A Danish jewellery designer’s Journey to Sustainability
This article is written by Stephen Burrell from stephenburrell.com
Dr Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “The time is always right to do what is right”. This week I had a wonderful Q&A with the sustainable jewellery designer, Anna Moltke-Huitfeldt. When Anna asked me a few years ago about what I knew about sustainable gold, I had never heard of the phenomenon and had no idea that sustainable gold existed. What do you know about Fairtrade standards or Fairmined mining certification?
What made you start working in the jewellery business?
When I got divorced then it was all about doing the right thing for my children and in my opinion, it was to put their needs before mine. Now that they are grown up now I have the space to do things for me and focus 100% on my business. I will always be there for my children to ensure that their life is as balanced as possible, after my divorce I sat down and worked out my goals – and one of my goals was to build wide boulevards for my children to walk on and meet like-minded people. I was painting and attended a sculpture class at Holbæk Art High School in 2001, as for many years I wanted to work with my hands. I made a sculpture in wireframes, and I put all sorts of small things inside of it, that I welded together – I made friends with some women who were in a painting class – and when they saw my sculpture, they asked whether I had considered making jewellery? This sparked an interest, and as I had always loved jewellery I attended a workshop in Copenhagen and as soon as I started, I knew this is what I was going to do.
Why did you start your own brand?
I started my own company in 2004, working with both gold and silver as I was looking for transparency. In the beginning, there were so many things that I didn’t know so I was looking for transparency in gemstones and my designs were inspired by the spiral and the eternal movement upwards. The air that makes the form and how if there was no air it would all be a ball and things like that and it was during this process that I found out about sustainability and fair things.
When did you start investigating about fair gold?
It all began in 2008 at an art fair in Berlin, where I had a personal interaction which led me to exhibit at the Basel trade fair. I discovered a magazine with an article about Oxfam America’s No Dirty Gold (NDG) campaign, which sought to raise the human rights and environmental standards of the global mining industry. This led me to the Oro Verde gold mine a community in Colombia. I approached some Danish goldsmiths who were already working with Oro Verde, to see whether we could start buying gold together, they were not interested! So I contacted, Cred Jewellery, who were one of the first to start working with fair gold, and in 2010 I bought one time directly from Colombia.
How can the consumer know that the gold is fair?
In the past, the “big” mining companies came in with huge excavating tools to dig up and move the soil and when they were finished they just took their tools and left. Leaving and spoilt the landscapes, this stopped the local food farmers from agricultural farming for years. Oro Verde miners return the soil after excavation, which allows the land to replenish and is ready for agricultural farming after 3 years. Oro Verde (Green Gold) was a Colombian initiative working with Afro-Colombian artisanal gold miners in the Chocó bioregion, an area marked by high rates of poverty, social exclusion and a very sensitive ecosystem. Oro Verde has involved about 1,300 miners in the certification system and the premium they earn helps pay for local community development projects and diversification into other livelihood activities.
If you are a licensee from Fair Trade International, you are allowed to stamp your jewellery. You need to have a contract and that is expensive for small companies, as there is both the premium and license contract and this has to be factored into the price of the finished products. Nowadays, the Alliance for Responsible Mining bi-annual fee is US$60 p/annum and for each kilo of gold there is US$4.000 premium added for the miners, so now chemical free mined (ecological) gold is available at an additional US$2.000 per kilo premium.
What is alluvial gold mining?
Alluvial gold mining is the process of extracting gold from these creaks, rivers and streams and is generally considered to be the most environmentally friendly method of gold mining as a result of the reduced environmental impact when compared to underground mining. Using a leaf from a local bush that they crushed and mixed it with water instead of using chemicals to extract the gold.
Where are you nowadays in regards to sustainability?
I have stopped working with Fairtrade gold as my contract expired in 2017 and I chose to work with Fairminded as I wanted to be closer to the people who are close to the miners. I was advised not to quit by Fairtrade, but I did as Fairmined is a smaller organization, as it is important for me to have a personal connection to those who know how the miners are doing, and when I send my regards to the team, the message goes to the whole team.
How about your business, what are your sales & marketing strategy?
In the beginning, I attend a lot of lifestyle and art fairs and it was before the financial crisis of 2008, so it was easier with everything going up and being sold. After the crisis, everything went down and I focused on developing myself and my brand simultaneously during those difficult times. I’m not so good at marketing as it’s too personal for me – going out to shops is not my strength, as if they do not like my jewellery, I take it personally and get annoyed.
I sell through 2 shops in Copenhagen and a Dutch Fairtrade/Fairmined platform, plus you can find me on UK Jewel Street or eniito.com – an online platform for Scandinavian designers. Men usually come to buy engagement & wedding rings, I have young clients from early teens all the way through to late 70’s, and I have made products from Christening gifts to Golden Wedding Anniversary pieces. I also make collections where people can choose from, but it’s more important for me to do the right thing than it is to make lots of money.
I can see that your drive is not economic and you will compromise on your values, so where do you see your brand 5 years from now?
I look much further into the future and I expect one of my grandchildren (who are yet to be conceived) to take over my business, as I plan to continue working as long as I can. I anticipate that by the time my future grandchildren are at that stage of life where they can take over the business, they will have a really strong sustainable brand to build upon. I want to remain a small jeweller, I don’t want it to become a big brand, of course, I want to make more money and employ more people, but I like the fact that my business is personal. So when I make things for people, I have the time to speak to them and get to know them, and this helps me to open up a designed universe to the client and help them to create something individual together with all the possibilities that are available and in the best quality.