Reciprocity Recap

Reciprocity Recap

Reciprocity Jewels during NYC Jewelry Week 2022 provided a glimpse into what is possible in the jewelry industry — a gold sourcing model that treats artisanal gold miners and the land with respect,  so that they are not paying “hidden” costs that can come in the form of human and environmental harm when mining using mercury.  

10 designers including myself working between Peru and NYC created jewelry for this show using the gold from AMATAF, the collective Pure Earth has been training in mercury-free mining and reforestation in Madre de Dios, Peru, and to whom we at my business have been donating a percentage of our sales for the past two years. However, this has been the first time I have been able to meet the miners albeit virtually over zoom and source their gold! Each designer knew the name of the miner who sourced our gold, and the name of the concession from where it came! To know this in our industry is nothing short of revolutionary.

Prior to this show coming to life, Andrea José traveled to Madre de Dios to work with the miner and source the gold for us designers.  The below outlines the process that takes place at the source.


In this photo, we see Hugo and his mine. Believe it or not, the “mine” is underneath this wooden structure. Below what we see, a hole has been dug, and water from the underground flows into it. An incline on the bottom of this structure dips into the earth, allowing sand and water to move onto it. A motor sucks the sand up from the bottom of this hole, pumping up the sand to the surface, where it is collected on carpets. Only the black sand containing gold particles collects on the carpets because of their higher density and weight.

Next, the miners collect the sand in large jars and carry it to the shaking tables. This image shows a zoomed in view of the gold particles in the shaking table.

The shaking movement separates most everything from the earth other than the sand and gold particles. In non-mercury-free mining, mercury might be used to separate the gold from the mercury, but this step replaces any need for mercury in the mining process.
Next, they remove the sand mixed with gold particles from the shaking table and put it under fire in order to dry it, as it is still quite wet from the earth.
Once the sand and gold dust are dry, they are strained in order to separate the sand from the gold particles.
The miners use magnets to remove any metals that may remain mixed in with the gold particles left over from the earth before smelting, as the straining process would not remove these particles entirely since they are tiny.
The surface of a crucible is covered with Borax so that the gold dust does not stick to the crucible. This allows the melting process to be smooth and retains as much of the gold as possible.
Gold dust is added to the crucible.
Gold is heated with a torch so that it forms one solid piece. This process is called smelting.
Faustino holds the gold nugget in his hand. This is the final step before it is transferred to the artisans who will transform these nuggets into materials from which jewelry can be made– wire, sheet, or grains for casting.
In mining that uses mercury (which this process does not) the smelting process would be toxic to the air and particularly to the person doing the melting, as they breathe in the vapor.
After the miners recover as much gold as possible from the earth in one location, they restore the earth and then plant trees in their place.
In this image, a huayruro tree is planted, which is a type of tree that is native to the area and important to the indigenous people who live in Madre de Dios. They use this tree’s seeds to make jewelry themselves.

Next, the gold, having been transformed into castings, wire or sheet (as it was in my case), is shipped to the designers’ studios, where we each created our pieces.

Below are photos from the Reciprocity Exhibition,  NYC Jewelry Week, November, 2022.

We contribute to Pure Earth’s work and support this program to invest in creating solutions for responsible mining because we cannot stop mining from happening. Gold is too profitable for us to realistically stop it.The jewelry industry has a duty as the world’s largest gold consuming body to improve mining so it does not destroy ecosystems and deteriorate people’s health, but can exist in harmony with the planet and humanity.
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