I’m a gold girl for life.
In high school, my hairdresser told me that with my coloring, I should stick with warm colors. He meant for my highlights, of course. But when I looked down at my silver bracelet, I did notice that it made my skin look wan and sickly. Ever since then, it’s been nothing but high-quality gold jewelry for me: delicate gold necklaces, multiple gold earrings running up my ear, gold bracelets, my grandmother’s gold anklet, and of course, my gold engagement and wedding rings.
I love gold. I love the warm glow it has. I’ve lingered for hours in museums in places like Peru, Paris, Stockholm and Morocco, looking at how cultures have crafted their most prized art and adornment with gold. It will never go out of style, as long as humans are alive.
Of course, as a sustainable fashion enthusiast, I had heard about the problems with gold mining. But I thought if I just stuck with recycled gold, I was helping solve that problem and keeping my conscience clear. It turns out, not so much.
This summer, I was approached by a new luxury jewelry brand who told me the facts about gold mining, and explained their design ethos. When they asked me if I wanted to get involved, my answer was an enthusiastic, “yes!”
So, I’m proud to say that I’ve joined the team of the new luxury jewelry company Futura (which launched yesterday!) part-time to help them translate their message on their social media and blog. Yes, that’s my writing you see there on Instagram and their website!
Let me share with you why their ethos resonates with me so deeply…
The Surprising Problems With the Gold Industry
When I thought of the destructive practices of gold mining, I always envisioned huge holes in the ground, ringed with giant dump trucks. But the reality is that 90% of the global mining workforce is actually made up of small-scale, or “artisanal” miners.
These are miners who labor by hand in informal and unregulated gold mines, and there are about 15 million of them across the world. One-third of them are women. And these women often bring their children with them to help.
Another thing most people don’t know, is that these miners use toxic mercury to separate the gold flakes from dirt and rock. The miner pulverizes the rock containing the gold bits into powder, then mixes mercury with the ore and water, creating a mercury-gold mixture called an “amalgam.” The mercury sucks in the gold away from the dirt or rock. The amalgam is then heated to vaporize the mercury, which floats into the air like a toxic steam, and leave the gold behind.
These mercury vapors travel long distances, persist in the environment forever, and bio-accumulate in animals (and humans). Symptoms after inhaling mercury include tremors, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular effects, headaches and cognitive and motor dysfunction, plus kidney failure, and even death. Experts agree that there is no safe level of exposure to mercury. It’s so toxic that here in the U.S., when there is a mercury spill in a school, the school has to be shut down for days to ensure it’s safe for the kids. And yet, artisanal and small-scale miners – and their families, including children and pregnant women – handle mercury with their hands and breathe it in almost every day for years.
Large industrial mines also release mercury and other toxic tailings into the environment. But artisanal and small-scale mining is the largest source of mercury pollution on earth. Approximately 400 metric tonnes of airborne elemental mercury emissions are released each year.
Why Not Just Buy Recycled Gold Jewelry?
This is a completely fair question. And there’s plenty of recycled gold available – right now, recycled gold only satisfies 30% of the world demand for gold.
Could we recycle more gold? We do throw out 500 metric tonnes of gold per year in electronics. But, even if we managed to recover all of it, that only adds about 11% more gold to the global supply. In order to satisfy our demand for gold, we would have to recycle 300 million phones per day, which would mean we would run out of phones to recycled in 23 days, according to the BBC.
The rest of the gold that is out there is stored in sacred places like Indian temples, is kept as reserves in government vaults, or is in precious jewelry that is passed down through generations of families. With our deep and emotional connection to these gold pieces, not many of these are likely to be turned in for recycling.
More importantly, buying only recycled gold doesn’t help improve existing mines, which are the only means of employment for millions of rural people on almost every continent. They deserve to earn money in a safe environment, and taking away that opportunity from them is not the answer. To really improve their lives, you need to commit to buying gold only from mines that use non-toxic, safe, and fair practices. What that does is send a clear, direct signal to those mines that there is a customer base for their clean gold. It incentivizes them to keep going, and tempts other mines to go clean as well.
The Best Gold Certification
I’m all about the certifications when it comes to sustainable fashion – it’s the only way to know you can really trust a brand. And for gold, the standard is Fairmined.
The FAIRMINED Association certifies mines who use efficient technologies and are socially and environmentally responsible. The miners get a guaranteed fair price, plus an additional premium to cover the costs of the certification and invest in responsible mining operations, social development and environmental protection. Child labor is forbidden. However, a Fairmined operation can still use mercury and cyanide, albeit more responsibly.
But there is another, more strict and sustainable category of Fairmined Gold: Fairmined Ecological gold.
Under this certification, only gravimetric methods – vortexes, centrifuges, and shaking tables – are allowed. The mine is also required to minimize ecological disruption and restore local native ecosystems.
There is currently only one mine in the world certified under these strict requirements, and it’s located in Mongolia, a country in which rural people are finding their way of life upended by climate change, and so have no other potential source of income available to them other than gold mining. This Fairmined Ecological certification allows these workers to earn in a living in a nontoxic environment, without destroying their ancestral home.
While some luxury jewelry brands financially support the cause, Futura is the first and only jewelry company to source only Fairmined Ecological gold, with the hopes that they can encourage this certification to spread to more mines.
Forever Designs – Not Trends
Futura didn’t want to pick one type of design, and exclude conscious women from finding something they love. So the Futura team spent two years researching in the archives of jewelry history, looking for iconic designs to craft in this 18kt Fairmined Ecological gold. They look for three criteria in making their selection: Each piece must be beautiful – modern and highly desirable to look at and wear. It also must be timeless, so that it’s difficult to pinpoint its era, because it transcends time. And it must have been a proven success, and had significance in the lives of the people who wore the original piece.
In other words, these are lifetime and heirloom pieces, not trends.
Because the gold Futura sources is so rare, they’re going to release one style at a time, with some styles being ‘Limited.’ Each release you’re going to see something different: a David Calder, a traditional Indian design, or even something from Ancient Greece.
The idea is that eventually every woman who wants to wear pure, toxic-chemical-free gold will be able to choose something she loves. If you don’t like this design, the next month there will be something else from a different culture and period.
So even if you’re not ready to buy something now (understandable, I respect when my readers take their time) you should sign up for the newsletter so you can see what designs they will choose to release next!
They also have wedding rings for conscious couples in simple and ornate styles, available today. There is the classic half-round ring, and a square ring, but also an Etruscan Roman one, one based on something from the 1500s, plus a few more. Each piece is available in 18kt white, yellow, or rose gold. And you don’t have to buy them for a wedding – they are stackable for the woman who is just loving herself at the moment.
Ethical and Sustainable Through and Through
In the last steps in its journey from mine to you, the gold is sent to be crafted into beautiful pieces of jewelry in a workshop in New York, where the craftsmen have created jewelry for some of the finest luxury jewelry houses in the world. Then it’s placed in a beautiful, sustainably-harvested, wooden Futura box. And sent to you.
I’ve been spending a lot of time really getting to know Futura, and I’m so excited to be part of history with the debut of such a thoughtful, forward-looking, and gorgeous brand. I’m here to answer any of your questions you may have!