It’s in our hands, a year on – Edinburgh’s first ethical jewellery symposium

It’s in our hands, a year on – Edinburgh’s first ethical jewellery symposium

Last year Dundee hosted the initial symposium that got my responsible journey ignited. It was there that talking with Mary Michel from the Incorporation of Goldsmiths that we agreed (amongst many other important issues) we needed to bring this event to the capitol city of Edinburgh. Wheels started turning and after finding a date that would work for the same speakers, Greg Valerio and Ute Decker, Mary and I decided to co-host the event in the Out of the Blue Drill Hall where the PMW is located. A perfect venue for up to 250 interested jewellers to attend.

I was to present my project “Going for Gold” at it alongside several other speakers, in the two-day event. It was a significant day where at the beginning the Scottish collages and Uni’s gathered and signed a pledge to introduce responsible sourcing, or ethical making, into the jewellery curriculums.


The Incorporation of Goldsmiths also launched their ethical making resource guide a the event which is a brilliant platform for any maker to work from in their own responsible journey.

A great two days ensued with enthusiastic makers all keen to get involved in the responsible movement and find out more about how to get involved. I had to really cut down on what my talk was about as I had only 20 mins to talk and after my initial run through I was closer to 40 mins! Some attendees even flew in from Europe and came up from England so we had international interest about the symposium. My own talk went well (I think, I don’t remember it) and I was happy with how the attendance and organisation of it went. The proof will be in the pudding however and it will be interesting to find out how many new applicants have signed up to FM&T since then.

We will put up on YouTube the edited speeches when they are ready, in the meantime my project continues and am off to Uganda in the next few days to visit pre-certification developing mines in Busia. These mines and communities are being helped by the Dragonfly Initiative and The Impact Facility to bring in the necessary equipment to have a safer line of production and start their own journey towards achieving certification.

La Fortaleza

Day 8.  I am finally back home in Edinburgh. Still recovering from the tiresome pace of the last week and my insides are cramping to the point I find myself actually moaning out loud every so often. It takes some proper time and experiences in a 3rd world country to realise how luxurious your life at home is. I have never been so happy to be able to drink tap water, hot showers, never has my bed felt that comfy like being swallowed up and cuddled by joy itself, actual roads, cars that have doors that don’t just fly open randomly, central heating, uninterrupted Wi-Fi, understandable and flavoured food, ease of communication, working electricity, washing clothes, Netflix, the list just goes on for everything that we don’t question on having access to.

                                                                                  *     *     *

Day 5. Woke at the usual 6am and I jumped around a cold shower while screaming like a little boy with Francesco laughing in the background. We headed off without breakfast and went straight to our 3rd and final mine visit. We had played musical cars and squeezed in elsewhere as to not have to go with Speedy, which was a welcomed relief. Arriving at La Fortaleza, the third and final mine, we had breakfast all laid out buffet style with fruit and bacon. It was raining, or rather was a wet jungle air, in amidst the cloud and mist in the mountains. Another two mines dogs greeting us eagerly in the hope of some fallen food for their breakfast as well. This place had been given some serious TLC to it by the miners.

Whilst still on a steep hillside, La Fortaleza was on a flatter clearing with a river running through it at the bottom. We were given a clear sense of care in its ecology right from the start and Rolberto Alvarez, the mine owner, was very passionate about his work and the positive impact they had on the surrounding environment. They cared for trapped fish from the river, built supporting walls with their waste rock, created a jungle walk along the side of the river as an eco-tour for visitors. This walk took them to the old mine waste area that his father had worked that still had a waste pile of mercury that he was elf appointing in actively disposing of it in as best possible and responsible was as he could. This was no mean feat that lay ahead of them, despite being told how to in a report from the mining ministry, it was up to him to fund this and take care of it. His eco-tour was to show people the ways of the past and how they were dealing with past problems. This hit Christina as she began to ask about the costs involved in dealing with this problem and we could all see her gears start to turn in thinking how she could contribute towards the clean-up.

It was clear from the go how important the mine site was to Rolberto and what becoming Fairmined certified had meant to him. While we didn’t go into this mine, it didn’t matter as actually the plant and external mining areas were what was much more important into what Fairmined had helped and the mutualistic symbiotic relationship between the miners and the certification. Rolberto’s plant was cared for and run beautifully as was the surrounding area. The fact that he had made a feature of the old irresponsible mining ways and was actively dealing with it had impressed everyone there.

We were shown some gold in the panning sluice and even a few round nuggets that had been recently poured on site. My first ever responsibly mined gold held in my hand in Colombia. That was gold I was interested in and would look forward to working with in the future. I hadn’t been one for the use of gold in the past, mainly due to its price, but this was so much more valuable and important than any other gold I had touched in the past. This was truly, a precious metal and one worth fighting for.

As done in the other mines and cooperatives, I presented Rolberto with a gift from my first Fairmined silver, this a forged small spoon. Again I was touched to see the genuine delight in his eyes at this at the importance of this for him, family and employees. Everyone wanted to speak with everyone at the site, interviews and photos galore and yet again we had to literally tear ourselves away in order to make sure we got away on time and it came as no surprise that our journey back to the airport wasn’t without problems.

