On October 15th, Etsy posted an article in their Craftivism blog about the use of coral in jewelry. The featured person in this article was someone who made a statement against buying coral and pointed to the 'Too Precious to Wear' campaign by SeaWeb, urging buyers to sign the pledge not to buy any jewelry with coral.
This was met by both hurrays and angry outbursts from Etsy sellers. From the comments to the article it was clear that many Etsy sellers had not been aware that coral is not always gathered legally and/or in an environmentally friendly way. Others pointed out that very few materials in jewelry making are mined in a way that does not damage the natural environment or the local miners and stone cutters. Someone also linked to a Newsweek article in which it becomes clear that not all coral gathering is a threat to the environment.
So what do I do? I do what I can, within my limitations. I save all my silver scrap and will send it to a jewelry supplier for recycling. Most jewelers do this with their precious metals scrap. It is a great way to save money and you contribute to an increased use of recycled metal. I also love to buy stones that can be traced to the source and that have been cut by for instance Etsy sellers. People you can talk to. Not anonymous laborers who work 18 hours a day in bad conditions for meager wages. Those ethically sourced stones are relatively expensive, and I must admit that these are not all I buy. I have bought from eBay and from other sources where origin and other information is not disclosed. I wish each stone or piece of metal had an 'ethics and environment' rating and we jewelers could decide on that basis if we would be willing to buy such an item.
But alas, that is not the case. We have no idea what sort of business we support by purchasing a gemstone. A safe bet, if you want to avoid a guilty feeling, is to buy laboratory made gemstones. Many precious gemstones can now be made in the laboratory, even opal. They are most often cheaper than mined stones, but can be a bit lifeless. Flawless gemstones are somehow much more interesting if they are natural than if they are lab made. That will not change, but if you really feel strongly about these matters lab made stones are good alternatives.
As a customer you can also request ethically produced jewelry. The gemstones market is like any other market. If the demand for ethically mined products increases, the products will follow. In the mean time we can do what we can to drive the development into the right direction.