As consumers are no longer content with jewellery that simply looks good, they are now in the market for pieces that are both ethically sourced and made. One of the buzz phrases that’s being doing the rounds of late is ‘sustainable gold’ - but what exactly does that mean and how can you work out which companies are using it? Read on to find out.

The issues facing the gold mining industry

When wearing a piece of fine or semi-fine jewellery, it can sometimes be hard to imagine its origin - in the ground in a country probably far away from where you are now. Areas in which there was once a lot to find, such as America and Australia, are now suffering from depleted resources so companies are having to venture further into new territory. As these locations become increasingly remote, more resources are needed to extract the gold from the ground. More resources simply means one thing: more pollution.

There’s also the issue of health and safety. Mining has long been a dangerous profession - sending men and women into the depths of the earth is not a light-hearted business. As resources become scarce, companies begin to mine deeper, which increases the risk of collapse and inhalation of toxic chemicals.

Due to the rising costs of mining, there is still a prevalent black market in the industry, where small-scale companies and traders look to make a better profit illegally.

There are several initiatives looking to combat these problems and when buying your jewellery, it’s worth doing some research into the company’s ethics to ensure your gold has had an ethical journey. The trouble is, there are several phrases and labels used to define the material, so we’ve debunked a few below to ensure you know exactly what you’re getting:

Ethical Gold

Ethical gold is gold that is sourced from artisanal and small scale mining companies. Overseen by a variety of initiatives and organisations, practices, sales and operations are all legal and the people working within them have had their rights protected - there’s no child labour, gender inequality or unfair pay.

Eco-Friendly Gold

Eco-Friendly gold is slightly different. This gold is mined in such a way to ensure minimal impact on the land and environment - for example, no toxic chemicals are used during the process. Most large-scale mining companies use mercury (which is a major pollutant) to recover the gold, whereas those that define themselves as eco-friendly, don’t.

Recycled Gold

Recycled gold does exactly what it says on the tin - it’s gold that has been used before and is being repurposed in new pieces of jewellery - so rather than mining the earth for more new gold, brands that use recycled materials turn to that which has already been mined. This gold is usually taken from old jewellery, scrap metal or is a by-product of industrial production. As this gold often comes from multiple sources, it can be hard to keep track of the supply chain, so occasionally ‘dirty gold’ (gold that is unethically sourced from conflicted areas) can sometimes enter the system.

Companies using sustainable gold

Thanks to the increasing popularity of demi-fine jewellery and a more ethical consumer, most independent jewellers - and many of the larger jewellery companies - are now working with sustainable gold.