Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On coral and ethically sourced jewelry

On October 15th, Etsy posted an article in their Craftivism blog about the use of coral in jewelry. The featured person in this article was someone who made a statement against buying coral and pointed to the 'Too Precious to Wear' campaign by SeaWeb, urging buyers to sign the pledge not to buy any jewelry with coral.

This was met by both hurrays and angry outbursts from Etsy sellers. From the comments to the article it was clear that many Etsy sellers had not been aware that coral is not always gathered legally and/or in an environmentally friendly way. Others pointed out that very few materials in jewelry making are mined in a way that does not damage the natural environment or the local miners and stone cutters. Someone also linked to a Newsweek article in which it becomes clear that not all coral gathering is a threat to the environment.

So what do I do? I do what I can, within my limitations. I save all my silver scrap and will send it to a jewelry supplier for recycling. Most jewelers do this with their precious metals scrap. It is a great way to save money and you contribute to an increased use of recycled metal. I also love to buy stones that can be traced to the source and that have been cut by for instance Etsy sellers. People you can talk to. Not anonymous laborers who work 18 hours a day in bad conditions for meager wages. Those ethically sourced stones are relatively expensive, and I must admit that these are not all I buy. I have bought from eBay and from other sources where origin and other information is not disclosed. I wish each stone or piece of metal had an 'ethics and environment' rating and we jewelers could decide on that basis if we would be willing to buy such an item.

But alas, that is not the case. We have no idea what sort of business we support by purchasing a gemstone. A safe bet, if you want to avoid a guilty feeling, is to buy laboratory made gemstones. Many precious gemstones can now be made in the laboratory, even opal. They are most often cheaper than mined stones, but can be a bit lifeless. Flawless gemstones are somehow much more interesting if they are natural than if they are lab made. That will not change, but if you really feel strongly about these matters lab made stones are good alternatives.

As a customer you can also request ethically produced jewelry. The gemstones market is like any other market. If the demand for ethically mined products increases, the products will follow. In the mean time we can do what we can to drive the development into the right direction.

With this entry I intend by no means to give you a comprehensive overview of good suppliers, it is mainly my reflections and an illustration of the complexity of this business. Feel free to post any tips for suppliers and anything else of interest in the comments section. You may even promote your own shop if you like. I can start by showing you these yummy rings by fellow Etsyan MieleMelograno, who stumbled across a Kenyan supplier of fair trade gemstones. Check out these yummy rings:


  1. It's always a debate. I take some comfort in knowing that the Reefs are stringently protected and that the chances of any coral on Etsy being sold inexpensively is NOT from protected areas. However, i cannot say they were mined in a conscious way.

    When I first started, I never even considered this issue. I never really connected Coral and Environment for some reason. Just like I never connected Stone and Environment. I, like you, do my best to buy from known sources as much as I can when it comes to cabochons. I wish I could know more for beads!

    This is a great post!

  2. Thank you Sha. I agree, I have learned so much about these things in just a year. It's a whole new world!

  3. Thanks for the wonderful article!! I was more than a little outraged by the blog post on Etsy. Yes, I carry coral in my shop but NO, it is NOT from an unethical source. All of my stones are purchased from reputable dealers. (Most of them from fellow Etsy sellers who purchase rough and cut the stones themselves!) I think it was incredibly irresponsible for Etsy to punish an entire group of sellers (whom THEY make their living off of) by inviting this "designer" to encourage people to boycott coral. This extends far beyond jewelry as even sellers of knitted articles are guilty of using the word "coral" in their descriptions. Etsy has even made treasuries with the word "coral" in them unsearchable! I plan to go into my "coral" listings and add information about the source of my coral but who can say if this will help my sales at all. I AM concerned about our environment and even run a recycled clothing site. I make every attempt to be aware of the impact my businesses have on this planet. BUT, unlike that blogger on Etsy, I ALSO made a pledge to sell a HANDMADE item!

    Please check out my shops:
    www.RecycledTs.etsy com

  4. Great post!
    And, I agree with Gaynor~

    It's important to make people aware of the coral reef issue, but there are some alternatives to unethically sourced coral.

    I only use coral I find on the beach personally.

    See mine here:

    An example of my coral work:

    1. Actually, taking coral from the beach is now also considered unethical. These pieces can harbour both marine and land life. Many beaches prohibit beachcombing and that means anything. Personally, I will not stop using coral that grows quickly and prolifically in Asian waters. That said, I think that coral and many other stones should be considered as rare and beautiful objets d'art, to be used and reused, sold and resold the way silver and gold are.