If you’re a sustainably-minded jewelry wearer, you’ve probably heard lots of conversations surrounding ethical sourcing for materials like gold and diamonds. But with all the silver jewelry out there, it seems like there’s a bit of a lack of information about this white metal. Most people (including jewelers) don’t really know where silver is mined, how it is brought to market, or what types of social and environmental factors to consider when sourcing silver. For jewelry-lovers who want to make sustainable purchasing decisions, it is indisputably important to understand how the journey of this metal impacts our planet.
Here, we will explain why it is paramount that the jewelry industry begin using more responsibly sourced silver and improve silver sourcing processes. We’ll touch on why we make our alloys in-house and how we source our metals for W.R. Metalarts pieces. Also, we’ll discuss how we view our role in the industry, and how we make strides to improve the silver market as part of our commitment to ethical sourcing.
First, some terms to know:
- Alloy: a metal made by combining two or more metallic elements, especially to give greater strength or resistance to corrosion.
- Amalgamation: a process of extracting metals (as native gold and silver) from their ores by the addition of small quantities of mercury.
- Ore: a naturally occurring solid rock-like material from which a metal or valuable mineral can be profitably extracted.
- Mercury: a metal that is toxic to living organisms and often used to recover minute pieces of gold and silver that are found in soil and sediments.
About Fairmined metals
We can’t dive into the world of responsible silver without touching on Fairmined metals. The Fairmined initiative certifies metals of responsible origin, ensuring that the material is traceable and extracted using environmentally conscious methods. The Fairmined program also supports artisanal and small-scale mining communities by paying a fair price, supporting community development projects, and bringing industry-leading standards to the fore. Fairmined ensures that each purchase supports sustainable development and positive change, making it more than just a choice in jewelry, but a conscious step towards a better future.
Shop Gold For Good: our Fairmined Collections
About the Ethics of Silver
Many people are familiar with the ethics and sustainability concerns surrounding gold and diamonds, but silver deserves just as much attention. Though silver is a very commonly used metal, there are actually very few silver mines out there. Most silver is procured as a byproduct of copper, zinc, lead, and other metal mines. Transforming the silver from its natural ore (rocklike state) to a shiny smooth metal at larger scale facilities often involves the use of toxic chemical additives like borax and cyanide, which are either burned or added to a liquid solution. This means that the process of creating silver produces either toxic vapors, or liquid toxins - both of which require careful disposal.
Like gold, mercury (a toxic chemical) is commonly used to get silver out of ore. Most of the time, mercury use occurs in smaller, more artisanal mine sites. However, most people don’t realize that silver actually requires the use of more mercury than gold during amalgamation. To make matters worse, silver is cheaper and found at 10x the rate of gold, resulting in a tremendous amount of mercury being used to process silver. Since mercury is often not properly disposed of, silver is a huge contributor to mercury toxicity in the environment.
About Our Alloys
Most jewelers don’t make their own gold alloys, and instead outsource this process to others. For us, it’s important to make our own alloys so that we can control exactly what goes into each metal mixture. That way, we can be sure to use metals that were sourced and processed responsibly - resulting in a final alloy (and final jewelry piece) that is ethically sound. Making our own gold alloys also allows us to incorporate more Fairmined silver into our production, which supports the mining community while creating a product that isn’t too much more expensive (compared to using the Fairmined silver alone).
For our alloys we source only 24k Ecological (“Eco”) Fairmined gold, and Fairmined silver that comes from eco gold mines. Eco Fairmined metals have an even higher level of certification which guarantees that no mercury, cyanide, or other toxic chemicals were used in the processing of the metals. Very few mines are Eco Fairmined certified. Fairmined silver is very rare and more expensive, costing 2-7x the price of conventional silver due to the small-scale mining and extra labor needed to process it. Because of our careful sourcing, no mercury is used in the processing of any of our gold or silver. Hardly any other jewelry makers can say this!
Fairmined silver grain in Will's hand, ready to be alloyed with Fairmined gold
About Our Role in the Responsible Silver Jewelry Market
For us, it is imperative that our sourcing decisions align with our company commitment to minimizing environmental and social harm. That means that we will work harder and pay more to buy metals and materials that come to market transparently, are free from toxic chemical processing, and contribute to a fair wage for workers along the way. However, we believe that our responsibility extends beyond just our own choices.
We aim to be a leader in the responsible jewelry industry by sharing our knowledge, inspiring by example, and urging consumers to use their purchasing power to make positive change. For three years in a row, our founder Will Nevins-Alderfer has attended the Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference as a way to help push the industry towards more ethical and sustainable practices. This past year during the event, he spoke on a panel with three peers about the importance of responsibly sourced silver, helping bring more knowledge and action surrounding this well-loved metal.
Will (and peers) at the Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference
How to Support Responsible Silver
As a conscientious jewelry enthusiast, your choices can drive positive change in the industry. While discussions often revolve around ethical sourcing of gold and diamonds, responsible silver sourcing is equally crucial. You have the power to choose jewelry pieces that feature Fairmined silver and responsibly sourced alloys, which helps drive momentum for improved industry standards. By understanding the journey of this often-overlooked metal, you play a vital role in reducing environmental impact and supporting global mining communities. As this collective knowledge grows, jewelers and jewelry-lovers together can push the industry towards better practices, and a more positive future for our planet and its people. Thanks for being with us on this journey!