One of the difficulties of working with metal is that you don't always know its origin. You can ask your provider and look things up online, and in this way find out what general area your silver comes from, but it’s always possible that the silver comes from a place where working conditions and worker compensation are an unknown. Also, I am not cool with the idea of sending people into the depths of a mine looking for ore with all the dangers connected with that.
A perfect solution is to use recycled silver. No people are risking their lives to find precious metals when unwanted pieces of silver have been gathered and are fused to produce new wire that is then sold with a guarantee of authenticity. The entire process is certified to be traceable and fully audited, thus protecting jewelry-makers and their environmentally conscious customers from possible fraud.
I have started using recycled silver as soon as I learned of its availability, and despite its higher cost, I intend to keep using it every time I can find it. This is not the only way in which I want my business to be environmentally friendly - far from it - but it certainly is the one that I most often discuss, both on my site and on each listing for which recycled metal was used.
The only issue I have had so far is that not all the sizes of silver wire I need for my jewelry are available for purchase. The thinnest wire I use in my work, a thread-sized wire of .3 mm diameter needed for the most minute details of my jewelry, is not available in recycled silver. Here's to a day when demand for recycled silver has increased and more sizes of wire have become available.
It is very unfortunate, but making jewelry can require several extremely polluting substances. Some of them are so toxic that you are not supposed to use them unless your workspace is well aerated, as the fumes can make you sick and even cause lung damage. But even an adequate workspace will not protect you from burns, in the event that these chemicals come in contact with your skin or your eyes. Protective gear is required, and paying attention is essential.
However, some of the processes used in jewelry making leave behind unseemly residues that simply must be cleaned up. The dark heatscale that coats any silver that has been melted with a torch is a case in point. Not only will it leave a dark mark on anything it touches, but it just doesn't look good.
The opposite process, oxidation, also comes with its own challenges. While adding a very nice dark coloring to silver, oxidation is often obtained with liver of sulphur, a highly toxic substance.
The problem then becomes how to accomplish everything that these strong chemicals can do without actually using any of them, and how to protect both the person making jewelry and the environment, which can be negatively impacted by these substances.
The good news is that heatscale can be removed from metal and silver can be oxidized without any strong chemicals. Of course, both procedures entail a series of chemical reactions of one kind or another, but instead of harmful acids one can use very safe substances that we all have in the house. The process will take longer, but the advantages, in terms of safety and the environment, are worth the wait.
I love hematite, onyx, and chocolate.