Snaking our way back down and through the mountains we found one particular corner problematic and had to slow in order to not hit the vehicle in front. That meant we went dead in the mud and ended up going sideways when trying to move. Now sideways is fine, if there isn’t a huge drop off a narrow muddy road. Thank fully we then went sideways towards the hill and away from the verge, but ended up in a bit of a ditch which resulted in a rather awkward descent out of a door the pointed up towards the sky when opened. There was no real issue and a few of us marvelled at the over complicated ways I which too many cooks tried to move us on, but after about a half hour we were back in convoy and heading for the airport.

Check in was where it all went wrong, little did we realise at the time. As we waited, a few of us were called over to the second attendant and checked in individually, while the main queue appeared to be checked in as a group. The plane had been delayed due to the earlier one not running again so we ate and waited in the food hall. As the plane came in, those who had their tickets from the small check in queue went through security and the rest went back to collect their boarding passes. When Maddy appeared through security and joined the 5 of us already there, she said pale faced “The rest aren’t coming. . . !”

No one quite knew how to process this info, we were silent and perplexed. It wasn’t clear what had happened but she said that they weren’t being allowed on the plane. Thoroughly confused, we weren’t allowed to go back through security either to see what was happening. Turned out that because of the morning no flight there was a back log and the side queue of us were issued with seats and the rest were put on standby, but we hadn’t been told this. So here we were, suddenly split into two groups and unable to say bye. Some of us were leaving that night from Bogota, some early the next day and the next plane they could get would be dependent on the morning fog, which, even if got in on time, wouldn’t be early enough for this now family to say bye to one another.

We were all heartbroken and in disbelief. We had met as strangers, over a short and intense time become family and now cut in two at the end. There were tears in both groups as this hit home and as our group boarded the plane I felt sickened and cheated by the unfortunate circumstance. What a truly ugly anti-climax to what had been an epic adventure. I was gutted and furious, not even bejewelled on the games screen was going to help this.

Landing in Bogota, Herlain managed to speak with Kenny and Patricia (our right ARM organisers) who with the other few remaining party members got a place to stay for the night and despite the situation were all fine. We got our bags and headed outside for our bus, which never showed up. Taxis were the next best option and so we jumped into 3 or 4 of them and headed for the hotel. Thinking that the whole ordeal was over and we were about to get hot running water, cold beers, comfy beds and Wi-Fi, I relaxed and leant against the door and pressed my head to the window to look out at the night scape. Then the door opened, which would have been fine if we had been stationary and not speeding down the motorway in a cab without seatbelts. Thankfully it was a near miss and I managed to lean back in, grab the door and slam it shut before I or it was hit by another vehicle. It did however make me think back to our recent eventful drives round the mountains where I might have put a little too much confidence in the 4x4 (or 4x2 as our turned out to be) while leaning on the door filming the ravines flying past feet from our wheels.

Getting to the hotel was great, as was the cold beer and hot shower. The now small group met for dinner and there was quite a sombre mood amongst us all. Lisa to her credit was brilliant at changing that and insisting that she was going out dancing and persuaded a few to join her. I was done in however and opted for the cosy bed. The next morning Susan, Francesco and me were picked up by Ana and we were taken to a local jeweller’s workshop and then visit the gold museum.

This was a really good way to end the trip as we were shown how this guy has invented his own process to crush and fuse waste emerald together with the other minerals in the stone (mainly pyrite) and produce a beautiful rock as a result that he then cabs and makes other forms of jewellery with. It would have been criminal to not walk from there without some of his work. Thankfully Susan was on hand to lend me some dollars to pick up a lovely pair of drops for earring s, as I was out of all cash.

The gold museum was also wonderful. I love seeing how civilisations, thousands of years ago, knew how to find, access and refine gold and produce it in ways that we seem to need advanced machinery to do. Thin sheet, wire, filigree and the lost wax casting, with nothing more than fire and rock to use as tools, just mindboggling.

When we got back to the hotel there was a delightful surprise to find Christina and Kenny had made it back, so there were at least a few hugs and byes that I didn’t think was going to happen. It became clearer that day however that Susan had read the time of her flight wrong and was out salsa-ing when she was meant to be on her plane!

That afternoon I sat down and started to put my thoughts together for documenting this trip. I had tempted fate that morning or lunch when stating that I had seemed to escape any serious tummy-bug issues, unlike a few others and that evening then began one of the worst nights I remember of no sleep, a fever and yo-yoing to the bathroom every half hour. Kenny called dial-a-drug for me and got me delivered hydration juice and a sachet version of Imodium, but things just got worse after they were taken. I was not looking forward to flying home the next day.

Fever was in full flow I the airport and I had thought I’d find a chemist after security to get some paracetamol but there wasn’t one and it became clear I wasn’t allowed back though to find one. Security then called the paramedics and told me to sit and wait for them. This was embarrassing, I just needed some paracetamol, but two really friendly paramedics arrived and I did my best to tell them I just had a fever, bad stomach and wanted paracetamol. After a half hour of misunderstood questions and badly spoken answers they were happy to give me the two little pills that made a world of difference. Amazingly the plane journey passed without issue and I was never so happy to find a Boots in Heathrow to start the recovery process that was clearly just about to rear its ugly head again.

