The Rock Hound: Muzo Emeralds and Ethical Practices
At the JCK Tucson show, Susi Smither (The Rock Hound, London) displayed pieces that showcase her love of gemstones and her passion for color. Combining technical knowledge with aesthetics to create unique lines, Smither refers to her business as “the gemologist jeweler,” and receives a number of commissions from gemologists. She offers jewelry at multiple price points, ranging from $400 to $11,000. A major point of pride for Smither is Molten Muzo, a five-piece fine jewelry collection launched in December 2018. One of 25 international jewelry designers selected by Muzo Emerald Colombia for collaboration, Smither combined ethically sourced emeralds in tumbled form with Fairtrade 18K yellow gold. The “Candelabra” necklace, the collection’s lead piece, is shown in figure 1. The collection also features two pairs of earrings and two rings, one of which is shown in figure 2. Smither allows the emeralds to steal the show; the gold “dripping” from the gemstones complements, rather than overtakes, the simplicity of the tumbled stones.
The daughter of mineral collectors, Smither entered the industry as a jewelry designer and maker about 10 years ago. As she took on more commissioned work, she earned her FGA diploma from Gem-A, immersing herself in the world of “science and beauty.” During a field trip to Sri Lanka with the Scottish Gemmological Association in 2012, she was struck by the disparity between the luxuriously appointed jewelry shops of Hatton Garden and Bond Street and the gritty, often dangerous reality of mining. Thus, at the core of Smither’s brand are her ethical practices. The Rock Hound has been a Fairtrade licensee since its inception in 2015, using only recycled gold and Fairtrade Gold from Peru.
Smither noted that the industry has evolved even since The Rock Hound began. Last year she found a casting house in the UK that creates three different alloys of 18K gold three times a week, opening the doors for a fully Fairtrade Gold collection called RockStars, inspired by the shape of a natural tourmaline crystal. To ensure the integrity of her supply chain, she works with artisanal lapidaries who go into the field to work with mining communities. Stones sourced in this way are used in her Chromanteq line, which sets colored gemstones in ceramic-coated recycled 18K gold (figure 3).
Smither’s commitment to responsible standards extends to her packaging, made from the perch leather that is a byproduct of the fishing industry. She has sometimes had to choose from a limited selection of materials due to her commitment to responsible sourcing. As a result she would design once she procured her materials rather than designing solely with good in mind. However, she feels that as a young designer starting out, she was better positioned to put sustainable practices in place. Trying to replace longstanding protocols would have been far more difficult for an established business. As this type of sourcing becomes more widespread, she feels that she can expand the design side of The Rock Hound—these days, Smither is “dreaming bigger.” She is eager to create new lines for the next wave of consumers who are equally passionate about sustainable jewelry.