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The conference where the international community of thinkers and doers in responsible jewelry gathers.

The 2023 Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference and the Gem Boutique was held on August 11-12, alongside the new INSTORE Show which created greater industry awareness and will help expand our mission of creating responsible supply chains for jewelry materials and production.

Couldn't make it in person? You can now purchase the replay of the entire event! You'll even have the opportunity to submit your questions to our speakers and be part of the conversation!

2023 Schedule

Friday, Aug. 11, 2023

8:45 a.m.

Continental Breakfast & Networking

9:00 a.m.

Conference Opening

Welcome to the conference with Andrea Hill, CEO |Hill Management Group | Werx Brands; and Susan Wheeler, Founder | Responsible Jewelry Transformative | Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference | Susan Wheeler Design

9:15 a.m.

Introduction to Incorporating the UN SDGs and Un Women Goals into Your Jewelry Journey

Susan Wheeler, Advisor for the Fashion and Lifestyle Network, a joint initiative of the UN Office for Partnerships, the Division for Sustainable Development Goals - UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and the Fashion Impact Fund. Responsible Jewelry Transformative/UN Women Action Coalition Generation Equality Commitment Maker.

10:00 a.m.

Opening Markets for Artisanal Gemstone Miners

4 Quality Education8 Decent Work and Economic Growth9 Industry Innovation and Infrastructure10 Reduced Inequalities
Moderated by Anna Samsonova | Samsonova Consulting. Speakers: Sejal Karavadia, Director of Procurement and Vendor Management | Brilliant Earth; Cristina Villegas, Director | PACT Mine to Market; Jessica Hudson, Founding Partner | Virtu Gem, Owner/Designer | VIPAKA Jewelry and Founder | The Nomad Jeweler; and Pauline Mundia, Ambassador | Virtu Gem Zambia, Vice President | Federation of Small Scale Mining Associations of Zambia and African Women in Mining Association-Southern African Chapter

While many of the colored gemstones mined come from artisanal and small-scale mines, the demands from large buyers in the name of compliance leave little room for true allocation of value for this important segment of the jewelry supply chain. Sharing the knowledge of what markets require to be successful and compete on equal footing is a way forward for the inclusion of miners worldwide. The GIA education program to help miners identify their stones, information sharing from Gem World to gemstone valuation, and guidance in buying expectations have paved the way to a more equitable supply chain for colored gemstones.

11:00 a.m.

Deep Sea Mining

14 Life Below Water
Speaker: Lisa Levin, Professor Emeritas | Scripps Institution of Oceanography | UC San Diego

There is growing interest in sourcing minerals, including gold and silver from the deep seabed.  While 3 different ecosystems are being targeted for minerals exploration, mining these systems creates many harmful environmental impacts including direct mortality, changes in chemistry, suspended sediment plumes, release of toxic chemicals, noise, light and vibration which is cause for concern for the jewelry industry. At present there is very limited protection of these unique and fragile ecosystems, which occur both within national and international waters, and there are many gaps in scientific knowledge that prevent effective management of mining in the deep sea. This session will explore the risks that have led to calls from states, scientists, civil society and businesses for a moratorium on deep-seabed mining. 

Noon - 1:30 p.m.

Lunch Break

1:30 p.m.

Responsible Silver

12 Responsible Consumption and Production
Moderated by Holly McHugh, VP of Sustainability | Mejuri, Inc. Panelists: Mark Hanna, Chief Marketing Officer | Richline Group; Will Nevins-Alderfer | WR Metal Arts; and Torry Hoover, President | Hoover & Strong

For the first time in the jewelry industry, we will address the issues around responsible silver sourcing. The origins of silver are complex, as it is extracted as a by-product of mining for many other minerals including copper, lead, zinc, and gold. Silver mines are located in the US, China, Mexico, Morocco, and across the Americas. The issues are many ranging from mercury in mining to the assassination of human rights defenders, but there are fewer risks than gold in many other areas, including less money laundering and more compliant large-scale mines. The silver jewelry market is on fire. We need to begin the conversation about silver.

2:30 P.M.