Home. Exhausted. Picked up at the airport by my amazing Saira and driven back to the flat. She was probably disappointed by my lack of energy and conversation seeing as we hadn’t seen each other in near 10 days and had barely been able to communicate while we were separated, but she didn’t show it to her credit. Never has my bed felt so comfy and I literally melted into all night, unable to get out of it the next day. It took me about a week to get myself back to a healthy working system again, still with my head and heart recounting the whole trip and how significant it had been for me and everyone on it.

Producing gold in under 60 seconds! This is the processing plant at La Fortaleza that Fairmined took us to.

On the road again. . .

Day 7. I think I’m the last man standing at the hotel, although considering the night I have just had last-man-down would be a better fit. Just yesterday morning as the last of us gathered around for breakfast in the TRYP hotel where it all began, after a really unfortunate and sad end to a wonderful trip, I tempted fate by commenting on my fortune on not having had suffered badly from any Delhi belly symptoms. Last night was undoubtedly one of the top ten worst I can recall. Without going into detail (that no one wants to hear about despite me wanting to share my pain with you all) I was yo-yoing to the bathroom all night and shaking like the last leaf clinging on for dear life in the autumn winds. Having arrived stuffed full of flu to leaving emptied of all energy.

*     *     *

Day 3. We woke at around 6am again. Peppered with a few bites during the night and woke up quickly with a cold shower. Paracetamol and plantain for breakfast downstairs with a few street dogs chancing their arm outside the glass doors. Today was another day of travel, back to Bogota, on the bus. However, despite the already tiresome bus rides, this was pretty much our last big coach ride and we were going via the Tatacoa desert to enjoy some of the natural sites and a pool stop for lunch. We were not disappointed one little bit, in fact it totally rejuvenated any weariness that we were all beginning to suffer from.

One of the hotel staff along with a 1st aider joined us on the bus and we headed off into the desert. Two stops, the red desert and the grey desert, points for guessing why, answers on a stamped addressed postcard. . . I tried to contain my laughter as the guide and 1st aider got us lined up in the already hot sun and told us to start stretching off. I didn’t want to be the obtuse Scotsman (leopards, spots) so curbed my lack of enthusiasm for the obviously pre-extraneous activity and didn’t laugh too hard at the poor man who was just looking out for our wellbeing.

The red desert was stunning. Beautiful formations of red (bizzarely) rock that had been wind and rain eroded throughout time to form these amazing structures that I went photo crazy for, it was a lovely walk. Stopping for a drone taken photo from the photographers and paying no notice to the no drones sign, we waved for a good group shot and stopped by the bus for a sugar cane juice. On to the grey desert, it wasn’t really much by comparison but nice nonetheless. Back on the bus and headed to the lunch destination.

Still networking, socialising, sharing ideas and stories on the bus, we came towards our promise of a pool in the desert and due to recent rains washing away tracks, bounced our way along amid the cacti until several serious lurches from side to side stopped us dead. After a small inspection of the bus and track, our driver pushed on through successfully to rapturous applause and carried on. Our success was short lived as the track disintegrated ahead and we walked the last little stretch to this little paradise of a hidden lodge with lots of greenery and animals. Despite being told on the bus that we were to bring our swimming costumes, Fabritizo (Francesco) decided to leave his stuff on the bus and had to trek back for his mafia pants. It was a little surreal to walk through the clearing to find this man-made pool but Stewart and I didn’t hold back and were straight in. It was heavenly, as close to perfect as one could get, topped off by him then doing a beer run to the restaurant. This was a very welcomed moment as we all commented on just how amazing this little moment was. Lunch was all laid out for us afterwards too and looked like a feast for royalty in beautiful clay bowls with all sorts of food in them.

We spent the rest of the day however, on the bus, back to Bogota. Joy. We arrived in late at a hotel near the airport in Bogota, all feeling of rejuvenation from the days sightseeing and pool dip now totally obliterated by the bus journey. The even more exciting notion that we had to get up at 3am for our potentially not happening flight to Pasto was not filing anyone with any enthusiasm whatsoever. The out of sync sleep pattern and cold shower however helped to rise early to my alarm and dragged myself downstairs to the lobby for our taxi’s to the airport. Coffee after check in and the most simple of security and we were all in the waiting shed to board the flight. Head against the window I started to drift off and we sat on the runway for an abnormally long amount of time. It could hav been an hour, more or less, I don’t know. But the problem with this flight is the daily evening and morning fog at Pasto. It was fogged in, so our flight was eventually cancelled and we all trudged back into the shed, grumbling at how we could have all still been in bed.

