It was the inaugural edition of the event.
(Press Release) CHICAGO — The inaugural Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference took place Oct. 13-14 at Columbia College in Chicago. A gathering of some of the top experts and thinkers in the responsible jewelry movement, the conference provided extensive information to practitioners of responsible jewelry sourcing and served as a flashpoint for new initiatives and collaborations between attendees.
The purpose of the Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference was threefold: to bring education and resources for responsible jewelry practices to all levels of the jewelry community, to provide a forum for extensive sharing among presenters and participants, and to motivate participants to take positive steps toward more responsible jewelry practices now.
Attendance at the Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference was diverse, including representation from the U.S. State Department, the international NGO Pact and Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL). Industry representation spanned all sectors, including retail, manufacturing, diamond dealers, designers, associations and service providers.
Some highlights of the event included:
- On the topic of what retailers can do if they don’t currently have many (or any) responsibly sourced products, Pat Syvrud (Joia Consulting/former executive director of the World Diamond Council) said, “There’s a whole list of organizations working hard to improve the working conditions, environmental conditions, pay and safety for mining communities around the world. Donate regularly to one of those organizations. That’s one thing you can do right away.”
- Samuel Shiroff (director of corporate social responsibility, Signet), offered to share resources and information from his office with attendees of the conference. He said, “What affects one of us (in the jewelry industry), affects all of us.”
- In speaking about working conditions and pay for gem cutters around the world, Eric Braunwart (president, Columbia Gem House) said, “From the moment you discover a problem, until the time it is solved, if you can do anything about it, you have to own it.”
There was much discussion about how to share the story of responsible practices with customers. All presenters agreed on a few main tenets. The first tenet is honesty and transparency. As Monica Stephenson (ANZA Gems, iDazzle) put it, “We can’t greenwash it. We have to be very careful to tell the truth, and when we don’t know something, to say, ‘I don’t know.’”
The second tenet is flexibility. As Andrea Hill (Hill Management Group) stated, “There are so many ways to increase responsibility in your business practices, and it’s unlikely any one company can do them all. If your concern is traceability, then carry Forevermark. If you want to focus on less mining and ecological impact, then go with a recycled diamonds or metals strategy. If you want to focus on fair pay and safety for artisanal miners and small gem cutters, then buy from someone like Columbia Gem House or Hoover & Strong. Just pick a story – or a few stories – to tell, back those stories up with product, and give your customers some options. Every step in the right direction is a good step.”
The third tenet was don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. Is the Kimberly Process flawed? “Of course it’s flawed,” Syvrud said, “but it still got us to a diamond pipeline with less than 1 percent conflict diamonds, and that’s progress.” Cristina Villegas (Pact) echoed that thought, reminding attendees that when you look at the issues of sustainability and responsibility too broadly, you miss the fact that millions of people’s lives depend on mining, and that many good people live and work in countries with bad governments. They still need to eat. Or, as Hill said, “These are big messy problems. We’re not going to solve them with big sweeping initiatives. We’re going to solve them by taking one step at a time, doing good everywhere we can, sharing our experience, then looking to the next opportunity.”
In Christina Miller’s (Christina Tatiana Miller Consulting/founder Ethical Metalsmiths) closing benediction, she asked attendees to focus on these things:
- Collaboration is key to improving responsible sourcing and practices in the jewelry industry. Ego-and-agenda-free collaboration will yield the kind of results we are all looking for.
- More individuals and companies are working on responsibility and sustainability measures than anyone realizes. We need to share that information – and make it easier to share that information – widely, so the best ideas and resources can be known to the largest audience.
- Pick an initiative and just do it. The journey toward responsible practices never ends, so don’t try to get it perfect. Just get started, and improve as you go.
The entire event was filmed, and individual sessions will be available for sale on the Ethical Metalsmiths website.
The Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference is the brainchild of Susan Wheeler (Susan Wheeler Design). Hill (Hill Management Group) and Ethical Metalsmiths partnered with Wheeler to produce the event. Sponsors included Richline Group and MJSA.