Gem News International Gems & Gemology, Spring 2019, Vol. 55, No. 1

"The Ethics of Jewelry" at MetFridays

“Ethics of Jewelry” panelists at the Met.
Left to right: “Ethics of Jewelry” panelists Monique Péan, Karen Smit, and Patricia Syvrud joined moderator Ben Smithee at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Stephen G. Strickland.

“The Ethics of Jewelry” panel (see above) was held on January 25, in conjunction with the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s temporary exhibit, “Jewelry: The Body Transformed,” which ran from November 2018 to February 2019. The exhibit featured an array of headdresses and ear ornaments, brooches and belts, and necklaces and rings, along with sculptures, paintings, prints, and photographs that amplify the many stories of transformation that jewelry tells. The 230 objects were drawn almost exclusively from the Met’s own collection and displayed the museum’s jewelry artifacts from ancient to contemporary times. “The Ethics of Jewelry” panel was part of the museum’s MetFridays evening series of concerts, classes, and presentations open to the public. The purpose was to discuss timely issues facing the world of jewelry today, including urgent questions about mined, lab-produced, and sustainable materials.

Panelists were Monique Péan, a New York–based jewelry designer who prides herself on using sustainable materials in her one-of-a-kind pieces that are sourced globally through fair trade initiatives; Karen Smit, a GIA research scientist who holds a PhD in diamond geology; and Patricia Syvrud, program development manager for the Minerals, Materials and Society program at the University of Delaware, and immediate past executive director of the World Diamond Council. The panel was moderated by Ben Smithee, CEO and founder of The Smithee Group, a digital strategy, content, and advertising firm.

The panel opened with introductions, where each speaker described a bit of his or her background and relevance to the event. Péan shared her travels to the far reaches of the globe, where she gets the inspiration and many unusual materials for her pieces, such as pyritized dinosaur bone, Peruvian opaline, and Scandinavian meteorite. Smit gave a scientific overview of natural versus synthetic diamonds, and Syvrud shared the progress of the Minerals, Materials and Society education and training program and related research projects.

Smithee asked the panelists for clarification of some terms that are frequently used but little understood when speaking of “ethical jewelry,” such as “responsible sourcing,” “sustainability,” and “conflict-free” diamonds and gold. Although the terms “ethical jewelry” and “responsible sourcing” can mean different things to different people, the term “sustainability” has a globally recognized definition that basically means “meeting the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations.” The current definition of the term “conflict diamonds” is also globally recognized, according to a United Nations resolution, to mean “Diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments…” However, this definition does not address the human rights issues of artisanal and small-scale mining. The conversation then moved to a comparison of responsibly sourced gold vs. gemstones and how technology such as blockchain can be integrated into supply chains to enhance transparency and sustainability in the jewelry sector.

The session concluded with a focus on the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) that takes place in the diamond, colored gemstone, and gold mining sectors. Although challenges related to human rights and environmental and social impacts remain, the benefits from ASM to local stakeholders and communities should be more widely shared.

Patricia Syvrud is the development manager of the Minerals, Materials and Society program at the University of Delaware in Newark.