Hop promotes sustainable jewelry

by Apoorva Dixit | 5/13/14 2:43pm

Mining for jewelry materials, including precious metals and stones, can be detrimental to natural ecosystems and wildlife. Monday’s community-made jewelry exhibition and panel discussion showed that this need not be the case and offered a sustainable alternative.

Launched in the winter, the Hopkins Center’s Radical Jewelry Makeover aims to increase awareness of open pit mining’s environmental harms. Influenced by a similar project run through non-profit Ethical Metalsmiths, the Hop collected old jewelry from around the Upper Valley and hosted open workshops to encourage community members and students to make jewelry from recycled materials.

Over 100 people contributed jewelry, providing enough material to fill five 32-gallon plastic bins, Donald Claflin jewelry studio director Jeff Georgantes said. Mostly comprising costume jewelry and broken pieces, the Hop’s bounty also included about four ounces of gold and a gallon of silver, Georgantes said.

Savannah Martin ’13, who attended the Hop’s workshops, said she had previously not thought about jewelry’s potential harm to the environment.

“People buy a bangle from a store like Forever 21 all the time, and they don’t really think twice about throwing it away when it breaks,” she said.

Students helped sort and repackage jewelry for use in community workshops or by professional artists across the country. Over 200 people, aged 8 to 80, took part in the Hop’s workshops, and 19 artists who are alumni or who have visited the College in the past were sent materials, Hop outreach manager Stephanie Pacheco said. About half the participants at the Hop were students.

On Monday, some of the pieces made from collected materials were on display and available for purchase in Alumni Hall. A panel of speakers, including Earth Sciences professor Mukul Sharma and Ethical Metalsmiths executive director and co-founder Christina Miller, discussed motivations behind the program.

Sharma described the gold mining process, which can be very labor intensive and unsustainable.

“Exploitation of resources is how we, America, raised our standard of living,” Sharma said. “We cannot stop consuming, so how do we do this in a sustainable fashion?”

Georgantes said that creating one ounce of gold, about the size of a 50-cent piece, can require mining up to 200 tons of earth. Gold ore is often processed using cyanide, a highly toxic chemical.

Miller said recent legislation is moving in a positive direction, requiring more transparency for jewelry material supply chains. She said that this is especially true for the production of “conflict minerals,” including coltan, gold and tungsten.

Miller said she co-founded Ethical Metalsmiths to raise consumers’ awareness of jewelry’s origins. The purpose of the Radical Jewelry Makeover project is to educate consumers in a fun, non-threatening way, she said.

“Every stone has a unique village, every village has a unique problem and every problem deserves a unique solution,” she said.

Members of Ethical Metalsmiths have visited colleges across the country since 2007 to raise awareness about mining practices, Miller said.

Dartmouth’s program is part of the Hop’s larger Community Venture Initiative, which aims to increase integration between the Hop and the Upper Valley. All proceeds from jewelry sales go to Ethical Metalsmiths or to the Hop’s community outreach program.

Pacheco said high attendance at Monday’s panel could be attributed to Hop outreach to the community.

“Like the jewelry that is going back into the community, we are creating our own economy,” Pacheco said. “It’s important to say that some of this stuff was junk lying around your home but now it actually has value.”

Jewelry made by professional artists for the project will be on view in the Harrington display case in the Moore Theater lobby from May 14 through June 15.