Perhaps another hour in departures and we were ushered back into the plane being told it was now clear at the far end. This was of huge relief as our tour was on such a tight schedule that any further delay and we simply wouldn’t have made our second mine visit. Sadly on a flight under two hours there were no films on the Avianca plane but I did find they had bejewelled 2 on the games section and that had me hooked the entire way there. Landing was brilliant, the runway just appeared out of nowhere in the hills and we disembarked into a brilliantly rural airport that felt like we were again the travellers off the very beaten track. However, we were in for one hell of a surprise with regards to what the beaten track meant and what we were about to experience next.

Day 7. I’m now in departures having left the hotel amid one of the most impressive thunder, rain and hail storms I seen in years. It’s good to be on the move at my own pace and choosing again. That said last night’s aches and fever has returned and I had hoped to find a pharmacy this side of security, but no such luck. I tried to get back out to the check in area but they weren’t going to let me. Just needed to get some paracetamol in me but in order for that to happen they sent me the first aiders for evaluation. This was overkill, unnecessary and a little embarrassing but after an awkward bout of trying to explain I was fine and just needed some paracetamol, they gave me the medical once over and finally handed me two paracetamols, result.

*     *     *

Day 4. After finally landing at Pasto and dragging myself away from bejewelled, we all gathered outside the airport in the already sweltering heat and met our convoy of big white 4x4 land cruisers. Kenneth, Christina, Florian and myself, as it turns out, drew the short straw with our driver and set off at high speed out of town and along the motor way. Now you have to allow certain tolerances in differences of culture when abroad, for example it’s not illegal to use your phone while driving in Colombia, or if it is, no one cares. However, our driver, let’s call him Speedy Gonzales as long as it’s not deemed racist, as I'm thinking of the Mexican mouse, was clearly more interested in social media then the road as he spent most of the journey on what’s app sending emojis whilst driving one handed and overtaking on blind corners. Kenneth had the good sense to ask Speedy to stop using his phone and drive slower, which was greeted with “Si, tranquillo, tranquillo” and was then back to normal habits with 5 minutes. Now this you could tolerate for a short period of time, but our racing raleigh was a 4-hour journey on some of the worst roads. Roads that you would drive very slowly and carefully on anyway as having cycled down and bussed up “Death road” in Bolivia, parts of this were equally as dangerous. We all took our minds off dying by keeping chatting about our interests in what we were doing and going to see at our second mine that afternoon.

We slowly transcended from desert to jungle as we raced along steep hillsides with sporadic dwellings. Every so often out of nowhere a town or village would pop up, which was highly surreal as we were so remote and it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, cut off from all civilisation. Speedy did point out to us several coca plantations at the bottom of a valley, which was a little unnerving as web were 6 big white land cruisers speeding towards them in convoy. I was hoping there wasn’t much of a lookout set up around them today as we could definitely be mistaken for the wrong kind of convoy. Thankfully we passed without incident and carried on up death valley to our final destination. Eventually, we all reached the Codmilla mine and miraculously, in one piece.

We were met by two female miners, Yanitce and Narcisa, who were our guides at Codmilla. Narcisa was sporting the finest pair of tartan wellies I had ever seen. Gathering outside our first mine we all had the welcome translated talk and were issued more hard hats with lights. This shaft descended down a steep wet, muddy slippery slope that was well lit but with the inevitable hard hat hitting off the top of the tunnel again. At around 100m in we stopped at the miners’ refuge and were introduced to two of the miners who were working. As questions and answers were being translated we all started to be aware of what could only be described as the feeling of a train rumbling closer and closer till the point where the whole tunnel began to shake and us with it. Explosives had been set off in a nearby mine. We all knew what it was but none of us knew if it was ok, worried eye contact spread round us all at high speed but our guides quickly reassured us with smiles that it was what we thought and we were in no harm. We took their word for it despite feeling our entire bodies tremble in what had gone from overhead train to earthquake.

We carried on with questions to the miners as to what working in a Fairmined certified mine meant to them, how long they had been mining, what the annual premium of the Fairmined certification meant to them and how it helps. What we found out was an overwhelming sense of community from them. There are hundreds of mines in the hill, of which a small group are currently Fairmined certified, but what the certified mines do is help out the uncertified mines in their community. They buy safety equipment for them and help in other expenses, in order to help them have a better, safer daily routine mining. The annual premium that the cooperative gets is used to better their way of lives in the mines and community, even to those who are not within the certified umbrella. This was a humbling thing to hear how well they look after each other. There was also a distinct lack of gender bias as we learned about the roles women play in the mines and community.

After our first mine we split again into two groups and started to the next mine. The altitude was beginning to hit hard as most of us were considerably out of breath going up the hill. The hill was very steep with nothing more than simple paths cut out along the side of it. I kept wondering how the rock was transported down the hill but finding the occasional broken donkey or mule shoe soon answered that question. Only later did I find out that the rock was also bagged and carried on the miners back as well. Half way down the second shaft I got a slight uneasy feeling in my stomach and realised that I was going to be in need of a toilet in the next 20 mins or so. Lasting as long as I could, I checked it was ok to take myself to the surface where I was delighted to find a purpose-built toilet for the miners. Something that their annual premiums has been able to provide the miners at every mine we saw, quite frankly money very well spent. We were told that one miner in particular had been waiting for us so we hiked up even further to meet him but sadly he had been waiting since 10am, it was now closer to 6pm and he had gone home. This was a real shame as we were told great things about the care this miner conducts himself with and how being one of the poorer miners, he still shaped his mine with ingenious artisanal creativity for the benefit of everyone and how he took real pride in his work.

