One of the UK's leading contemporary jewellers, Erica Sharpe, knows how to make every conversation count. She’s now proving Fairtrade gold can become the norm in the jewellery industry – and it’s what shoppers expect.
Within the last few years I have been lucky enough to witness the blossoming of Fairtrade gold in the jewellery industry.
For Fairtrade Fortnight last year I began a new jewellery collection entirely made in Fairtrade silver: The Honey Makers. Hand crafted in Fairtrade silver and delicious honey-coloured Amber, The Honey Makers comprised of 14 unique pieces, including necklaces, tie pins, earrings and cufflinks. I could not believe the popularity of these pieces and whilst I would like to take full responsibility for it, sadly I cannot.
The reason this collection captivated my customers was because they were enthralled with the idea of Fairtrade jewellery.
This was not the only time I encountered this. Whilst doing demonstrations of jewellery making at an Art in Action exhibition, I worked completely with Fairtrade gold. In doing this, I was able to start a conversation with people about Fairtrade within the jewellery industry and hopefully, of the 25,000 people at that exhibition, some of them will have carried on that conversation and will now be spreading the word of Fairtrade jewellery.
Back in June of this year, I made the decision to make all of my bespoke commissions in Fairtrade Gold. I was delighted to receive the award for ‘Best Fairtrade Retailer’ in the South West Fairtrade Business Awards 2016 and this was the catalyst for my decision.
Although I had been offering the potential for making jewellery in Fairtrade Gold to my customers since 2011, only a small number of them had requested it specifically.
As the ethical supply of materials for my designs is at the heart of my business, I felt I could no longer wait to be asked but had to take the lead and provide Fairtrade Gold as standard. As Fairtrade Foundation has highlighted in the past, minerals from conflict zones continue to be regularly used in high tech products, such as phones, and in many parts of the world child labour and damaging environmental pollutants are a sad fact of artisanal mining.
The materials that come out of these mines have been created in the worst possible environments and alongside awful suffering, how could I justify using them in my jewellery? I simply would not want to handle them, let alone use them to handcraft beautiful designs commissioned for life-marking celebrations, for gifts of love and commitment.
Since my decision, not one of my clients has asked for the designs in any other materials but Fairtrade and I am completely thrilled.
You might remember earlier this year, in the annual parade of stunning jewels that is the Cannes Film Festival, international High Jeweller Chopard brought the issue firmly into the public eye with its latest ‘Green Carpet’ Collection of Fairmined gold and jewels.
These jewels, or at least their precious metals and gems, can be traced back to the mines they came from, and I am proud to say so can mine. I am always happy to answer questions about the origins of the materials I use, to source special gems or design unique jewellery for any special occasion.
Erica Sharpe is based in Somerset.