Chicago company produces 'green' jewelry

January 29, 2010 3:51:05 PM PST
When you hear the phrase "green jewelry," you might think of emeralds. However, some Chicago area business owners say even your jewelry can be socially responsible and environmentally friendly.It is thought that 'diamonds are a girls best friend,' but they can also be a source of pain for the people who work to provide them.

That's why some Chicagoans are calling on customers to do their own digging -- for information-- before making a purchase.

Inside a seemingly ordinary store on West Erie, jewelry makers work to save the planet and protect impoverished people. They say it all has to do with the way the gems get from the mines and shafts to the shelves and showrooms.

"We feel the jewelry industry, which uses materials which come from some of the poorest regions of the world, can offer such great hope for these places?we really try to offer something that does offer a return to the local economy; rather than continuing the legacy that's been often the case of exploitation," said Brian Leber of Earthwise Jewelry.

Leber and his wife, Joann, are passionate about the jewelry.

"We offer conflict-free Canadian diamonds. We offer colored gemstones that have been fairly-traded. We offer metals that have been responsibly sourced. In our case, we're using 100 percent recycled gold and platinum," Joann Leber said.

The couple is part of a growing movement which, for example, sought to block the importation of rubies from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) because of human rights abuses. And they are also against diamonds from the dictatorship in Zimbabwe.

"They've just exploited the diamond fields. They've committed vast atrocities in the diamond fields against the miners, and they are using this natural resource to fund their own dictatorship," said Leber.

Joanne Leber, the designer, has a background in human rights issues. She and her husband are also staunch environmentalists. In their own jewelry line, they use recycled gold from old pieces, and they get platinum from existing sources like old catalytic converters

Their mission is to teach consumers that a bauble can be both beautiful and beneficial to mankind.

"It's supposed to be a keepsake. So, not only is what goes into it important, making sure there is no child labor, making sure materials are responsible, but you want something unique that you'll be proud to pass on to future generations," Leber said.

The Lebers say responsible jewelry is not any more expensive than any other. They urge consumers to ask human rights questions before making purchase.

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