We headed down to the cars and were taken to the office in Codmilla where upstairs they had laid out our lunch, which we ate at maybe 7pm. The food was great and it was in a room that was like a mini museum celebrating forty years of their cooperative. Again, we had some translated speeches and I chose to give them the silver mine cart as my gift towards the end. I must have been quite tired as I fumbled my words and went a little shy, sitting back down after handing it over, only to then awkwardly get back up and pose for a few pictures. We all wanted to stay and ask more questions, but it was getting on, we’d been up since 3am and still had an hour drive to our hotel, with Speedy at the helm. Speedy was asleep in the car and we struggled to wake him. He looked decidedly grumpy at having to drive us further and then when we were all on board he shot off trying to get past the 3 cars in front with less space than was needed to fit. Kenneth again asked him to calm his driving but he just ignored us and kept trying to get to be the lead car. Which was stupid as it was thick fog and he didn’t actually know where he was taking us.

Where we were heading was to dinner with other miners. This would have been fine had we made the morning flight and had an early lunch, but I couldn’t eat another thing and after stopping outside the restaurant, we split up and a few of us opted for the hotel as long as it wasn’t going to offend the group waiting for us. Room was fine, shower was a cold hose pipe with a curtain which was actually quite welcome and I had the first chance since we started to check emails amid a highly intermittent wifi signal. The fact we even had one was quite impressive considering our remote and simple surroundings. I became aware then of the wintery conditions back home and that courses back at the workshop might have to be cancelled. Did what I could from where I was and left the decisions up to those back at the PMW. Thanks to Cameron and Hazel for sorting out that which I could not.

Fabritzio returned (shared room) and left me a gift before heading back out to have a beer on the roof terrace while I finished off connecting with home, worlds away. By now we had all become a very tight group, a Fairmined family in the making all passionate about responsible mining and metals and making connections that I have no doubt will keep us all connected for many years to come. Which is why the next day was brutally sad and an unexpected end for most of us.

Gallery images below are copyright © Alliance for Responsible Mining


Day four of this trip. We haven’t really had a moment to ourselves since we started and I hope I can do this entry the justice it deserves as soo much has happened in a short space of time and its not easy to remember the fine details that have occurred since we stared. Today was a 3am start on the back of a very poor and rather chilly sleep. We arrived at out hotel last night around 10pm from another day of around eight hours on the bus. I had to perform a minor surgery on my foot (slight exaduration) as I have managed to accumulate in-between the same two toes and square centimetre on my right foot, athletes foot, a blister and a mozzy bite. While I don’t need an amputation just yet, it is somewhat swollen, painful to touch but combined with the overwhelming desire to scratch it to the bone and provides a mildly amusing shuffle-limp when walking.

We are all a little tired to say the least, but all in very high spirits regardless. That despite sitting in our departures lounge (shed would be more appropriate) having been sitting on our plane for over an hour waiting to fly to Pasto to see our second mine, to then be told it’s too foggy at the other end so that airport is shut and we got off the plane again. And here we sit, for the first time since we all met, with time on our hands that isn’t on the worlds bumpiest roads.

*     *     *

Day one. We all met in a conference room in the hotel. Nervous hello’s as every one in turn arrived and introduced ourselves to each other. We started with a welcome briefing from Kenneth and Patricia from ARM (Alliance for Responsible Mining) who are also in charge of the Fairmined certification that we have all come to see. Food was served as we were told about the trip and then we had a small exercise to get to know another of the delegates on the trip. I blame the jetlag for forgetting all the important information that Stewart Grice from Hoover and Strong gave me as I failed dismally to mention how important he and his company had been in early establishment of access top Fairmined metals in the USA. Sorry Stewart. . .

We spent the most of that afternoon on the bus travelling to Neiva, excited to speak to each other and find out more about our shared interests in the world of responsible sourcing in the supply chain. We get in late, the first of our almost daily eight-hour bus journey’s.  A late dinner on arrival, ideal for waking up just when you want to sleep, on top of trying to readjust to the time difference and the elusive mosquito made for a sleep worse than on the plane flight.

Nevertheless, day two and every one still full of enthusiasm for the day ahead. Two hours in our bumpy coach and we arrive in Iquira, where we are introduced to the cooperative of miners that are Fairmined certified. Patrickia and Kenneth are both fluent in Spanish and English so act as translators during our welcomes. We are told about the mines, miners, community and their cooperative. The atmosphere between the two groups is animated as we drink small coffee shots and begin to break the language barriers. 5 trucks pull up outside ready to take us to the refinery and mine, some of us have to climb into the open boot sections while others get the joy of the back of a motorcycle and we speed off out of the town. This already is a much more excitable form of transport and feels more authentic, less touristy, that we are actually in the place and not just witnessing it.

