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Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Personal And Social Benefits of Responsible Sourcing At Portland Jewelry Symposium

Stewart Grice of Hoover & Strong speaks about Responsible Sourcing to approximately 125 jewelry professionals. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

As mentioned previously, the ninth annual Portland Jewelry Symposium put an extra focus on Responsible Sourcing, a voluntary commitment by companies to take into account social and environmental considerations when managing their relationships with suppliers. 

In addition to the keynote by Bennett Freeman on Sunday, two other presenters opened the eight sessions Monday with their takes on the benefits of Responsible Sourcing. 

The two-day Portland Jewelry Symposium discusses innovations in technology and artistic trends.Teresa Frye, who founded the symposium, says the responsible sourcing of materials for jewelry making is one of the most important current topics for the industry. This year, she said she placed an emphasis on this topic. This year, approximately 125 independent jewelry professionals including retailers, designers and manufacturers attended the event. 

The first, Stewart Grice, VP of Mill Products at Hoover & Strong, a jewelry manufacturer and refiner of precious metals, took the audience into two artisanal mines in Peru, where the company sources its Fairmined gold for its jewels. Among its products, the North Chesterfield, Va., based company produces more than 30,000 eco-friendly and responsibly sourced mill products and finished jewels under the Harmony brand name. They include products sourced with Fairmined gold and silver. 

There’s a premium paid for jewels made with Fairmined gold but in return retailers and end users get gold that is ethically mined without life-threatening chemicals (like Mercury) and the extra money goes toward making the lives of miners and their families better. 

Grice argues that customers are willing to pay the premium if it is explained how Fairmined gold works. “When you buy Fairmined gold this money is invested in community,” he said.

In the case of the two Peruvian mines in Aurelsa and Iquira, this premium is used to improve the safety of the mines, provide power and water to the communities, medical care, cell phones, proper food and even recreational activities, including a soccer pitch in which Grice says may be the highest such field in the world. 

In explaining the harsh conditions at the mine prior to this initiative he said, “These guys were shooting at each other, now they’re playing soccer.”

Only about 15 percent of all independent mines in Peru are regulated by the government, Grice said. The vast majority of mines operate illegally.

One of the requirements of Fairmined gold is that the artisanal mine must be government regulated. This provides an added bonus for the Peruvian people as these mines now contribute to the tax base.

Jewelry designer Toby Pomeroy. Photo by Anthony DeMarco

Jewelry designer Toby Pomeroy, the second presenter, is a pioneer in using responsibly sourced materials in his jewels. In his presentation, “A World Without Design,” he used his own experiences as an example of how a purpose-driven life can lead individuals to find what truly motivates them. 

“In an absence of an inspired context, our lives will not be inspired,” he said. “It will not leave us fulfilled and inspired and not leave other people fulfilled and inspired.”

The Corvallis, Ore., based jeweler talked about his inspirations as a jewelry designer and in his life that led him to making many life choices, including his most important career choice: working with sustainably sourced materials. He is now a world leader in the production of environmentally sustainable and socially responsible jewelry. His launch of “EcoGold” and “EcoSilver” set a new standard, defining ethical luxury. 

In 2006, he learned about the “No Dirty Gold” campaign, which educates people about the impacts of irresponsible gold mining. He learned about the poverty stricken metal miners who work in dangerous conditions and how it contrasted with the beautiful jewels he sells. He thought about closing his business.

“I can’t keep making jewelry knowing the destruction of wide scale mining,” he said. “We’ve been prospering on the backs of miners. For millennia the jewelry industry has been prospering on the backs of other people.”

Pomeroy went to Hoover & Strong to see if the company could purify previously used scrap gold and silver separately from newly mined metals. The company came through but added a 3 percent surcharge for the effort. For the second order the surcharge was dropped. In addition, Hoover & Strong also decided that it was going to develop this business. 

Once seeing that it was doable Pomeroy decided, “This is the direction we’re going.” The jewelry and process was branded as “EcoGold” and “EcoSilver.”

It turned out to not only to be a good ethical move, but a superb business decision as well. After a story appeared about this new use of recycled gold in a trade magazine the consumer press followed, giving his business a great deal of publicity. 

Pomeroy created a pair of hoop earrings, called “Eclipse” made entirely with recycled metals. The elegant, casual and lightweight earrings are flat and wider at the bottom with a rough hammered texture and touch of fair trade diamonds. It then features a subtle bend as it moves up to the ear. The earrings were an instant success. The small store received so many orders for the earrings that he had to develop a way to machine manufacture them without losing the quality, which he did. 

“They loved the shape,” he said. “I just couldn’t make them fast enough.”

Pomeroy seems to be most proud of accidentally starting a movement in the jewelry industry toward responsibly sourced materials.

“Over 100 brands are now using Fairmined gold,” he said. “We’re really causing a revolution in the jewelry and mining industries. Anything is possible.” 

This is the second of three stories about the Portland Jewelry Symposium.

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