When silver first arrived in Scotland, it came in the form of coins in the hands of the Roman army and was used as bribes to “divide and conquer” local tribes. 

The early tribes were unlikely to be concerned about the provenance of the silver, nor did they use it as currency, but, instead, it became a status symbol to impress others, according to Alice Blackwell, from National Museums Scotland.

But now, thousands of years later, Scotland is believed to have become the first country in the world to teach young gold and silversmiths the provenance of the precious metals used in their design.

According to Mary Michel, director of the Incorporation of Goldsmiths, this represents a major change to the jewellery industry in Scotland, as makers seek to make their work “ethically sound”.

She said: “Hundreds of years ago it would have been a much more direct transaction but, with globalisation and the complexity surrounding the whole supply chain, it has become a really, really mottled picture.

“We need to get back to a really clean picture of where materials are coming from, who’s been involved in the production and what the conditions have been for those people.”

The initiative follows a lack of clear information about where the precious metals used by Scotland’s growing numbers of jewellery makers originates from.

Ms Michel added: “There’s lots of information out there, but it’s really difficult to make sense of, so we set up a website that brings all the information into one place.”

In the last year, the IoG also asked all seven Scottish art colleges that offer goldsmithing and jewellery courses to sign a pledge to teach students about ethical making. 

The pledge encourages a transition towards ethically materials, as well as having two designated “ethical ambassadors” in each college to educate students.

“Scotland is the first country in the world where every graduate studying jewellery will come out with this base line of ethical making,” said Ms Michel. 

But although the sourcing of materials in Scotland is currently going through a revolution, the tools and skills used to make jewellery remain “almost exactly” the same as 550 years ago. 

In an exhibition at the National Museum last year hosted by the IoG, a workbench “from 550 years ago” was compared to a “modern day” one. 

“The hammers, a lot of tools and a lot of skills have been passed down and there are very few things that have changed. Possibly a power tool or an electric light but, generally, a lot of the tools and skills are the same. That’s something that we’re very interested in protecting.”

The work of some of today’s most significant and talented jewellers and silversmiths will be displayed at Elements: A Festival of Jewellery, Silver & Gold later this year.

Now in it’s fifth year, the annual event in Edinburgh was originally set up to showcase Scottish designers. 

Although around one-third of exhibitors are from the rest of the UK, Ms Michel said many jewellers and silversmiths continue to move north due to the “connection to the land” many artists have here.

For example, one of the 2019 artists, Megan Falconer from Aberdeenshire, carves her own bronze hammers from rocks she finds in the countryside, and uses them to shape her silver. 

Another designer, Hannah Louise Lamb is inspired by maps and textures from the coast. She said: “I make designs that are location-specific – coastlines, skylines and landscapes – and will be showing some Edinburgh-based pieces, including rings with the Edinburgh coastline and city skyline, and a large statement necklace which has the coastline map of Edinburgh flowing through the necklace elements.”

Designer Akvile Su says that rather than having separate collections for men and women her work is for anyone to wear. Indeed, it often raises questions about gender, sexuality, jewellery and the body.

She said: “It seems very outdated to me to view items of jewellery as feminine or masculine – I’m a woman, but I tend to like bigger and more sculptural pieces. So the work I make is gender neutral and I am certainly finding that a lot of my customers are guys.”