Arriving at the refinery we are greeted by a huge barbeque beside a rustic collection of buildings with more of the cooperative miners and their family. The food is simple but tasty, well, for most of us meat eaters and way too much to eat. I had no idea what animal or part of it came with the potatoes but wasn’t concerned enough to ask so just tucked in and nearly got through it all too. We split into 2 groups and were shown around the refinery, from top to bottom, start to finish of how the rock from the mine is treated when it arrives until the gold is poured. One of the main importance’s of Fairmined is the reduction of the use of mercury and modernisation of systems to recycle water and reduce wastes. This hasn’t been easy for the cooperative miners but they have managed to do this and then some, even turning their waste rock grindings into being used for cement for new buildings.

After the refinery tour our group were ushered into the truck and driven to the mine and now the adventure began. That road was the first of many that didn’t disappoint for thrills and fears. From comical bouncing around the interior to shrieks of terror when we teetered on the edges with fatal drops below and the odd attempted road (ahem) repair with wooden planks for the 4x4s to drive us over. Glad when the vehicle came to a stop, we jumped out rather quickly, and when the other trucks arrived we gathered at the mine entrance donning our hard hats, lights and signed the disclaimers to take full responsibility for our own deaths.


The mine wasn’t dissimilar to Scotgold’s current pre-production mining mine in Tyndrum, just somewhat smaller and a little less sophisticated. We bounced our helmets off the top of the tunnel most of the way in, the average Colombian being a good few inches smaller than most of us, and went as far as the vein of quartz where they explained about drilling several feet into the rock, filling with explosive and setting off at the end of the day. Allowing the dust to settle over night they start carting the rubble out in sacks that are then rolled down the rock pile to the trucks and taken to the plant for crushing and treating to extract the gold particles.

While familiar with the process, the whole visit and tour of the mine and plant had an extra air of meaning to it. Meeting the miners, mine owners, their families and seeing the gold being extracted from the rock, knowing that this artisanal gold is exploitation free and responsibly mined was deeply satisfying and reaffirming the choice I have made to work with fairly sourced precious metals.

Both groups had their turn and it was really rewarding to see the collective enthusiasm and excitement of everyone. After both groups had their turn we got back in the vehicles for the equally rugged ride down the hillside. Meeting back at the office in Iquira we gathered to thank each other, visitors and cooperative miners, to thank each other for coming to visit and doing the hard work they do.

Now I have only been Fairmined certified for around 6 months and so far only purchased 100 grams of silver for the Elements ethical showcase in last years exhibition. I made a spoon-spade from the wax casting tree, a mine cart 3D printed in castable resin and forged a small spoon with the rest. In conversation with Partickia form Fairmined in the lead up to the visit, she had said it would be wonderful for the miners to see some of the results from their work. I hadn’t initially thought of giving the three items as gifts but Christina imagined that was my idea and on thinking about it, it made perfect sense and really fitting, like that was always going to have been what was going to happen but I just hadn’t realised it.

So at the end of the talks between us all, Kenneth (one of our Fairmined guides) translated for me as I explained that this was laser hallmarked with the Fairmined logo and the silver was highly likely to have come from their very mine, now returned home to be with them. I opted to give them the spoon-spade and it seemed to go down exceptionally well with real gratitude from their group. I couldn’t but help feel a little overwhelmed by the reception they gave it and to all of us for the whole day. By this time we had integrated, bonded, were all laughing and telling jokes. It was difficult to leave on time as we said long goodbyes and took a final group photo before getting back on the bus for the next 5 hour journey to our accommodation. A late dinner at 11 o’clock, exhausted check in and finally got to my room, shared with Kenneth and our other guide Herlien with barely an inch between wall, bed, bed, bed and wall and passed out, to tired to hear or notice the mozzies until waking at 6am the next morning for the next long bus journey through the desert.

Gallery images below are copyright © Alliance for Responsible Mining


It’s been sometime since I took myself outside of my comfort zone, I’ve not done anything quite like this since returning from my travels in 2009. I’m sitting in the foyer of the TRYP hotel in Bogota Colombia and tomorrow I meet the rest of the Fairmined tour delegates for their 2018 mines visit. I know there is at least one other person staying here, Florian, from Germany and we are planning on meeting tonight to say hello.

Yesterday wasn’t great, woke with in a sweaty fever and riddled in anxiety of what still had to be done before heading to the airport. Leaving the Workshop in the hands of others with the most ambitious course we’ve run to date taking place was just how it had to be. Not had any messages of a burnt down workshop, yet. Gutted to have had to sell my tickets to the home 6 Nations game at Murrayfield, even more gutted to have been in the air for the 1st half, but utterly delighted to have been able to watch the 2nd half on my mobile whilst in baggage reclaim in Heathrow with a few other Scots doing the same, slightly out of sync cheers from both sides of the carousel as we slowly edged closer to what was a fantastic result for Scotland.

