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Jewellery is hardly a necessity of life. But according to Michael Rae, chief executive of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), that’s not the point.
“It doesn’t keep the weight off, it doesn’t feed you. It doesn’t keep you cool in the summer or warm in the winter,” he says. “It is beautiful and finely crafted, but really people buy jewellery because of what it represents – the best of human emotion.”
However, “human emotion” has created a dilemma for jewellery companies, as high-profile campaigns against conflict minerals and dirty gold have raised public concern about the ethical footprints of supply chains.
No fiancée wants to fear that the cost of her engagement ring was an environment destroyed, a community damaged or a worker mistreated. As Rae, who spent 17 years working with WWF, puts it, “If you are trying to sell a product that represents the height of human emotion, you do not want that associated with collateral damage.”
The RJC was formed in 2005 by some of the biggest brands in mining and retail, such as BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Tiffany & Co and Cartier, as well as trade associations such as Jewelers of America.
Since then, its initial membership of 14 has swelled to around 450 to include not only conglomerates but also smaller enterprises. Ask at Tiffany & Co today whether its products are responsibly sourced and you will be told that, just as its iconic blue boxes are made by Forest Stewardship Council accredited suppliers, so is its jewellery certified by the RJC.