Q: I would like to buy some jewellery, but I've heard a lot about the negative effects of mining. Is there an eco-friendly option?
A: Deciding on the right jewellery seems so personal, doesn't it? One person's tacky trash is another's timeless treasure. Truth is, picking out the right ring or bracelet is hardly a private act when landscapes, communities, even animal populations around the globe have been devastated to get them to you. And don't think you're in the clear just because you don't own a diamond. But since we're on the topic, let's deal with the troubled rock first.
By now, of course, you're well aware that Marilyn Munroe was lying: diamonds aren't a girl's best friend. The term "blood diamonds" has done a lot to spread the idea that a good chunk of the wedding gem trade is run by gun-toting rebels financing vicious armed conflicts. It's the kind of scenario you can pretty much guarantee offers zero protection for the environment or the poor people who get caught in the crossfire in places like Angola, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Yes, certification schemes now say they can document the chain of custody between producers and you (in fact, every diamond that enters Canada must be certified by the Kimberley Process), but that only tells you your diamond is conflict-free. The mine could still be ecologically damaging, pay its workers next to nothing and employ children. Activists are aiming for a fair trade diamond certification program so you can know if your rock came from a co-op.
Indeed, northern Canadian diamonds are blood-free, and tougher environmental regulations are in place. Nonetheless, eco groups say federal regs fail to protect water from mine toxins, and the industrial boom has doubled carbon monoxide emissions in the Northwest Territories.
So why not get your bling from lab-grown coloured diamonds, or "cultured diamonds?" These man-made high-pressure, high-heat creations are optically and physically the same as the stuff we so aggressively extract from nature. And, no, they're not cubic zirconia. In fact, they're so real they've even fooled trained gemologists. They come in colours from yellow to pink, they're way cheaper than mined diamonds and, best of all, they're completely sustainable. Collin Jewellers at First Canadian Place carries them.
As we said, diamonds aren't the only friend you should mistrust. All gems have equally sordid pasts. But Columbia Gem House is a fair-trade company that does its own mining, cutting and marketing. Unfortunately, no Canadian retailer sells these particular hand-mined, environmentally sensitive rocks, but check www.fairtradegems.com to find American retailers. The Organic Metal Gallery on College sells only Canadian gems, including Canuck diamonds.
But what about the metals that fill most of our jewellery boxes? Did you know it takes 20 tonnes of waste rock and toxic tailings to produce 1 ounce of gold? Or that the mercury and cyanide used to separate gold and copper from rock has a nasty habit of ending up in groundwater? And the cheap silver jewellery you find on the street and in many stores (according to a CBC investigation) can have enough lead to poison a child? If it's not cut with lead, it's probably cut with nickel, which makes the fingers of one in five turn green. Plus, you're likely indirectly supporting nickel mining giant Inco, one of the worst polluters in Canada.
But don't tear your pearls out! There are plenty of ways to adorn yourself in good conscience. Kevin MacLean makes earrings from recycled clock parts and objects ($40-$60 at the Guild Shop on Cumberland). Green Karat sells all kinds of engagement rings, wedding bands and more made from recycled gold (www.greenkarat.com). Eco-Art uses a selection of reused, recycled and natural materials to make their Scrabble earrings and pottery shard necklaces (www.eco-artware.com). Of course, head shops like the Toronto Hemp Company on Yonge have eco-friendly hemp necklaces and bracelets. Blue Moon on Danforth sells fairly traded silver jewellery from Bali ($10-$70). Ten Thousand Villages on Yonge or Danforth sells all kinds of fairly traded, sustainable pieces made from everything from beads and brass to bones and glass ($.50 to $300)
Of course, be very cautious when buying jewellery made from animals. While ivory is outlawed here, it still gets smuggled in. And if it isn't sliced from endangered elephants it's from hippos and walruses. Pass on trendy tortoise shell, coral and peacock- feather trinkets. Even "cultured pearls" threaten wild oyster stocks. Snooty Jewelry offers a ton of pearl-, leather-, shell-, bone- and silk-free toe rings, anklets and lockets (www.snootyjewelry.com).
For really interesting finds, head to Courage My Love on Kensington. They have beaded necklaces made from recycled Noxema bottles ($50) and glam earrings made of the clean, dyed fish scales left over at Mexican fish markets ($12).
Lastly, antique markets and shops are the ultimate jewellery recycling centres. Eco heads wanting engagement rings without contributing directly to the dirty mining biz can seriously score here. Plus, these shops are filled with all kinds of one-of-a-kind rings, bracelets and broaches that are perfect for this year's whole granny chic look.
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