How Jewelry Is Made In Today's World
Design From Start To Finish
The Gemstone Miner
For those who pursue mining as a job, whether it is LSM (Large Scale Mining uses mechanical equipment) or ASM (Artisanal Scale Mining which is mostly non mechanical), there are safety risks.
From dynamite used to blast, to temperature extremes, to reduced air supply requiring compressors, and the potential for collapsed tunnels, the dangers can be life-threatening.
Mining is often done in the most remote areas of the Earth. A lack of education and resources can make mining dangerous. However, many miners are passionate about gems and eager to learn how to make the profession safer and more environmentally responsible.
The Metal Miner
Precious metal extraction is one of the most controversial aspects of the jewelry supply chain.
Artisanal gold miners often use chemical intensive processes such as amalgamation and cyanidation. In the first method, mercury is the amalgamate, and for every ounce of gold that miners extract, an equal amount of mercury is discarded, resulting in an extremely polluted ecosystem.
There are a number of initiatives under way to provide alternatives to mercury for artisanal gold miners, as well as safer processing that does not involve releasing cyanide and mercury into the environment.
The Metal Refiner
Metal refiners process fresh ore (Primary) and reclaimed metal (Secondary) into pure metals through smelting, casting, forging, and sintering.
Refiners can face injury from molten metal burns and explosions. Exposure to toxic metal dust (silica, lead, and arsenic), and to by-products of refining (sulfuric acid and sulfur dioxide), create a hazardous work environment.
Some refiners are actively tracing their materials through the supply chain, providing greater transparency. Some are involved in Fairmined or Fairtrade projects that provide additional income to benefit the metal source communities.
The Gem Cutter
The lapidary artists who cut and polish gems can transform a piece of rough rock into a gleaming, precious gemstone.
However, this career comes with potentially serious health hazards, depending on the cutter’s location and access to education. Long-term exposure to dry cutting certain gemstone varieties can cause silicosis and silicotuberculosis (silicosis and tuberculosis in the same lung).
Dermatitis is another common job hazard for gem cutters. With education, proper ventilation, and protective gear, safety is within reach for those who make our gems sparkle.
The Jewelry Designer is the mastermind behind an exquisite finished product. This is often a leadership role, influencing the direction, feel, and vitality of a jewelry brand.
Designers include those who lead the creation of large collections for retail stores and jewelry brands, as well as a single person designing, sourcing, and producing highly unique, specialized pieces for a smaller client base.
Designers often source elements such as metals, gemstones, and alternative materials for the pieces, and ensure the quality control of the finished product.
The Maker transforms the design, metal, and gemstones together into a finished piece of wearable jewelry. Trained in metalsmithing techniques, they fabricate and/or cast pieces using countless processes from the ancient to the most modern advances.
Makers are at risk of workplace hazards such as inhalation of toxic fumes, accidents around equipment, explosions, and burns. Turning raw materials into wearable pieces of heirloom-quality art, Makers are like magicians.
The Retail Store can take many forms. From traditional jewelry stores, art galleries, ateliers, boutiques, department stores, and online marketplaces, there are many ways to discover jewelry. Stores may have their own in-house designers, represent independent designers and brands, or consign jewelry.
Retail Stores merchandise the jewelry, market it, and in the case of brick and mortar stores, provide a physical environment for customers to touch, interact with, and try on the jewelry in person.
Jewelry retailers and galleries can make a conscious choice to be responsible in the types of jewelry they buy, the designers and brands they represent, and the jewelry they make in their studios.
Shopping for jewelry is a personal experience that can bring incredible satisfaction to a potential buyer.
Often, customers are shopping for a piece of jewelry which celebrates a milestone like a birthday, anniversary, holiday, graduation, wedding, cultural celebration, or “just because”.
Jewelry can easily transform into an heirloom, thanks to its precious materials, deeply held meaning, and its intrinsic wear ability. The relationship formed between a client and his or her jeweler can last a lifetime, and demands trust and care.