All that glitters is no longer gold in the jewellery industry. Increasingly the whole industry (from gemstone and precious metal miners to jewellery manufacturers and retailers) is coming under fire for a wide variety of social and environmental issues.
On the international scale various industry organisations such as the Responsible Jewellery Council and the Kimberley Process Certification Schemehave been set up to deal with such issues surrounding ‘blood diamonds’ and ‘dirty gold’, etc.
And on the local level numerous jewellers have taken their own steps to lessen any negative impact on the world around them – particularly the environment.
Paul Bott, a hand manufacturing jeweller based 12km outside Braidwood in country NSW, is one such person.
After completing a goldsmith apprenticeship and successfully running his own jewellery gallery, Krafterkz in Sorrento, Victoria for 10 years Paul and his wife Di decided it was time to live and work more holistically.
“I enjoyed every minute of running Kraftwerkz (which exhibited the work of up to 25 jewellers, sculptors, silversmiths, engravers and enamellists) but it was exhausting,” he recalls.
“I was producing six to seven days a week and dealing with the public the whole time…and that included a life with a young family.
“We felt the need for a different lifestyle with land and space so that we could live in a more environmentally sustainable way.”
In 1999, Paul sold Kraftwerkz and moved to the family’s new property near Braidwood, a historical country town located about about 100km east of Canberra and 300km south of Sydney.
“We visited Braidwood on our way back from a holiday in Broome. Di had read that there were some old gold mines amongst tree ferns in the surrounding area.
“The town fulfilled our needs for what we were looking for – local high school, mountain views, river frontage, large enough population (not too big or too small) and far enough away from the city without being too remote.”
At the time of purchase, the Bott’s new home was simply a 50 hectare block of bushland that still bears the hallmarks of the area’s gold mining heritage – a Chinese cemetery, remnants of an old miner’s cottage and a race line along the river’s edge.
Prior to leaving their home in Sorrento, the couple arranged for a joint home/workshop to be built on the property.
The simple 60 square metre steel framed corrugated iron building was the family’s home and Paul’s workshop for seven years while they built their own rammed earth dream home a mere 70 metres away.
Since moving into the house three years ago the shed is now used solely as Paul’s workshop.
The north-facing building is fully insulated with wool in its walls and local straw in its ceiling and has 20 solar panels on its roof and 24 x 2 volt batteries storing the electricity generated by the solar panels.
It is these solar panels that make the workshop so “green”.
“We are not connected to the grid,” says Paul.
“Our average daily consumption of electricity for the house and workshop is only 4 kilowatts (the average Sydney household expenditure is 29 kilowats) but we certainly don’t want for anything – we have the general mod-cons and satellite internet access.
“When we were in Sorrento there were numerous electrical outages which gave us our focus on using a stand alone system. Testing the ‘financial’ water of such a system we were quoted for the solar system and also for the standard electrical connection. The solar system cost more, but not much and with no power bills and no black outs, or brown outs, the extra cost was negligible.”
Indeed, the only obvious signs of a life much different than the average city or suburban home or business are the quiet bush surrounds and the outside compost toilet.
Inside the light-filled workshop, Paul still has a productive workshop and is much happier not wasting time commuting in traffic.
“I really love working here,” he says. “I often work from 7.30am to 5pm.”
Paul, who specialises in classical style handmade bracelets, chains, padlocks, necklaces and pendants, produces works which are sold in the Umun Jewellery Studio (Beecroft, NSW), the Alternberg Fine Art Gallery (Braidwood), the Gray Reid Gallery (Melbourne) and The Goldsmiths Gallery (San Remo, Vic).
“I also enjoy making custom made pieces for clients from their old jewellery. I melt down the old pieces, sort it out and then make carat gold or alloys from it. I encourage my clients to use their old gold. Some locals have even bought their own gold nugget found somewhere secret to be made into pendants or melted for other pieces. They always come with fantastic stories.
“I believe that if I can work 10 ounces in 12 months that hasn’t come directly out of a mine in the last 100 years I feel I am doing my little bit to make a more sustainable world.”
Obviously recognising that most jewellers/retailers can’t move to idyllic rural locations and build their own rammed earth homes, Paul is nonetheless convinced that most can become more sustainable by “reducing, reusing and recycling” as much as possible.
“Most city jewellers can install solar panels like ours – all it takes is some solar panels erected with the feed-in tariff,” he explains.
“It is easier for grid-connected jewellers in Australia to achieve what we have done and with far less effort and expense.”
Despite the controversies surrounding a lot of jewellery practices, Paul strongly believes that goldsmiths are “the original environmental workers”.
We’ve always recycled gold – that’s the nature (value) of gold and that’s why jewellers collect lemel.”
“The true beauty of gold and a lot of precious gemstones is that, in theory at least, you can keep recycling them for centuries and centuries.”