As the world becomes more concerned about the environment, what we are doing to our planet and leaving behind for future generations, it has fallen on big businesses to start leading by example. But while ethical and environmentally-conscious practices have taken over many industries in recent years, luxury brands have been slow to catch up.
However, as consumers become ever more aware of the impact that their purchases have on the environment, and the increased visibility of the negative impact of mining and processing practices, it has become more important for luxury jewellery brands to fall in line. Whilst smaller jewellery makers and designers have made a concerted effort to bring in ethical jewellery practice, with a focus specifically gold sourcing, bigger brands have not caught up until now.
In Spring 2018, luxury jewellery and watch Maison Chopard made a commitment to only work with gold that they deemed to have come from ethical sources by the summer of that year, making them the first luxury jewellery brand to have made such a pledge.
Whilst this announcement was a stunning move for the industry as a whole, it is not out of keeping with Chopard as a brand. Owned and run by the Scheufele family since 1963, Chopard has historically been run to a strict code of ethics and responsibility. This sense of integrity has always been important to the family, and the brand has long been involved with important names and movements in the world of philanthropy.
Chopard has helped to launch a variety of environmental and social NGO’s, charities and other organisations, including The Elton John AIDS Foundation, The Prince’s Trust and WWF. The company also actively supports the José Carreras Leukaemia Foundation, the Happy Hearts Foundation and Centerpoint and has been a certified member of the Responsible Jewellery Council since 2012.
Problems facing the gold industry
There is a reason that gold is considered a precious metal, and this somewhat comes down to how difficult it can be to source. Whilst there are gold mines in the US, for example, the country has seen a sharp reduction in gold mining since 2005, meaning that jewellers have to search farther afield for quality gold.
Purchasing from increasingly remote locations has a stark impact on the environment in these areas, with roads built where roads were not before, causing the systematic destruction of the natural ecosystems and populations of these areas.
Not only this, but despite improvements in health and safety conditions for gold miners, mining is still a dangerous profession. There were 81 fatalities linked to mining in the last year alone. The fact is that the more demand there is for gold, the deeper companies have to mine to get to the reserves left under the earth. The deeper the mines go, the more fragile and unstable the tunnels become, and the higher the risk to workers of inhaling toxic chemicals. Thus, even with the most up-to-date equipment available, human lives are put at risk with the overmining of certain areas.
There is also the issue of illegal and unregulated mining, which small-scale companies contribute to by buying gold on the black market. When mining is not regulated, there is far more opportunity for something to go wrong.
What is ethical gold?
Chopard defines ethical gold as ‘gold acquired from responsible sources, verified as having met international best practice environmental and social standards’. For the most part this will mean that the gold is sourced from responsible Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining companies who offer positive working conditions, no gender inequality or child labour, and a good rate of pay to their workers. These companies offer transparent supply chains and, whilst gold may be sourced using mercury or cyanide, the treatment of both chemical and leftovers are managed safely.
As of July 2018, every gold item from Chopard has been crafted exclusively from gold sourced ethically from mines in the Swiss Better Gold Association (SBGA), Fairmined and Fairtrade schemes, or Responsible Jewellery Council-certified refineries.
The Journey to Sustainable Luxury
Ethical gold isn’t the only way in which Chopard is taking the lead in the world of sustainable luxury. In 2013, Chopard launched The Journey to Sustainable Luxury, in partnership with Eco-Age, an ambitious programme designed to eventually make their entire jewellery line ethically sourced, and responsibly produced.
The aim of The Journey is ultimately to create entirely sustainable supply chains. In forming a relationship with the South African mining NGO, the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM), the company supports gold mining communities to provide training, social welfare and environmental support to their teams. Thanks to Chopard’s involvement, two mines in Latin America have already achieved Fairmined certification, and that’s just the start!
Chopard is also using The Journey to ensure the responsible procurement of precious stones, including emeralds and opals. There is a dark history behind the mining of precious stones, of which the mainstream media have reported frequently. These stones include so-called ‘blood diamonds’, the mining of which help to fund and increase the conflict in the areas where they are produced.
One of these areas is Burma, where profits from the purchase of highly sought-after rubies and sapphires found there have been financing the military regime that has to date killed and displaced thousands of the Rohingya people. As a result, Chopard made the decision to stop sourcing stones from Burma in 2017.
Caroline Scheufele, the Artistic Director and Co-President of Chopard, has been awarded with the United Nation’s Fashion 4 Development Award in recognition of her role in launching The ‘Journey To Sustainable Luxury’. She says: “Since the launch of The Journey to Sustainable Luxury, we have been improving the sustainability performance of our production processes, building responsible supply chains, and playing our part to catalyse positive change for the communities and people touched by our business and products”.
The Journey doesn’t stop there. Further to bringing Chopard into line with the UN’s Global Goals, the brand is dedicated to continuing to bring about positive change, and working with other major brands and figureheads to create a sustainable system of supply and demand that benefits everyone involved, from miner to consumer.