The African Union's Africa Mining Vision

11 Sustainable Cities and Communities5 Gender Equality
Presentation by Mkhululi Nkosilamandla Ncube, Programmes Officer | African Minerals Development Centre (AMDC), Department of Economic Development, Trade, Tourism, Industry and Minerals (ETTIM), African Union Commission

“Transparent, equitable and optimal exploitation of mineral resources to underpin broad-based sustainable growth and socio-economic development” It is Africa's own response to tackling the paradox of great mineral wealth existing side by side with pervasive poverty.  What does the African mining vision hold for jewelry interest in diamonds, gold and gemstones?

3:45 p.m.

Sex Trafficking in Marange Zimbabwe

5 Gender Equality10 Reduced Inequalities
Moderated by Brandee Dallow, Chief Communications & Sustainability Officer | Grandview Klein Diamonds. Panelists: Abigail Sibanda, Gender Focal Person | Marange Women’s Alliance (MWA); and Susan Wheeler, Founder | Responsible Jewelry Transformative | Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference | Susan Wheeler Design

Can using a woman as a token gain you access to mine for diamonds illegally? Yes. Sex trafficking and sex work are, unfortunately, acceptable norms in mines worldwide.

5:00 p.m.

Onsite Cocktail Reception

Join us for light refreshments as we relax and catch up.

Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023

8:45 a.m.

Continental Breakfast & Networking

9:00 a.m.

An Introduction to Ethical Metalsmiths Students and So Fresh + So Clean Student Exhibition Winners of 2023

Shannon Kurzyniec and Chelsea Rowe, Members of the Ethical Metalsmiths Student Committee and Graduate Students | Virginia Commonwealth University

9:15 a.m.

Responsible Retail

12 Responsible Consumption and Production
Speaker: Anna Bario, Co-Founder + Designer | Bario Neal

How to incorporate the mission of responsible jewelry into the DNA of your brand.

10:15 a.m.

Source Country Traders in the Gemstone Supply Chain

12 Responsible Consumption and Production
Moderated by Brecken Branstrator | Gem World. Panelists: Eric Braunwart, Founder, Columbia Gem House; Chiko Manda, Ambassador | Virtu Gem Malawi, Managing Director | Perekezi ASM Consultants; Ola Erogbogbo, Owner/Jewelry Design | Deinte Fine Jewelry; Stuart Pool, Owner | Nineteen48; Pauline Mundia, Ambassador | Virtu Gem Zambia, Vice President | Federation of Small Scale Mining Associations of Zambia and African Women in Mining Association-Southern African Chapter; and Susan Wheeler, Founding Partner | Virtu Gem

The colored gemstone supply chain is often described as complex, opaque, and impossible to trace, but it doesn't need to be that way. Forging business relationships with source country traders can facilitate the traceability and compliance that the jewelry industry is looking for and offer breathing room to focus on lifting mining communities and source country business infrastructures.

11:00 a.m.

Gold and Agriculture

12 Responsible Consumption and Production13 Climate Action15 Life On Land
Moderated by Andrea Hill. Panelists: Laura Galvis | Alliance for Responsible Mining; and Roy Maconachie, Professor of Natural Resources and Development | Dept. of Social and Policy Sciences, University of Bath

This session will highlight the positive initiatives in ASM gold mining and bring an awareness of the close relationship and interactions between mining and farming. Anecdotal insight and visuals of working agriculture at gold mines will shed light on the possibilities of low environmental and social impact of ASM gold mining, and how these initiatives bring positive and more sustainable development to rural mining communities.

Noon - 1:30 p.m.

Lunch Break

1:30 p.m.

Russian Sanctions

12 Responsible Consumption and Production16 Peace Justice and Strong Institutions
Speakers: Sara Yood, Deputy General Counsel | Jewelers Vigilance Committee; and Andrea Hill, CEO |Hill Management Group | Werx Brands

As the war against Ukraine continues, the US continues to fight the war through sanctions that directly and powerfully hit the jewelry industry. The only way forward for the industry is to completely change our direction and control the path that our diamonds and gold take to reach the bench. We will discuss how this can be done, and what you need to know to assist our government in the fight to help Ukraine and obey the law. No organization can take responsibility for you.

2:15 p.m.

Initiatives Clinic

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We will break out into groups where participants will talk about how to apply UN SDGs to initiatives to help improve transparency in jewelry supply chains. Let’s get the conversation started!  

3:15 p.m.

Migration and Minerals: The Impact of our supply chain on the global movements of people

11 Sustainable Cities and Communities
Speaker: Saleem H. Ali, Distinguished Professor of Geography and member of UN International Resource Panel | University of Delaware

As the lead author of the recently released report from the United Nations International Resource Panel on Human Migration and Natural Resources, Saleem will share some of our findings with reference to mineral rushes and migration flows to and from
such areas.

