Scotland’s colleges are leading a push to become the most ethical in the world where jewellery-making, gold and silversmithing is concerned – and Stornoway students are playing an active part in making that happen.
Lews Castle College UHI saw the appointment of the college’s first ethical making ambassador, Hazel Tocock, early this year. She joins a country-wide network of students all concerned to see the most ethical possible practice in the creation of beautiful works in gold, silver and precious stones.
Jewellery course leader Christina Mackenzie said: “Hazel participates in meetings with ethical making ambassadors at other colleges and comes back to tell us things that we can do more sustainably.
“We’ve made the wee changes that we can within the department – like cutting back on disposable materials and promoting ethically-sourced stones. Our metals are most often melted down for re-use after projects and we also try to source ethical metals.”
HNC jewellery student Hazel taps into a programme established by the Goldsmiths Trust in Edinburgh in 2017. The trust supports Scotland’s gold and silversmithing heritage and has expanded their work with the creation of the ethical making programme, which encourages sustainable practice by jewellers, goldsmiths and silversmiths.
As a student ambassador for Lews Castle College UHI, Hazel’s role is to promote ethical making in the jewellery workshop, bringing in knowledge to share and making sure good practice from the islands is made known.
The work is right up her street, as she says: “This programme is extremely important to me personally as I try to consider the sustainability and ethical practice of everything in my everyday life.
“When I first started the course, I knew right away that I wanted to make jewellery ethically as I was already aware that people and the environment are being exploited and harmed all over the world in gemstone mines, gold mining, and of course, blood diamonds.
“So when the ambassador opportunity was presented to me, I was keen to learn from and contribute to this extremely valuable programme, as well as be able to share this knowledge with my classmates and others.”
Ethical making starts with small changes in the workshop, but it also extends into looking for the best sources for materials, using fairtrade or fairmined precious metals and gems.
Hazel said: “Everything you can source can be fairly-traded. If you use silver, it can be eco-silver. As students, we aren’t using gold yet, but when you do it can have fairtrade and environmentally sustainable sources.
“With gold, for example, traditional practices mean that the process of getting gold out of the ore uses mercury, and waste mercury is flushed into the rivers. That has impacts not just on the wildlife but on the lives of indigenous people who wash and cook using that water.”
First steps to ensuring this doesn’t happen are supported by an information source at http://www.ethicalmaking.org , which lists approved suppliers of precious stones and metals.
Hazel thinks it essential that students start this practice from the beginning and has been inspired by the positive response of her colleagues.
She said: “I have really enjoyed taking the information back and talking to my fellow students about it all. People have been so keen and so responsive.
“We are changing what we can, right down to looking for old tools to re-use rather than buying new-made tools for our work.
“If we student jewellers begin our careers by understanding and supporting sustainable and ethical jewellery-making practices, and therefore lessen our impact, there will be a whole new generation of jewellers who are working towards making the jewellery industry a positive, ethical and sustainable one.
“As soon as you start to make jewellery, you should know about these things.”
Pictures show Hazel at work and wearing some of her own jewellery, made with eco-silver as part of the HNC jewellery course. The course is now accepting applications for September entry at https://www.lews.uhi.ac.uk/courses/