The 11(!) hour flight was fine overall. It did seem to turbulently bounce for half the time but where I would usually be riddled with anxious flutters at every pitch, the captain’s announcement of “We are in for a bumpy ride at times but let me assure this is standard and is in no way ever a danger to the aircraft” must have put a block in place to prevent the butterflies. At around 8 hours everything becomes a bit of a blur, an understanding of time has gone out the window, been chewed up by the engine and scattered amid the Langolier clouds. The passenger next to me was coughing and spluttering and getting up and down to be sick in the shoebox toilet cubicle every hour. The food was, well, food. The films kept me occupied enough, drifting in and out of microsleeps every so often to keep rewinding them to where I remembered last, usually about five to ten minutes at a time. Landing at 4am felt just like we were still bouncing around up in the clouds and was followed by raptures applause from about 4 of the passengers.

Immigration and customs was interesting. My pigeon Spanish would representative of the type of pigeon you would find in Glasgow Central. Limping, clubbed footed, bedraggled and broken winged looking for whatever scraps they can find and considering how discombobulated I felt I’m somewhat amazed that they understood a word of what I was trying to say and let me through. Thank fully the pre-organised car from the hotel was there and a small suited man was holding a sign saying Mr Lan Nickserson. Pretty sure it was for me and I didn’t steal Lan Nikerson’s ride. Horge was, thank god, nothing like the driver Saira and I had in Cape Town and amid a mildly painful twenty-minute drive where I kept apologising for my club foot Spanish, we basically managed to agree on the weather in our perspective countries both being somewhat inclement.

5am and after another surreal attempt at conversation at reception and hoping I didn’t get ripped off paying for my ride, I am in my hotel room. Basic unpacking, sorting stuff, brushed teeth and showered. My eyes were beginning to play tricks on me with the glass and mirrors in the bathroom so after touching base to a few on Whats app, it was time to get a few hours rest.

Grateful for the blackout blinds in the room, I got some sleep and even made breakfast before it closed at 10am. Still swallowing paracetamol every four hours to keep the fever at bay, I decided to get on with adapting to making this zone one of comfort and get out for a walk. Asking the guard in a now marginally better version of Spanish if there was any kind of shopping centre close by, I think he told me there was one a ten-minute walk away. Not that I really got the directions offered, just every third word, but felt it enough to give it a shot and see what happened. Just as I was thinking this wasn’t a good idea, hot and sweaty and starting to lose my bearings, I found what appeared to be a shopping centre. Sunday noon, things only starting to open up here so just ambled about, being greeted by smiley staff at every time I walked in, apologising for my bad Spanish and saying I was just browsing. After an hour or so my confidence at just starting up a conversation, regardless of my ability, was growing and I ended up buying a grey sleeveless puffer form two very chatty staff. Lots of confused looks during the conversations but without apologies form me, agreeing on inclement weather in our respective countries and that the women in Colombia were very pretty.

Had enough by now, mission accomplished in integration, language test and just getting on with it. Time to find my way back to the hotel. Starting to feel pretty hot and crap so the air con in the bar was a welcomed change, as was a decent coffee.

I am looking forward to the week ahead. Meeting the Fairmined organisation, the other delegates, visiting the mines and their communities to see first hand the work that Fairmined does for the artisanal groups that have joined them. For this is why I am here, my first international mine visit as part of my project “Going for Gold” where by I am visiting 1st and 3rd world mines, industrial and artisanal, to show to people exactly what the difference between standard and responsible gold is and why it is important to not only know the difference but to source responsible. I have been to the Scotgold mine in Tyndrum to see their operation just before it is signed off for full production. This leg is to see what Fairmined do and I hope I will get the chance to also see unassisted mines and communities on this leg. I still have to visit Uganda and South Africa to see Fairtrade and an industrial goldmine to complete the picture.

For those of you who read this and have helped this project by donating towards it and/or sharing it digitally, I thank you and will continue to update as and when I can. Some of this trip will be out of the ranges of Wi-Fi, in very rural desert mountain locations so I don’t know how often I will be able to blog/post. Until next time. . .  😊


Fair - help create the demand.

Having recently visited several ethical jewellery conferences, it has become clear how important it is for me do my bit, as we all have a duty of care to the World we live in and our sphere or operation within it. We are all responsible for our actions and in-actions respectively.

In 2007 and I visited the Bolivian silver mine in Potosi and was utterly horrified at the working conditions of the mine and living conditions of the mining community. I was already working as a jeweller then and buying precious metals from UK suppliers. I just didn't realise how naïve and ignorant I was to the sourcing of the metals I was using. It was one of the worst things I have seen, the mining and living conditions, lack of air down the mine, the toxic dusts, risk of tunnel collapse, lack of health and safety, child workers and a short life expectancy of the miners due to chronic lung conditions and tunnel collapse was almost too much for me to handle. My account of it

When I got back to the UK and picked up my tools again, I also picked up my pen and wrote to Cooksons about where they got their precious metals, asked them about their part in the supply chain and what they were doing to make sure they were exploitation free. You wont be surprised that I never heard back from them, but I was really disappointed in this. I often wondered about what I could do to give back to the mining communities but found very little in the way of organisations that were in place to help and support the third world mining communities. Sadly my enthusiasm to help somewhat dwindled and I looked elsewhere in how to do my bit, spending 3 years running my own project "Ready, Steady, Jewel" from the Precious Metals Workshop.

