I am a Heretical Jeweller.
I sit on the hotel terrace in Entebbe, Uganda, where I have a few moments to reflect on my vocational journey as a fair trade ethical jeweller. Never in my wildest dreams did I consider that the quest for an ethically pure jewel would take me to the far corners of the globe and the most dramatic and inspirational places imaginable. Having spent a week with Fairtrade associated Ugandan artisanal gold miners, I remain convinced that when jewellers meet responsible miners there is a chemistry created that re-imagines luxury. We have been working on installing the beginning of a mercury free production system for their gold. I have come to the realisation that I am a heretical jeweller.
I am comfortable with this confession. I am a heretical jeweller. I am a heretic from the conservative orthodoxy of non-disclosure. It is easy to forget when you work in the luxury profession (of which jewellery is King) that every aspect of the jewellery narrative is fashioned to perpetuate an aura of exclusivity, a culture of celebrity, seduction, opulence and emotionalism. The value of jewellery is never carried in the material cost/price of the Jewel, it is carried by the emotional sentiment we are prepared to attach to the meaning of a moment i.e. a gift, wedding, lover, heritage, art.
The aspirational value ascribed to jewellery is totally relative and never equitable. It is relative to where you sit in the supply chain. A Russian oligarch can afford a Cartier diamond necklace because for him, it is cheap. A female Ugandan artisanal gold miner could only ever dream of enough money to be mercury free, thereby preventing potential mercury poisoning of her unborn child. Why do we consider a Cartier Diamond Necklace to be of more worth than the dignity of an artisanal miners life? Could it be because we jewellers place greater value on the status symbols of power and privilege, than we do on the inalienable value of human life? I may be a heretical jeweller, but I am an honest one.
So where does that leave me? A heretical jeweller with a love for jewellery, expressed through my Fairtrade Gold Valerio Jewellery brand. A heretic to a profession whose consensus has been the creation of symbols of wealth and beauty with no regard to the dignity and truth of its source. Heresy always pushes the boundaries of conventional thought and its prescriptive wisdom. In the case of jewellery, the prescribed orthodoxy has been established by the old fashioned European Luxury brands and their historical association to colonial empire and their respective monarchies.
As a student of theology, as well as a student of ethically progressive jewellery, I have come to understand the inherent value of a good heresy. In pushing beyond the prescribe orthodoxy we can forge a new direction and dimension to the jewellery offering. Every week I am approached by young designers desperate to avoid the Jurassic jewellery of non-disclosure. They care, they do not want their jewels to pollute the precious eco-systems of the world. They want to uphold human rights and want their customers to know contentment and fulfillment in their purchase. Not only are they investing their love and emotion into a talismanic purchase, but they also desire the peace of mind in knowing that the legacy they leave is the positive luxury of ecological and social dignity for those who anoint their jewels with the sweat of their brows.
‘Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty’ Socrates.
This is the primary reason why I set up Valerio Jewellery. To offer a way of enabling new designers access to the best socially and environmentally responsible sources in the business and allow them to retail online. But more on the detail of this in a later post.
I have witnessed whilst working with my Ugandan gold mining friends, a joy, a compassion, a faith, a dignity and renewed hope that invests a deeper meaning into my jewellery. The purest jewellery in the world demands radical honesty. My jewellery represents these most precious expressions of future hope and human dignity. When ethical jewellers meet fair trade miners extraordinary opportunities are created.