Sometimes, the things we associate most closely with beauty have pretty ugly origins, particularly when it comes to jewelry. Mining – whether for coal or precious metals – is a dangerous, dirty business even under the best of conditions. At its worst, the trade in diamonds, silver and gold can involve war, economic exploitation and environmental devastation.
However, as the campaign against so-called “conflict diamonds” and the Fair Trade movement surrounding exports of coffee, cocoa and other commodities have shown, good people can have a profound impact on the sustainability and equity of products produced in underdeveloped parts of the world.
For Westerly-based jewelry designer Dora Szekely, pride of craftsmanship is intimately entwined with the knowledge that her materials are mindfully sourced. She is one of a relative handful of jewelers who uses only recycled silver with plans to solely source from the output from the few Fairtrade gold mines worldwide. It’s not an easy choice for a small- scale artisan who’s just a year out of college: the markup on fair-trade metals is significant. But Szekely has set her sights on an even larger goal: expanding the world marketplace for Fairtrade gold and silver.
Fairtrade gold has been around since 2010, whereas Fairtrade certification of silver only began in 2013. Certified mines are typically worked by artisanal and small-scale miners who may pan for gold or extract ore from existing mines that were consid- ered played out by previous owners. Sales take place as directly as possible between producers and customer, and mines need to have environmental and worker protections in place in order to be certified.
“I’m a small-time Rhode Island girl with really big dreams,” Szekely says with a smile, but she is no dewy-eyed naif. At 25, and with a degree in global studies from Providence College, she has traveled more extensively than some people twice her age, including stints in her mother’s native Italy and her father’s homeland of Hungary. Her next planned journey is to Colombia and Peru – not to see Machu Picchu or cavort with llamas, but to visit “Oro Verde” (Green Gold) mines and advocate for establishment of more.
A child of artists, Szekely got her start in jewelry making by playing with leftover strands of silver wire from a student’s jewelry kit while her mother, Maria Scaglione, was pursuing her master’s degree at the School of Visual Arts. To this day, Szekely turns leftover scraps of silver into angular rings in her workshop – part of a diverse collection of work that includes $50 earrings and large and elaborate $500 necklaces that would feel at home around the neck of a Victorian-era dame. “I like the femininity of curves, but sharp edges, too,” she says, bemusedly recalling the concern of local silversmith and mentor Mary Ann Sherman that none of her work actually draw blood.
Szekely’s Eastern European heritage is evident in the colors and shapes she favors in her Liv & Lov designs, while her passion for environmental preservation is reflected in the necklaces and earrings that resemble bare tree branches hung with green onyx, Peruvian chalcedony and other semi-precious stones, as well as beads made from the Job’s Tears plant. The feisty Szekely prefers working with silver over more malleable gold. “Silver fights you, but I like the challenge,” she says. In a similar vein, she hand-polishes her silver jewelry to a satin finish, even while admitting that it’s her least favorite part of the process.
Szekely continues to sell her jewelry from space to space between Rhode Island and Philidelphia as well as online and at local shops like Eloquence in East Greenwich, even as she delves deeper into the Fair Trade movement – she was recently named a main organizer for the launch of the Fairmined as well as the Fairtradegold initiative in the U.S. “Jewelry always has a story,” says Szekely. “I think it should be a beautiful one.”