I have to thank Greg Valerio for waking the activist in me again as I was inspired by his journey in shaking the spru-tree in our industry and making people sit up and pay attention to the atrocities that go on. The child exploitation, mining and living conditions in the artisanal mines that our precious metals come from, are unacceptable and I cannot personally continue to work in the manor in which I have been since leaving university.

I am now currently at the very beginning of my responsible journey within the industry that I work in. There is so much for me to do here to play my part as well. I have letters to write to departments in the UK and Scottish government and to all the companies that play a role in the UK supply chain of the precious metals industry. I have to change how I work, putting down the untraceable precious metals and picking up the mantle of the Fairtrade and Fairmined precious metals supply. I wish to explore using Scottish Gold and having access to a fairly mined source of precious metals right here in my home country. And while making these changes are the first of many small steps, I have to find out what I can really do to play my part in making life better for the third world artisanal miners and their community on the ground. As it is simply not enough to be aware of these problems but we all must actively do our part to make the life better of thiose exploited that we have played our part in. Do you think it OK that the gold ring you wear might have been mined by an exploited child in a slave labour, military run mine in a third world country? The truth is, unless you have a Fairmined or Fairtrade hallmark on your precious metals, then it cold have been.

"So, what can I do about it all?" you say, with the precious metals you already have, nothing. With the precious metals you buy from now on? Absolutely everything. Insist on it being either recycled, Fairtrade or Fairmined, ask your makers and retailers if they sell it and say that's all you buy. Help create the demand.

I have only just been licenced to work with Fairmined gold and silver and have yet to buy my first quantities of either. By the end of this year I intend to have access to and using in the workshop, Fairmined, Fairtrade and Scotgold, all fairly sourced precious metals that not only steer clear of all exploitation precious metals but also some of whom actively help the small scale artisanal mines and their communities.

I will blog bout this journey as often as there is something worth bringing to people to read about. I will bring you my letters and their replies, the companies in the supply chain who are actively doing their bit and those who continue to put profit first, introduce you to fellow campaigners, bring you facts and figures about the industry and help you to make your own decisions in acting accordingly in all aspects of the jewellery, silversmithing and goldsmithing industry.

This Is Ian.

Responsible advertising

Ever since I was a child, I was disappointed by the mannequins seen on the high Street in the shop windows. To me they always reflected an unnatural proportion of society, I didn’t know anyone shaped like how they were. And this is a really big problem in the world today. Image. Irresponsible advertising is something that we as a society need to tackle. How we look at people in the public eye, celebrity culture, magazine shoots, photo-shopped images and the fact that even in this allegedly modern civilised world, we still use sex to sell, ultimately advertising by prostitution. We must collectively advertise positively and responsibly in order to create change in the right manner to which we need to happen in order for us to develop, evolve and find the courage to fulfil the potential that we have as a species.

I have no intentions of preaching here, I am not perfect and I have fallen folly to this myself and you will see that in the collection I produced “barbed wire” where I decided that to go for a shock image in order to get people to remember my work. I got there by a fairly logical train of thought that people don’t often remember the images they see of jewellery and that I’m one jeweller in a sea of hundreds of thousands trying to get their work seen so they can make sales in order to make money. How was I supposed to stand out from the rest? Well I decided to go with ‘shock’, something that would stay in people’s minds. Barbed wire is something that is an unfortunate negative invention of mankind. There’s been many a film, especially in the first and Second World Wars, where you see the soldiers caught and mangled, dead bodies hanging on barbed wire fences, possibly one of the most horrific things that we have used barbed wire for. The fact that it is designed to tear through the skin, the fact that it is that to cause pain injury and in the very best case scenario act primarily as a deterrent, it is not something that as a species we should be particularly proud of having invented. So, in my decisions to shoot the barbed wire I went for 3 different feelings of image, an elegant juxtaposition of the barbed wire against an almost Audrey Hepburn-esque look, a series of images of ‘attitude’ which is why I sort out a model who had tattoos in various different places that would complement the barbed wire, and finally that of trauma. For the trauma images I had a make-up artist put in some blood and bruising and scar work around the areas of the model where the barbed wire sat and we also gave her bloodied nose. The idea was not to suggest that she had been assaulted or in an accident, just that generically there had been some kind of trauma. Sex and violence, was what I was using to sell this work with those images. The images certainly stuck in people’s heads, which was what I was trying to do, what I failed to realise however that ‘not all publicity is good publicity’ and negative images create negative emotions. To depict my work on a bruised, bloodied, scantily clad, sexually poised, tattooed female is not responsible advertising.

So, having realised my mistake here and the fact that such a long period of time that I’ve been disappointed with how much irresponsible advertising there is, especially with regards to the thin female form, from now on I pledge to advertise responsibly. I will use normal people do show my work if it is to feature on the human form. I will even go as far as to use that faction of society that is the complete antithesis of how we collectively still advertise and market and promote clothes and jewellery on the skinniest most attractive most famous individuals of the planet. Joe Bloggs and Jane doe, or whoever is that wide cross section of reality, no, of actuality, of the world that we live in.