In a planet threatened by uncontrolled climate change, the jewellery industry could come to be recognized as a beacon of sustainability and positive environmentalism. This was the message emanating from a seminar co-organized by CIBJO and the Italian Exhibition Group (IEG), which took place January 22 at the VICENZAORO January show in Vicenza, Italy.

Entitled “Green and Blue Jewellery, Environmentally Sustainable Luxury,” the seminar focused on the marine ecosystem, where fully sustainable gem production, relating to the ability of biological systems to remain diverse and productive over the course of time, is feasible. It was the latest event in CIBJO and IEG’s joint programme, endorsed by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), to support Corporate Social Responsibility and sustainability in the international jewellery sector.

Under the spotlight were organic materials, generally produced through aquafarming, such as cultured pearls. Precious coral was also examined.

Unlike a mine, which has a finite life span, a pearl farm can continue producing indefinitely, on condition that it is responsibly operated. A healthy oyster has the ability to consecutively produce three high-quality cultured pearls over its productive life span, if it is provided a clean marine environment in which to live, and proper time between grafting and harvesting for the pearls to form. Such responsible practices are more likely to be applied in places where sustainable social and economic opportunities are also present.  For if pearl farming communities share only a minimal proportion of the revenues generated by their labour, they are less likely to invest in maintaining a decent marine environment and will be more inclined to maximize production by reducing the gestation period of the pearl in the oyster.

Steven Benson, CIBJO’s Director of Communications and the seminar moderator, introducing the panel (from left) Rui Galopim de Carvalho, Laurent Cartier, Jacques Christophe Branellec, Shigeru Akamatsu and Justin Hunter.

Gaetano Cavalieri (left), President of CIBJO, and Matteo Marzotto, Executive Vice President of the Italian Exhibition Group, and welcoming participants to the seminar in Vicenza.

Because pearls and their oysters should be cultivated in pristine marine environments, pearl producers have an inherent need for marine conservation, explained Dr. Laurent Cartier, a pearl and gemstone specialist at the Swiss Gemmological Institute in Basel, Switzerland, and one of the world’s preeminent experts in sustainability in the cultured pearl sector. He is a co-founder of the Sustainable Pearls project, which promotes responsible pearl farming and contributes to marine conservation and livelihood development efforts in the Pacific region.

There is a unique synergy between pearl quality and ocean health, with profits and conservation being closely linked, Dr. Cartier said. Not only does pearl farming offer economic development opportunities to remote communities, it also has the potential to be a sustainable luxury product, and a great medium to engage with and educate consumers, he added.

Representing one of the world’s most prominent pearl companies was Shigeru Akamatsu, who is a senior researcher at the Mikimoto Pearl Research Laboratory in Japan, and also a Vice President of CIBJO’s Pearl Commission. He described Mikimoto’s “zero emissions pearl farming” policy, which eliminates the release of industrial waste into nature during the pearl farming process, in part by ensuring that practically all elements of the are oyster are productively utilised.

The tropical reefs in which much of world’s pearl farms operate cover less than one half of 1 percent of the earth’s surface area, but contain the largest concentration of biodiversity on the planet, explained Justin Hunter, founder and CEO of J. Hunter Pearls in Fiji and President of the Fiji Pearl Association. Over the past several years, he has been working together with the government of Fiji to establish a Private Public Partnership that will create viable economic and employment opportunities within rural communities of the island nation, while at the same time developing means of countering the effects of climate change.

Pearl farms serve as important regulators of water quality, with pearl farmers adopting the role of sea stewards to protect their investment, Mr. Hunter said. The pearl-bearing oyster is a filter feeder by nature, with one of the highest clearance rates, he noted, adding that it is often referred to as an “indicator species,” inasmuch as any decline in water quality has a direct impact on oyster health, resulting in poorer pearl quality and increased oyster mortality.

Pearl farming is as much as about knowing the technique of operating on an oyster as it is about preserving nature and nurturing people, said Jacques Christophe Branellec, Deputy CEO and Executive Vice President of Jewelmer, a Philippines-based international luxury brand cultivating South Sea pearls and producing fine jewellery. He also is a Vice President of the CIBJO Pearl Commission.

