During what he terms “an early-life crisis”, jeweller Ian Nicholson packed it all in and went travelling. During his adventures, his natural curiosity about where the precious metals he worked with came from led him to barter his way into a silver mine whilst in Bolivia. What he saw in those mountains ignited in him a passion to become an ethical jewellery ambassador, and the summit of his efforts will be celebrated at a unique event in Edinburgh later this month.
“It was one of the most awful things I’d seen,” says Nicholson of his time in the Bolivian silver mine. “[The mines were] up to 60 meters deep underground with no pumped-in oxygen, no electricity, no breathing apparatus, no hard hats; nothing you would associate with health and safety. It was a warren, a Swiss cheese of a hill. You didn’t know if you were a foot away from someone setting off an explosive. No miner [at that particular mine] lived past 35 or 40 as they all ended up with chronic lung conditions because of the dangerous dust and gasses. That really stuck with me.”
Determined to bring about change, Nicholson committed to some serious letter writing, demanding to know the source of major companies’ precious metals and gemstones, and to ask how they were giving back to these mining communities that were living hand to mouth yet dealing in some of the most valuable commodities on the planet. “No one was interested in answering these questions,” he says.
When the Fairtrade and Fairmined gold schemes started up – certification standards that ensure gold is mined safely, artisanal miners are paid fairly and communities are invested into in exchange for a small premium on the gold – Nicholson signed up. But it wasn’t enough, he needed to do more, and so began a 12-month project he calls Going For Gold.
After approaching the Fairtrade Foundation, Fairmined and sustainability consultant The Dragonfly Initiative, and receiving funding from The Incorporation of Goldsmiths of the City of Edinburgh, Nicholson set off to visit gold mines in Colombia and Uganda. He returned to Scotland armed with new experiences, facts and figures that he shared with other members of the jewellery industry.
After the dusty trails and airless mines of his travels, Nicholson is gearing up for something a little more glamorous as he reaches the finale of Going For Gold. On Friday the 23rdof November, he will host an exhibition and evening celebration of ethical jewellery called Goldflair that will raise money for the organisations that helped to facilitate his trip. The black-tie dinner event will be held at The Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh and will be part selling exhibition, part seminar programme, part ceilidh.
There will be champagne, dancing, an auction facilitated by auctioneer Lyon & Turnbull, jewellery making displays from the event’s main sponsor, local luxury jewellery store Hamilton & Inches. There will also be a special performance by Scottish singer Clarita De Quiroz, who is flying in from Dubai just for Goldflair.
Ethical jewels on sale include designs by Natalie Perry, Farah Qureshi, Anuka Jewellery, April Doubleday, Karen Westland and Ian Nicholson himself. There will also be ethically sourced loose gems at the ball from responsible suppliers including Nineteen48 and Fair Trade Gemstones.
What Nicholson wants to emerge from this event, which is open to all but requires a ticket, is to generate a better understanding of the need for ethical mining practices, and the differences that schemes like Fairtrade and Fairmined can make to the lives of artisanal gold miners. He also wants to promote the work being done by ethical jewellers and gemstone suppliers, and encourage everyone buying jewellery all to ask the sort of important questions that he burned with after his first mine experience in Bolivia.
“While I have very strong opinions [about ethical jewellery], I’ve learnt that it’s important to bring people to the table and have a discussion rather than scaring them away,” says Nicholson, who plans to run Goldflair every second year. And what better way to do it that than with a three-course dinner in one of Edinburgh’s most glamorous buildings and a side serving of awareness?
Goldflair will take place from 5pm to midnight on Friday the 23rdof November, 2018, at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh. Tickets are on sale now.
"While I have very strong opinions [about ethical jewellery], I’ve learnt that it’s important to bring people to the table and have a discussion rather than scaring them away"