Standing in a filthy mine in India he called the ‘gateway to hell’ convinced Greg Valerio he had to be not only a budding jeweller – but also a campaigner on behalf of those who were being exploited at the source.
The destinations he visited were often like apocalyptic scenes – Sierra Leone diamond mines, Congolese gold mines and Indian gemstone mines where adults and children worked knee-high in mud, exploited by local and international traders, the modern day slavery of extreme proportions. All this compelled Greg to confront and create a better option for the jewellery world. Greg confronted the industry giants and power brokers – with passion and fire – to pursue human rights and environmental justice throughout the jewellery value chain.
Life wasn’t always that way, of course. Greg was expelled from school. He spent his teenage years in the theatre and on the streets of London during the 80s. But various experiences opened his eyes to the plight of the poor.
He ended up rubbing shoulders with iconic campaigners and fashionista like Bob Geldof, Katharine Hamnett and Anita Roddick. He was the first international jeweller to visit Oro Verdé, Colombia, where he befriended eco-friendly gold miners.
Monitoring supply routes of raw materials, Greg became determined to make transparency and traceability his mantra. ‘Jewellers often ignore the stories of their sources,’ he said. ‘This is an industry that is running scared of the truth, but with the resources to put it right.’
In 2004 his former company CRED launched the first ethical jewellery website selling ‘green’ wedding rings. Seven years later, he became The Observer Ethical Awards Global Campaigner for his work in advocating for Fairtrade gold. He was voted by The Retail Jeweller as one of the top 100 innovators. In 2016 Greg was awarded the MBE in the Queen's new years honours list for his work pioneering Fairtrade Gold and for services to communities in Africa and South America.
Respected for his creativity and reviled for his compassion, Greg believes the dream scape of jewellery cannot be built on the desolation of the destitute and the ecological integrity of the planet.
Through Valerio Jewellery he aims to show that grandeur for the rich doesn’t have to mean grit for the poor. Everyone should have a share of the beauty and bounty.