Can precious metals ever be ethical?
All silver, gold, platinum etc. would have been mined originally, most likely in non-fair trade circumstances. So a 100% ethical stamp can never be given to precious metal jewellery.
As a large majority of the trade sells cast items, this has to include around 50% new silver, as to assure a good quality casting result.
This doesn't mean that we can't try to aim for a more sustainable and thoughtful way of working. It surely is more environmentally safe to re-use old gold and silver? One has to consider the process needed to melt down, refine, and then re-make silver sheet and wire.
Still, even accounting for the energy needed for this to be done, putting it up against gold mines run by semi-slavery, exploitation of people and the environment, poisoning water supplies and excavating more and more of the earth's beautiful landscape in order to get at a few more kilos of gold ore, it seems to be a better way to produce the basic material for what is, lets face it, luxury goods. Last year's massacre at the Lonmin mine in South Afrika, which resulted in 44 deaths, is a terrible reminder of how costly the extraction of this desirable metal can be.
The reason I am just mentioning gold mines is that silver is very often a by-product of the gold mining, or copper mining, industries.
Of course, silver is also used in the medical and IT industries, but in very small quantities compared to the jewellery trade.
Given the choice, and if the prices are comparing favourably, which would you rather choose? Newly mined silver or gold or the reclaimed version? Items which are made entirely by hand can very often be made completely out of reclaimed silver, or gold.
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