November 26 2015

Is the Jewellery industry walking on thin ice?

Alan Frampton Cred JewelleryOn Professional Jeweller Online, Cred Jewellery owner, Alan Frampton, responds to an article written for the New York Times by the chairman of Tiffany & Co. called ‘When Gold Isn’t Worth the Price’.

In Frampton’s words…

In the opinion piece Michael J. Kowalski describes the need for independent accreditation of the raw materials used in the jewellery industry. This is some of what Kowalski said:

Having led a company that for the past 20 years has been an ardent advocate for higher standards of conduct, I am convinced that the only way forward for the jewelry business in particular, and for extractive industries in general, is through third-party certification mechanisms that establish rigorous standards for the mining of precious metals and gemstones.

This needs to be a system that involves all stakeholders, including community organizations, and not just industry representatives in its conception and governance. It must set standards that go far beyond today’s lowest-common-denominator regulations. Good intentions are not enough; these standards must be transparent, auditable and mine-specific, with on-the-ground performance metrics.

This man was chief executive of Tiffany’s, has an MBA from Harvard and is now chairman of the board of Tiffany’s. He is worth listening to.

Lately the media has been full of companies who have made corporate mistakes; Volkswagon and Talk Talk are the recent ones.

The jewellery industry is walking on thin ice when it comes to the sourcing of its products and must wake up to the dangers that lie ahead if they take no action.

Four years ago, when I first started in the industry, I was immensely impressed by the talent in this industry. The designers, the manufactures, the craftsmen and women, the beautiful retail outlets and the lovely people you meet in every area.

However, after a few months I realised that there was a denial as to where the raw materials were coming from in most sections of the industry. Suppliers to the industry were burying their heads when it came to responsible sourcing and real knowledge about where their diamonds, semi precious stones and metals originated from.

In a previous business I owned, we supplied Sainsbury’s and Waitrose for 15 years. We had traceability and due diligence on products that were worth just a few pence. The jewellery industry needs a professional management system and good leadership to instill a morale conduct that will stand up to scrutiny.

Currently there are a number of standards in our industry that are not worth the paper they are written on. They are owned and controlled by vested interests and are nothing more than a marketing exercise. Professional accreditations in other industries are totally independent and include all stakeholders in a process that merits the quality of the organisation.

There is only one accreditation system currently working in the industry that is completely independent and that is Fairtrade gold. It is not controlled by miners, importers, manufacturers or jewellers. The standard is arrived at by involving everyone, and pushing organisations to reach best practice. It is the only standard in the jewellery industry where an independent auditor can turn up unannounced and check your paperwork to make sure you are doing the job properly.

During 2015, there have been a number of organisations and people who recognise that change needs to take place. Jewellery designers under the age of 30 are leading the charge wanting their pieces to be made ethically.

There are other organisations that may surprise you:
 - Cooksons Precious Metals has been stocking Fairtrade gold for four years and its current range of Fairtrade jewellery components is impressive.
 - The CMJ, under Willie Hamilton’s direction, has supported Fairtrade gold since day one and he has been encouraging his members to ask the question of provenance to all of their suppliers.
 - Hockley Mint has been making Fairtrade rings for four years and supporting a wider industry campaign.
 - The new engagement and wedding ring ranges from Arctic Circle and Mastercut are only made with Fairtrade gold.
 - And then we have the high-profile endorsement of Liz Earle, whose new jewellery collection is made entirely from Fairtrade metals. Liz, a pioneer of provenance, always tells people that she was ‘green’ when green was just a colour.

Some reading this may think, ‘Frampton is going on about Fairtrade again’, and yes, I am. The issue here comes back to the article written by the Tiffany’s chairman above.

The industry needs to be more professional and should ask where its raw materials come from. Is Fairtrade the way forward? Well it’s certainly best practice in this industry.

Anyone who knows about accreditation will tell you that the other jewellery industry options on the table currently are weak at best. At the end of the day, the consumer will demand to know what’s in the ring they have just paid £2,500 for – they will want to know how you can prove it. There is a generation of young people who are leaving school, who are educated in these things; they are your future customers. Let them make their own decisions; all you have to do is give them the choice.

If you go to the tea aisle in Sainsburys you see Sainsburys own Fairtrade tea bags, alongside Twinings branded product, PG Tips and all the others. The consumers are more than capable of deciding which to choose for themselves.

The question we should ask ourselves is – Should we be proactive and change now or stick our heads in the sand and leave it to others to raise sustainable standard?

What do you think the directors of Volkswagon wish they had done?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but don’t forget, the press haven’t come knocking on your door – yet.