Rapaport Magazine

How a UK Jeweler Sources Ethical Gold

Boodles gets its entire supply of the yellow metal from a single responsible mining project in Mali.

By Rachael Taylor

Image: Boodles

Those seeking a more ethical way of producing jewelry seem to be split into two camps at present: Those who believe using recycled materials is the only way forward, and those who prefer to invest in responsible mining. British jewelry brand Boodles is in the latter camp.

“We’re not convinced that every bit of gold that [is recycled] is necessarily ethically sourced in the first place,” says Boodles marketing director James Amos, a sixth-generation member of the family that runs the business. “Putting it into a magic pot and coming out the other side saying it’s recycled is a bit like money laundering — it washes the gold. Other people would have different views, and I don’t want to offend anyone, but that’s our view.”

As such, Boodles has made a radical change in the way it sources the precious metal. Rather than buying bullion of undefined origin, it has opted to source newly mined gold from a single mine in the west African country of Mali through refiner Betts Metals. The jeweler and the refiner have a relationship that is decades old, and when the Betts family shared details of a new venture called Single-Mine Origin (SMO) gold, Boodles was keen to support it. When the SMO project launched in 2019, Boodles announced it would be one of the first jewelers to work with the initiative. In 2021, Boodles followed up with a new announcement: It had transitioned to using only SMO gold from Mali’s Yanfolila mine throughout its entire business.

Betting on Betts

Betts Metals, founded in 1760, was already well established as a refiner when Dan Betts decided in the early 2000s to try his hand at prospecting. Betts — who now leads Hummingbird Resources, a company created specially to run the SMO effort — bought mining rights in Mali, struck gold, and then set about creating a sustainable mining project to make the gold fully traceable.

Along with adhering to the World Gold Council’s (WGC) Responsible Gold Mining Principles, Hummingbird is “committed to building a lasting positive legacy for those living in the communities where we operate,” its website states. This legacy includes funding clean water systems, sponsoring teachers to provide education in rural communities, teaming up with medical organization Critical Care International to bring doctors to the region, and funding alternative industries for the area, such as soap-making factories and farms.

Crucially for Boodles, which has 10 stores to fill, SMO gold offers consistency. The business had looked into other programs that offered certified precious metals from artisanal mines, but found them to be less reliable. Yanfolila has thus far proven to have sufficient supply to meet the jeweler’s demand. The mine’s 2022 production forecast is between 87,000 and 97,000 ounces.

“The whole package seemed really appealing to us,” says Amos. “It’s not just about being able to look people in the eyes and say, ‘We know 100% where your gold comes from’ — which is pretty important these days, but not everybody asks. We want to support the communities that need supporting. Some companies have taken gold mining away from [artisanal mining communities] because of perceived [ethical] issues, but we feel we should be supporting the communities that rely on the income from the mines. Africa has the most need of all. It gives so much as a continent, its resources are incredible, and we think it’s important to stick with them.”

Moving on to diamonds?

Boodles has more recently been experimenting with extending the SMO concept to diamonds in its Peace of Mined collection, which it released in May. The line’s 25 jewels all feature diamonds from the Cullinan mine in South Africa, where Boodles managing director Michael Wainwright and his daughter Honour, who also works in the business, personally collected the rough in February. The two were following in the footsteps of Michael’s father, Anthony Wainwright, who first donned a white boiler suit and descended the famous mine shaft in 1977. Boodles had its own master cutter in London cut the stones, then sent them to New York for certification before setting them into bespoke designs.

Amos says Peace of Mined landed beautifully for several reasons: the strong traceability story; the family connection to the mine; and the royal provenance, since Cullinan was the source of the most important diamonds in the British crown jewels. Indeed, Boodles launched the collection during Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.

Despite this, Amos doesn’t see Boodles shifting to SMO diamonds as it has with gold any time soon. “I’d love to say yes, but there are so many different requirements for diamonds. You need thousands of tiny diamonds as well as bigger, shaped diamonds. We’ve gone down a route of only using three [diamond] suppliers, all [with Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) certification]. To get all the diamonds from one mine would not be possible yet, I’m told. But 10 years ago, you wouldn’t think SMO gold was possible.”


Article from the Rapaport Magazine - July 2022. To subscribe click here.

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