The US company doesn’t charge a premium for products made with recycled gold and third-party certified diamonds
Brilliant Earth, an ethical jewellery company based in San Francisco, sees a growing market among millennials for ethical sourced jewellery.
In a survey it conducted last year, 80% of millennials said ethical sourcing was an important consideration when selecting an engagement ring, compared to 66% of the general population.
Partly this is fuelled by growing concern about the gold supply chain (see Alarm grows over blood gold). Investigations by Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime have shown that criminal gangs have moved into gold mining in Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. Besides labour abuses, illegal mining practices have destroyed large areas of forests and polluted waterways with toxic chemicals such as mercury and cyanide.
Brilliant Earth uses only recycled gold and platinum, retrieved from old jewellery, industrial metals and electronic components. It recently became the first jewellery company to receive independent third-party certification on its diamond sourcing and recycled metal content by SCS Global Services. The diamonds originate from mines in Canada, Botswana, Namibia, Russia and South Africa that adhere to strict labour, trade, and environmental standards.
“The authenticity of our products really resonates with our customers,” says Beth Gerstein, who founded the company with fellow Stanford Graduate School of Business alumni Eric Grossberg 12 years ago. “Our business model has lower overheads than traditional retailers, which allows us to competitively price our diamonds. We believe that you shouldn’t have to pay more for an ethical product.” As for the metals, Gerstein says: “It’s not necessarily less expensive because we want to know that it is from 100% recycled metals, so the pricing is comparable to using new material.”
Brilliant Earth donates 5% of its profits to communities impacted by mining, and trains miners to use more environmentally friendly methods, such as mercury-free gold mining techniques in Madre de Dios, Peru.
Working with the Diamond Development Initiative, a Canadian organisation whose mission is to make artisanal diamond mining benefit miners and communities, Brilliant Earth is supporting environmental and social projects in areas impacted by mining. In 2015 it began funding a primary school in Lungudi village in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The company’s contributions to the Diamond Development Initiative have funded scholarships to train artisanal miners in Sierra Leone and Brazil in modern mining techniques, health and safety, sanitation and environmental impact mitigation, notes Gerstein.
The two also are collaborating on an initiative to create the world’s first Fairtrade diamonds in Sierra Leone. The project works to empower local diamond miners, pay better wages and improve working conditions through the implementation of standards at certified diamond mines. Selling direct to international buyers will eliminate middle men, says Gerstein. She visited the first development diamond mines in Sierra Leone in summer 2016.
Like others in the jewellery industry, Brilliant Earth is monitoring talk of US President Donald Trump suspending for two years the “conflict minerals” provision of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, which requires companies to disclose whether their products contain minerals from the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo. Any changes will not affect how the company does business, says Gerstein. But she adds: “It would be an unfortunate step backwards for transparency, traceability, and ensuring an ethical supply chain.”
This article is part of our luxury goods briefing. See also:Ethical jewellery millennials gold diamonds Conflict minerals