Jewelry is the one facet of fashion that’s always seemed allusive to me. For the majority of my youth, my knowledge of jewelry could be summed up by the words “Every kiss begins with Kay.” My first encounter with “real” jewelry began with my engagement ring, and even then I was a tad more distracted by the guy attached to it.
Yet the older I get, the farther I travel on my conscious fashion journey, and my desire to fill my antique jewelry box with items worthy of its character has grown.
Starting down this road, I’m learning that, like all aspects of consumer culture, there’s much more to the jewelry industry than meets the eye.
In fine jewelry, you really only have two variables: gemstones and metals. The two industries are very different, and both have their own concerns. But before mapping out future purchases, I wanted to fully understand the issues at hand.
David Walsh, owner and founder of Freebourne Co. — a fully traceable, mine-to-market jewelry brand that works directly with mine owners and laborers globally — took the time to help me develop a deeper and more in-depth comprehension of what’s happening behind-the-scenes.
David himself has been collecting gemstones and minerals since he was a kid, investing in fine gems by his early twenties. But it was “when working on my wife’s engagement ring a few years back it all came together and Freebourne was born.”
While my personal knowledge of the jewelry industry is limited, it seems fair to say that the average American’s understanding is fairly similar. So I asked David to start at the beginning.
He explained to me that at this point in history, we have something called The Kimberly Process. This regulates international diamond trade — which helps keep blood diamonds off the market — as well as country-specific import restrictions. Unfortunately, despite these laws, conflict stones still exist. According to Amnesty International, the main issue lies with retail sectors who fail to assure customers of whether their stones are conflict-free or not.
This alone is why it’s critical to know where your jewelry comes from.
David explains, “It is a complex problem. There are tradeoffs, not solutions. This is what we [Freebourne Co.] believe... For colored stones: no process, no regulation, no certification, nothing can substitute personally, thoroughly knowing your sources. Visiting your sources, knowing your mines. To me, it’s the only way forward. Mine to market. Very, very few jewelry brands are structured this way. I know maybe four brands that are substantially operating this way. Freebourne is one of the four.”
He elaborates on quality control for sustainable mining processes, and it really comes down to the same thing as in all industries: people. “It’s all about investing in people. There is simply no substitute for knowing your mining sources really well. Every Freebourne Co. purchase is a voluntary transfer of wealth from a relatively wealthy customer to a relatively poor laborer. To me, this is real sustainability. Everyone wins.
Miners are some of the most hopeful, optimistic people on the planet.”
Obviously the human aspect is one of the biggest concerns, but it’s not the only one. I was equally curious about the effects of mining on the environment. It turns out, unlike the textile industry, it’s thankfully not something we need to be in extreme duress about.
David helped explain gemstone origins, and the process of mining to me: “Gems are mined from either primary or secondary deposits. A primary deposit refers to the original location where a gem was formed in the earth. For example, Afghan Tourmalines are found in primary deposits. To extract these stones, it requires blasting and excavating hard rock, often in mountainous terrain.
A secondary deposit refers to a location where a gem has been moved after its formation… Usually dry or active riverbeds, floodplains, etc. Secondary deposits are mined by simple panning, shallow hand excavations, or screening operations.
Generally speaking, most gem mining does not have a significant, negative impact on the environment.
Gold mining is a different story. Please check out fairmined.org to learn more about sustainable precious metals sourcing.
“Hearing all this I couldn’t help but be impacted by the complicated nature of what it takes to create a tiny — albeit, beautiful — band for my finger. It seems the most important takeaway is to “Always go for quality over size,” as David said.
He told me that when it comes to investing in jewelry, it’s important to do your research. “The industry is huge and there are so many options out there. It can be confusing to understand where one should begin… Find jewelry designers / brands you love and don’t buy a piece just because it is marketed as ‘ethical’ or ‘sustainable.’ Look a little deeper, ask questions wherever you go. Do not settle until you find designs you love made with ethically sourced, natural materials of enduring quality and value.”
I think I already know a good place to start my search.
As we navigate this season of less is more, I’m realizing that in all things I buy, it’s about intentionality.
How I spend my money is a direct reflection of what matters to me, and the welfare of my fellow humans is most valuable.
I think David put it best by saying, “We love exploring color, form, and composition. And we love the story. But really it’s all about people. From the mine laborers to our end customers we find people truly interesting and inspiring. Without the personal connections, Freebourne Co. would not be here.”