Melanie Grant, award-winning jewelry writer, curator and changemaker, will take over tomorrow, January 23, as executive director of the Responsible Jewelery Council (RJC), the body that sets the agenda for sustainability in the jewelry and watch industry. Grant is expected to raise awareness and understanding of what constitutes responsibility, encourage creativity in the industry’s approach to it, and bring clarity to the opaque world of the raw material supply chain. “It’s a huge honor, both exciting and terrifying,” she says of her historic appointment. “Both society and the RJC are evolving; I’m excited to take a leadership position at a critical time for jewelry.”
A highly respected editor and all-round force for good in the industry, in recent years she has been behind groundbreaking projects such as the 2020 book Coveted: art and innovation in high-quality jewellery, which advocated jewelry as art, and Brilliant & Black at Sotheby’s, the watershed show for black jewelry designers. With every bold step — writing what became a groundbreaking work as her first book, or approaching Sotheby’s with an idea for a sale targeting black talent — the results were felt in the jewelry community. Now she’s tackling sustainability, from a platform that can reach the entire industry, without the need for a megaphone.
When the RJC was formed in 2005, two years after the Kimberley Process, mining and supply chain practices in particular were opaque. While great strides have been made over the past 15 years, enforcement with international standards — such as the Fairtrade framework that requires every entity handling gold, from miner to designer, to be licensed — sometimes seems nearly impossible. This is where the RJC comes into play.
The organization was set up by a group of major jewelery players ranging from mining to retail to enable companies to operate more responsibly. Now the jewelry industry’s largest professional organization, it has 1,700 members in 71 countries, all of whom are committed to doing business sustainably through the RJC Code of Practices for ethical, social, human rights and environmental issues; and the RJC Chain of Custody for fully traceable and responsible sourcing. As a whole, members represent 60% of the $164 billion global jewelry market, and a huge opportunity to shape a more sustainable future for jewelry.
Grant believes traceability is the number one priority for brands today, saying “trust has become a beacon of late and RJC certification plays an important role in ensuring that materials are sourced responsibly. society has undergone a seismic shift in recent years “Generation Z consumers make decisions based on trust, they need to be sure the jewelery in their hands is as responsibly sourced as possible” With 65% of jewelery raw materials produced in Africa , a black woman who has risen to such a leadership position at the top of the industry makes for a powerful symbol of circularity, signifying a willingness to be more open and think creatively.
“We are with sustainability where we were with digital 20 years ago. Those who embraced it thrived. Those who rejected it lagged behind in many ways,” says Grant. “I want to help everyone understand what they can do to help, because our future depends on it. You have to do it, but you won’t be alone – we’re in it together,” she continues. That sense of community, of a shared commitment to driving change, is something Grant is adept at: gathering people together and inspiring them to work for the greater good, whether that means tackling the under-representation of black people in jewelry or getting more creative deal with the challenges of sustainability.
Growing up in London to a British mother and Jamaican father, Grant was determined to make her way into journalism. The Times, The TBENand most recently, deluxe editor of The economists 1843 magazine, where she began to specialize in jewelry. “When I worked in the press, whenever I saw someone who was a little different – black, brown, female – profiled for a big job, I read the story to find out why they were chosen. I hope someone who an outsider feels, looks at me and thinks ‘that’s something I could do someday'”.
At a time when clear messaging is vital, the RJC made a smart choice by hiring one of the most skilled and passionate storytellers in the industry. As the first creative to take on this role, tomorrow morning will be at the top of her to-do list to simplify what it means to be responsible and “create desire, understanding and action at all levels. It’s about making sustainability more attractive through inclusive the human experience, and inject passion into the discourse. The consumer has to care enough to make the right decisions, professionals have to understand what they can do.” And all of that only comes from careful communication.
“Jewelry is the love of my professional life, I’m excited to honor it in a new way,” smiles the winner of the Gem Awards Media Excellence. To anyone interested in jewelry but worried they won’t fit, she says, “Come on in, it’s brilliant! It’s coming for you when you’re ready, give it your all.” Throughout her career, Grant has made her own luck; but now the RJC has found her, just at the right time for everyone in the industry.