4:00 p.m.

Casting a Wider Net: Responsibly Sourced Designs Inspiring Consumer Engagement

12 Responsible Consumption and Production
Moderated by Natasha Braunwart, Brand & Corporate Social Responsibility Manager | Columbia Gem House. Panelists: Hannah Smythe, Founder/Designer | Toast Fine Jewelry and DEH Jewelry Solutions; Megan Cochran, Founder/Designer | Megan Cochran Jewelry Design; and Eric Braunwart, Founder | Columbia Gem House

There are various elements along the supply chain that make up responsible sourcing; one of which is the environment. In this discussion, we will take a deeper look at the 2023 Responsibly Sourced Design Challenge and how it has grown into a larger fundraising project. Hear from some of the participating designers on their inspirations and design process. We will touch on sustainable pearls, impacts on wildlife, and how responsibly sourced designs can inspire consumer engagement.

In 2015, World Leaders Agreed to 17 Global Goals

We have made progress, but there is still work to be done, and the Goals are more important than ever. The climate crisis. Ensuring no one goes hungry. Human rights abuses. Extreme poverty. Problems of this scale can be overwhelming, but the Global Goals(also known as the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs) are the solution to tackling them.


Stuart Pool
Owner | Nineteen48

Thank You to Our Generous 2023 Sponsors

The Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference would not be possible without the financial and operational support of our sponsors.

Hill Management Group

Columbia Gem House


Hoover & Strong

Rio Grande

Rio Grande

Anza Gems


What We're All About

Working to Make Jewelry Beautiful from Beginning to End

Susan Wheeler (left), Founder of the Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference

A Roll-Up-Your-Sleeves Conference

The growing attention was exciting, and Susan Wheeler attended several different events, and volunteered to serve on several committees. But she also wanted to do more. She wanted to create an experience that was more immediately actionable. She wanted to bring together voices from across the globe - voices that would directly represent the communities most affected by jewelry industry demands.

So, with no outside funding (and a very supportive husband), Susan decided to host a conference. In the most grass-roots of organizing behavior, she contacted Columbia College Chicago, arranged for a venue and a student population to work with, and started calling friends and acquaintances in the jewelry industry to ask them to jump on board.

The beginning

The jewelry industry doesn't have a stellar record of getting out in front of social criticism. So in 2016, when several industry organizations started putting together meetings, industry discussions, and panels to discuss responsibility in jewelry sourcing and production, it was exciting.

Gem dealers and jewelry designers led the forefront of change in how the jewelry industry connected with people and environments where gems, gold and diamonds are mined. It began one person at a time, sharing information and may changes in their own businesses. But the jewelry industry needed to bring even more players from all places in the supply chain to the table, if it was going to actually change things.

Designer Panel at 2017 Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference
Discussing Mercury-Free Mining Options
Responsibly Mined Gems, Represented by the Mining Communities

Our Mission

To engage everyone in the jewelry industry; miners, makers, professionals, educators, and students. To address all the ways that individuals and companies can be involved in the responsible jewelry movement. To make a difference by making things happen.

Susan Wheeler, Founder

To Our Surprise and Delight

It Came Together!

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Corporate Support

Early seed support from companies like Richline and Hoover & Strong helped get the conference off the ground.

Ethical Metalsmiths

Ethical Metalsmiths, the non-profit association for jewelry makers interested in responsible behaviors, embraced the conference from the beginning, assisting with lining up speakers and promoting the event.

State Department and NGOs

The US State Department, organizations like PACT, IMPACT, Fairmined, and Amazon Aid, and educators like University of Delaware and GIA have participated generously.

Reaching Out to the Public

Each year, the Chicago Conference has also reached out to the public, through screenings of important documentaries that address issues related to the jewelry industry and responsible supply chains.

In 2017, the conference presented Sharing the Rough, a documentary that explored acquiring rough gemstone materials from Kenya and Tanzania. In 2018, we hosted the first  US screening of River of Gold, which explores the impact of illegal gold mining on the Amazon rain forest.

The local community was invited to both screenings. Why? Because it's not enough for us to prepare ourselves for social criticism. We must also play a role in being critics and being publicly accountable for our industry.