As a maker of objects, sometimes the use of materials does not align with my efforts to use as few resources as possible. Especially in the case of precious metals. These metals are not easily extracted from the earth. However, doing this work is a compulsion, almost as necessary to my well-being as eating or sleeping.
Fortunately, there has been some activity to push the metals industry into more ethical practices. One of my suppliers of metal, Hoover and Strong, has published a pledge that all of their metals come from recycled metal or mines that they monitor for socially and environmentally friendly practices. I haven't been in touch with them to find out exactly what their standards are, but I am glad that they are making steps to commit themselves to these practices.
Pictured above is my own scrap box to be sent to a supplier to be melted and refined into sterling silver. Every time I sweep the floor, the dust goes into the scrap bin. Everybody that works in precious metals is very vigilant about collecting as much metal as possible from their workshop. Now, some may wonder why I don't just melt it down myself, but that is not a desirable thing to do. The scrap usually contains solder, which is a different combination of metals as compared to the sterling silver or gold alloy. If it is melted into the silver or gold, the resulting wire or sheet will have pits and cracks. There is also dust from abrasives mixed in with the silver and gold dust. So, this process is better left to a larger facility.
Sometimes, however, it is possible to re-use the metal from old jewelry and make it into something new. The old jewelry would have to be the same alloy as is going to be used in the new piece, and also has to have a minimum of solder joints. Since all of the point where there are solder joints have to be cut away, if there are many joints, there might not be enough metal left over to make the new piece. Above is the photo of a ring I made for a friend and client. She had platinum engagement rings from both her mother and grandmother. Fortunately, one of the rings was a heavy cast ring, with only a couple of solder joints, so it was quite easy to make enough wire for the new ring. I am really happy about the way that this project combines sentiment with conservation of resources.
A friend of mine, Susie Ganch, teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University, and she hosted a workshop this winter that was very intriguing. Called the Radical Jewelry Makeover, it was a chance for people in the Richmond area to donate their old, unworn jewelry. Over the course of five days, the students at VCU re-made the old jewelry donated by Richmond residents into new pieces under the guidance of Prof. Ganch and two of the founders of an organization called Ethical Metalsmiths, Christina Miller and Susan Kingsley. At the end of the workshop, those that had donated jewelry, were able to choose pieces from the resulting collection. A great way to highlight the potential of the unworn jewelry and of the young and talented metalsmiths.
Ethical Metalsmiths, which also includes Jennifer Horning, has a range of intiatives, but one of the most interesting for me is the list of willing jewelers, a list they are gathering of jewelers willing to use old gold and re-make it into new jewelry, as I did with my client's platinum rings. They are not publishing the list, but will refer people that contact them directly. Hopefully, certified responsible gold will be available to all of us soon, but in the meantime this is a good option.