Emphasizing the close association between responsible social practices and responsible environmental management, Mr. Branellec recounted the efforts of his company to rebuild employee housing after a devastating typhoon had struck the Philippines. While company workers worked to repair damage caused to the pearl farms caused by the storm, Jewelmer built about 400 homes for workers and their families, he recalled. “We are not in the life of a business,” he stated, quoting the company Chairman, Manuel Cojuangco, “we are in the business of life.”

Climate change has significantly impacted on the world’s coral reefs, said Rui Galopim de Carvalho, founder and editor of Portugal Gemas, a gem and jewellery digital educational platform, and Vice President of CIBJO’s Coral Commission. Nonetheless, he stressed the importance of educating the public about the difference between shallow-water common coral, some of which have been declared in danger of extinction, and precious coral species, which live at considerably greater depths beneath the ocean, none of which are considered so threatened by the world wildlife authorities.

Corrado Facco, Managing Director of the Italian Exhibition Group and Vice President of CIBJO, delivering the concluding words of the seminar.

Nonetheless, said Mr. Galopim de Carvalho, the coral sector is a strongly aware of the threats posed by warming ocean temperatures and acidification, and is supporting research into actively culturing precious coral under controlled conditions, as a means of encouraging reef restoration. Unlike pearls, precious coral is currently harvested, and relies on natural growth for rejuvenation. Sustainability is maintained mainly by ensuring that production levels remain below the ability of the coral reefs to grow and regenerate on their own.

The seminar was opened by CIBJO President Gaetano Cavalieri and IEG Executive Vice President Matteo Marzotto, both of whom stressed the commitment of the two organisations toward educating the jewellery industry about social, economic and environmental sustainability. Closing words were delivered by Corrado Facco, IEG’s Managing Director, who also serves as Vice President of CIBJO, with special authority over the confederation’s CSR programme. The seminar moderator was Steven Benson, CIBJO’s Director of Communications.


Pearl and gemstone specialist, Swiss Gemmological Institute (SSEF)
Dr. Cartier is recognized as one of the world’s preeminent experts in sustainability in the cultured pearl sector. He is a co-founder of the Sustainable Pearls project, which was started to investigate how responsible pearl farming could be promoted and thereby contribute to marine conservation and livelihood development efforts in the Pacific region. He holds a PhD from Basel University that focused on pearl farming sustainability and traceability.

Senior researcher, Mikimoto Pearl Research Laboratory
Long associated with the Mikimoto Pearl Research Laboratory, the lab is one of the world’s most accomplished facilities researching pearls and other new technologies for production sites, and has developed techniques for implementing what it calls “zero emissions pearl farming,” which eliminates the release of industrial waste into nature during the pearl farming process. In addition to his work at Mikimimoto, Mr. Akamatsu has been a delegate on behalf of his country in the CIBJO Pearl Commission since 1994. He currently is a Vice President of the CIBJO Pearl Commission.

Founder and CEO of J. Hunter Pearls, Fiji
Justin Hunter is the founder and CEO of J. Hunter Pearls, Fiji’s largest pearl producer. The company was established in 1999 was formed in partnership with the traditional fishing right owners and their rural communities. As President of the Fiji Pearl Association, Mr. Hunter has been working together with the Government of Fiji to establish a Private Public Partnership that will formulate and set industry standards to ensure consistent production of top quality pearls, while maintaining socially and environmentally sustainable practices throughout all aspects of the Industry.

Deputy CEO and Executive Vice President, of Jewelmer, Philippines
A senior executive at the  company that was founded by his father, Jacques Branellec, and Filipino entrepreneur Manuel Cojuangco, he also serves as a  Captain of the Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary 402nd Squadron, and  advocates the cause of the Save Palawan Seas Foundation, which is protecting marine life and providing sustainable sources of livelihood to Palawan’s coastal communities. Mr. Branellec serves as Vice President of CIBJO’s Pearl Commission and is a member of the CIBJO Board of Directors.

Founder and editor of Gemas Portugal
A leading gemmologist, Rui Galopim de Carvalho operates of the most extensive gem-testing operations his native country of Portugal in collaboration with public and private museums, as well as with the Catholic Church. His company, Portugal Gemas, collaborates with several national trade associations, jewellery schools and universities.He also has developed teaching and gemmological promotion in Brazil and Mozambique. He currently serves as Vice President of Sector A of CIBJO, which covers all gem materials, and as Vice President of CIBJO’s Coral Commission.