Jun 22, 2009
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Ethical gold, another type of fashion?

Jun 22, 2009

SAINT-DIE (Vosges), 19 June 2009 (AFP) – Where does the gold used for a ring, a necklace or an earring come from? How was it extracted? In what social conditions? What environmental impact? “Ethical gold” wants to outline the answers.

“I discovered intelligent extraction of gold in Latin America. That was the departure point. I asked myself why not try to bring a traceability, transparency to clients?” explained Erwan Le Louer, 25 years old, who has created the brand JEL (Jewellery Ethical Luxury).

As gold can be melted down, following its path is not always easy. This means that an approach will be different than it is in the field of diamonds for example, where it is organised according to the Kimberley process which unites governments and industry bodies with the aim of eliminating “blood diamonds” from the global market.

According to a study led by the WWF in French Guiana, one of the principal factors in the incitement of clandestine gold-panning comes from the “ridiculously easy” nature with which illegal exploiters can infiltrate the legal sector with their merchandise.

For the NGO, nothing can guarantee that the gold found in Parisian jewelers did not have an illegal activity at its origin, namely a high consumption of mercury, which can have devastating effects on soil, water flows and ecosystems.

The founder of JEL uses nuggets which come from the Choco region in the west of Colombia, where craftsmen work in small, open-air mines under the “Oro Verde” project. Paid above the price of gold, they practice a craft, sifting, “where chemicals and contaminating products are banned from the extraction process”.

“It’s not in the ways and customs of the sector to use the same metal in all the links of the chain,” stated Erwan Le Louer, who, starting from what is still a niche, intends to demonstrate that it is possible to keep a thread, from the extraction to the final consumer of the prestigious yellow metal.

In Saint-Dié, in the Vosges, where the range of ethical jewellery is made by a company called Aurigane, an obsession: to ensure that this “traced” gold has at no point mixed with metal with another origin.

For alloys, necessary to reach an 18 carat gold, one needs a dedicated oven. After having cast the molten metal in a plaster mould, the jewellery is detached from “the tree” and the “trunk” is recuperated, in part, to be further refined then melted.

This concern continues until the end of the production process: for the polishing of the jewellery, craftsmen work with a special “skin” to gather the filings in order that they do not mix with other gold dust.

For Didier Tursin, industrial director of the site, this new approach has created a real interest within the factory. “The people who work on this have been surprised that ecology comes to them in their profession. They have found that appealing”, he stated.

Romain Renoux, who has worked on illegal gold-panning for WWF finds the approach “interesting”, with a hope: that the arrival of an “ethical gold” on the market causes consumers “to ask themselves questions” on the yellow metal’s sector.

By Jonathan Fulwell (Source: AFP/Jérôme CARTILLIER)

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