the body do what it knows how to do naturally. The body already knows how to move with the patterns of the universe. The mind is just a crowbar getting in the way of the delicate workings of the body’s natural rhythms.
– Robert Nadeau, Shihan (7th degree black belt), Seminar at Aikido of Berkeley
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
– Rumi, The Guest House
Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time, and allow ourselves to feel deeply enough that it transforms us…and our future?
– Chris Jordan, Midway (film)
So why all this attention on changing the mining industry? Wouldn’t it be better to just stop using newly mined material altogether and work with the massive amounts of metal that have already been pulled from the earth over the past ten thousand years? More and more these days jewelers have options available to them to use recycled metals and findings. Some jewelers are even working directly with their customers to reclaim old, unwanted jewelry and repurpose it for new pieces. What could be more personally meaningful and ecological than this? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Using recycled metals is important as a means of raising customers’ awareness about conventional mining practices. But unfortunately, the significant increase in using recycled metals in the jewelry trade continues to have almost zero effect on the total quantities of gold being continuously leached out of the earth.
In recent years the percentage of gold used in jewelry has dropped dramatically from 70-80% down to 43% in 2012. The driving force on the price of gold comes not from the jewelry industry but from the instabilities in world economies and aggressive hording by investors (especially in the rapidly developing private markets and governments on India and China). The expectation by most analysts is that in spite of what the public considers to be an already high price of gold, this price is probably artificially low when compared to other indicators normally influencing its growth potential. Within the industry it is commonly expected that gold will move steadily towards $3500 per ounce (or more) within the next 5 years.
These trends combined with extreme levels of poverty and joblessness around the world (including massive displacement of peoples from their agricultural lands and in conflict regions torn apart by civil war) are motivating a massive workforce willing to work in devastating conditions at far below subsistence wages. Within this context our use of recycled and repurposed precious metals has essentially no effect on how much or the way in which gold is currently getting mined. It is only a side-note, an intermediary step, relatively insignificant to the greater picture unless we follow it up by transitioning to a model that helps support greater accountability and responsibility within the mining industry itself.
The key to this next step involves creating a market structure that is both ecologically and fiscally sustainable. Fiscally it must be profitable enough for the jewelers who are marketing the finished product to embrace it, and lucrative enough for the miners sourcing the material to feel encouraged about making the hard decisions to change their mining practices.
To drive this kind of truly systemic change in manufacturing and marketing there must also be a significant increase in the perceived value to the end consumer (over and above the already high cost of conventionally mined gold). With more commodity based, production-style pieces, such as plain gold wedding bands, a smaller 12-15% increase can be difficult to justify to the end consumer (who are already skittish by the rapidly increasing price of gold) while being barely sufficient to cover the added premium costs to the manufacturer. But more importantly it is limited in its capacity to move the customer beyond a purely transactional understanding of the work in question, the market driven quid pro quo that does little to help us see past the ever inflating price of gold, into the truly transformative power of ethically mined gold.
I believe that in the case of more one-of-a-kind or limited edition pieces there is a much greater opportunity to increase ethical gold’s perceived value while at the same time helping, in very real terms, to drive the engine of social and ecological change–to make a split from our preconceived notion of how business gets done and redefine the quality of our relationship to this ambiguous precious metal.
It begins by telling a compelling story (through images, links, personal narratives, and collective marketing programs) about the transformative power of more ecological mining practices. By weaving this story into the artistic and conceptual value of each unique piece and acknowledging it’s increased value with an additional 20-40% markup in price (over and above the 12-15% fairtrade premium standard) we would force customers to pay much closer attention to the true costs of gold. This conceptually reinforced markup would help them make the radical and necessary leap from the transactional to the relational, creating an infinitely more intimate, a more personal bond between themselves and people involved in creating each piece in question.
The purpose and meaning behind this extra markup would be the creation of seed money to fund and support future programs in regions impacted by the damaging effects of mining – possibly using it to help mining communities purchase cleaner technologies, or establishing reclamation facilities for recycling gold from electronics that are dumped in third world countries at an ever increasing rate. In this way a significant portion (20-30%) of the retail sale of these specialty pieces – this socially entrepreneurial jewelry – would get donated back to the miners from whom those materials were originally sourced, creating a closed loop system that would be self-sustaining and personally re-energizing to everyone involved. A body politic responsive to the needs of the whole with an operating intelligence greater than the sum of it’s parts.
In essence we would be using market forces to educate customers about the true costs associated with their purchase while giving them the opportunity to actually effect significant, market-driven change. We would also 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 as jewelers and consumers would be offering a true gift from ourselves to participating miners in acknowledgement of their desire for improvement and their willingness to responsibly source the materials we all want and need.
Currently, Ethical Metalsmiths is in the middle of coordinating the first ever large-scale consortium purchase of ethically mined gold to be processed and distributed here in the United States. 1 to 2 kilos of gold will be distributed amongst 20-30 participating jewelers of conscience who will provide the backbone of a new era in ethical jewelry practices – allowing the artisan jewelry industry to become a leading force for social entrepreneurship locally, regionally and globally. How effective and impactful these efforts will become is limited only by each one of us and our ability to think creatively about the issues, our needs, our desires and our passion for a just and sustainable future.
This is an opportunity for artisan jewelers in the US and abroad to help transform the lives of artisan miners around the world… “(t)he forgotten millions who for the politics of daily bread pound their bodies in the scorching heat in search of the madness that is gold.”  What kind of relationship do you want to have with the materials you are responsible for manifesting into creative and meaningful keepsakes?
Don’t wait around for someone else to change these things for you. Become a maker of your own destiny, the destiny of the planet. The opportunity and the responsibility are yours, and yours alone. Either seize it or throw it away. Those are the two options.
It is time to internalize the externalities that exist within our industry…to make things of greater integrity, and to begin the process of removing the contradictions between metaphor and physical meaning in every piece we create.
READ FIRST TWO POSTS IN SERIES:
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 rand 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.
To receive updates about Ethical Metalsmiths’ initiative to bring Fairtrade gold to the US, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
To simply learn more visit: http://www.ethicalmetalsmiths.org/material-sourcing/ethical-sourcing-consortium/
For more information on artisanal mining visit the following sites:
 Greg Valerio, Conflict Gold to Peace Gold – Part 2, February 19, 2013