Searching for gold in South Dakota

Committed Couple Treks with Jeweler to Source Gold: An adventure in South Dakota

By Gabriel Craig

Though wedding bands symbolize enduring commitment, most jewelry consumers don’t know the origin of the metal used in their rings. The precious metal supply chain is nearly impossible to follow from start to finish making it an industry that can act with near impunity from public scrutiny. Ethical Metalsmiths and Earthworks have endeavored to bring about change through their work, but public outcry for industry transparency is still far from universal.

While supply chain transparency and material sourcing accountability has grown in other industries such as food, furniture and textile production, the jewelry industry has sadly lagged behind. This July, craft activist and writer Gabriel Craig endeavored to confront the systemic problem as he lead a gold prospecting expedition in an attempt to connect a jewelry maker and a pair of consumers with the top of the precious metal supply chain.

Early on in framing the project Craig contacted Ethical Metalsmiths looking for participant referrals. Ethical Metalsmiths was able oblige by recommending studio jeweler Todd Pownell of Cleveland-based TAP studios. Both Craig and Pownell are pilot participants in Ethical Metalsmiths’ the Jeweler Directory.

After connecting with Pownell, Craig sent out an open call looking for couples who would like to prospect for the gold to make their wedding bands on his blog, In less than two hours Jenna Wainwright and Rajiv Jaswa responded enthusiastically. Already fans of Pownell’s work, Wainwright, an exhibitions preparator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Jaswa, an aspiring environmental lawyer, had been waiting to tie the knot because they found the environmental cost of the metal in their rings too high.

Pre gold prospecting tripWhile the team hoped to find enough gold for Pownell to make a pair of wedding bands through the artisanal prospecting methods of panning and sluicing, the trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota was not meant to be an paragon solution to an industry wide problem, rather, it was meant to draw attention to it. Craig explains, “It is impractical for every jeweler or consumer to extract their own gold. For craftspeople ethical labor is an inherent virtue in their work, ethical material sourcing is equally as important, though it is largely ignored. With this project we can plant that seed – we can put the jewelry making supply chain on display, show the public what artisanal extraction looks like, and tell a compelling story.”


The group is back from South Dakota and was changed by the experience. Stay tuned for articles as well as an accompanying documentary movie short in the future.