Buying antique or vintage jewellery may seem like a romantic thing to do, but have you ever stopped and wondered about its darker side? Most people do not know that a lot of antique pieces have a dark side to them, a dark history, that if you knew, you would think twice about your purchase. To find out about this side of jewellery we will need to look at where its raw materials came from.
Note: We will use the term “antique” to cover both antique and vintage jewellery.
Different types of raw materials are needed to make jewellery that include gold, diamonds, and other gemstones and metals. Most of the raw materials come from third world countries where miners often work in substandard conditions to earn a week's pittance to feed their families. Some groups call out that we should boycott such organisations, but the problem is that without the trade the miners and their families would be left with no livelihood. To circumvent this, governments and NGO's create programs and put processes in place that help ensure the improvement in workers’ living standards whilst at the same time allowing us to purchase their materials - such programs and processes include the likes of the Kimberly Process and Fairtrade Gold.
Often workers are paid next to nothing and labour in extremely dangerous conditions where cyanide and mercury are used to extract gold. Not only can this make them ill, or kill them, it also poses a serious risk to the well-being of the surrounding ecosystem. Although not yet fully embraced (only 16% of UK consumers are aware of Fairtrade gold), Fairtrade Gold is gaining popularity and puts in place measures that ensure the workers are better protected and that the gold can be traced back to its source. You can learn more about Fairtrade gold by downloading their PDF document.
The Kimberly Process
The Kimberly Process was established in the year 2000 and unites the different players in the diamond industry to fight against and stem the flow of conflict diamonds - also known as blood diamonds. The process ensures that the diamonds in your jewellery have not been sourced from conflict zones where rough diamonds are used to finance wars and genocide against innocent people.
So where does Antique Jewellery fit in?
Antique jewellery, diamonds, and gemstones fall out of the Kimberly process and more often than not, contain materials mined from conflict zones for the purposes of funding war. We cannot really say exactly how much conflict jewellery there is in the world, but we can presume that most antique jewellery contains elements from several of those zones. Not only does it apply to the wars of the last century, we must also remember how empires conquered and shed blood to get their hands on precious metals and gemstones for the purpose of wealth and to adorn themselves in the biggest, brightest, and most extravagant pieces of jewellery. Therein lies the dark side of antique jewellery - not many people are aware that their beautiful necklace, bracelet, or diamond ring have been made from materials used to fund conquests, wars, and genocide.
The Cons Outside of Conflict and Wars
War and conflicts form part of the darker side of antique jewellery, but there are also other factors and cons that may make you reconsider purchasing such jewellery. For example, has the piece been worn for a lifetime and is literally worn out, on the verge of breaking, and requiring and extensive and costly restoration job? This may be so for many pieces. Wear and tear can wear out the gold on a chain causing it to break easier than a modern-day chain, the claws that hold a diamond in place can become loose and brittle risking the diamond being dislodged and lost forever. Even highly experienced goldsmiths shudder at the thought of repairing antique jewellery because no matter how much skill they have, more often than not there ends up additional work to be done. If you are still determined to make a purchase, make sure that the vendor offers a written guarantee on the piece.
A New Approach
A replica of an antique engagement ring (view ring)
A new approach in obtaining your dream piece would be to contact your local manufacturing jeweller. Independent manufacturing jewellers tend to be the most enthusiast and knowledgeable with many generations of trading behind them, and access to today's ultra-modern tools and Star Trek-type equipment such as laser cutters, CAD, and 3D printing. They can literally create any piece of jewellery using safe-sourced diamonds, gemstones, hypo-allergenic alloys, and Fairtrade gold.
By embracing this modern alternative, you can get any antique piece replicated and enjoy a lifetime's worth of wear, and a new family heirloom, knowing that it was made using fair-sourced raw materials that support the miners, their families, and communities.