Duncan Marshall is operations manager for UK-based precious metals mining company Betts Group.
Here he tells Professional Jeweller why Betts Group is leading the way in sustainable mining practices, as well as what is going on behind the scenes at the company, including work with the NHS.
Can you tell me about what the Betts Group is and what it offers?
The Betts Group was established in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter in 1760, where the head office still operates today with workshops in Kidderminster and Buxton, where I am based.
We provide specialist precious metal services across refining, manufacturing, investment products, wedding rings, and waste management services.
We’re particularly interested in the provenance of the precious metals we work with.
What is your role and history with the company?
I have been with the Betts Group for just under five years, but I have been in the industry for over 42 years.
My role covers the manufacturing arm of the business – we produce a range of products including wedding rings, sheet, strip, wire and grain. We also manufacture bullion products such as bars and coins.
It’s highly skilled work and I’m fortunate enough to manage a team of master craftsmen, who are phenomenally good at what they do.
What can you share with the trade about the various refining processes as well as manufacturing of rings, sheet, wire and investment products?
Our refining processes give us valuable control over the whole of our manufacturing operation and allow us a great deal of flexibility. This makes our services attractive to clients wishing to keep their metal entirely separate from any other precious metals.
We are currently the UK’s only Fairtrade and Fairmined refiners. We refine various types of gold, including Welsh, Irish, Scottish, customers’ own and our own venture Single Mine Origin (SMO) gold, all of which are kept separate and manufactured into any alloy and just about any product.
Our team in Kidderminster can recycle silver from X-ray films, which also helps to raise funds for the NHS.”
We are only a small team but we are all involved in the entire process. This gives the whole team a good understanding of all aspects of what we do.
We work hard to provide a good service to our clients, both old and new, and I am really proud of our achievements.
Where does the precious metals industry currently stand in terms of sustainability, ethical mining and traceability? Is it a big issue?
Ooh, now you’re asking. It should be a huge issue, shouldn’t it?
I feel the industry has a lot of people talking about these topics but not really making the commitment. I do have sympathy with them and their concerns, but you have to start somewhere.
Change will come and the Betts Group is proud to be leading the way in the UK. We supply recycled, Fairmined, Fairtrade and SMO, so we hope we’re covering all of the options.
Hummingbird Resources is also showing that a corporate mine can do it the right way, with a proven track record of committed social and environmental responsibility. It’s something that is getting noticed and is undoubtedly the way forward for our industry.
What is the Betts Group doing to tackle the above (provenance, segregation, traceability, single-mine origin, fair trade, fair mined, etc.)?
We have been keeping metal segregated for a while, so it comes quite naturally to us. We can be working on Fairmined one minute, SMO the next.
The team is used to rigorous procedures so, although it can be complex, it isn’t impossible.
We have independent audit bodies that meticulously go through every transaction we make on a regular basis, so we cannot take our eye off the ball.
Currently we are having our Fairmined audit, and I am confident that we will pass.
I understand you’ve been to visit one of the mines in Mali. What can you tell me about how they operate?
Yes, I was very lucky to visit Yanfolila, the Hummingbird Resources mine in Mali back in 2017.
The mine is situated about 200km south of Bamako, Mali’s capital, and the journey down to the mine is an adventure in its own right.
When we visited, the site was still under construction and looked like it was years – not months – away from its first pour of gold. Dan Betts (managing director, Hummingbird Resources) and his team were to prove this wrong, and we received the first batch of SMO gold later that year. From this we produced a series of seven bespoke coins for them.
The timing of the visit gave me a great insight into the trials of getting a project like this off the ground – you can only have admiration for all involved in getting such a venture up and running. The location alone does not allow for easy deployment of all the equipment.
I am continually looking to improve the efficiency of our manufacturing and refining processes.”
They have invested heavily into training local people to be part of the operation, they even had driving simulators in containers allowing them to develop the skills required to operate a 100-tonne dumper before being allowed to get behind the wheel for real. (I obviously didn’t look like ‘driver material’ as, to my disappointment, I wasn’t offered a go!)
There is 95% local employment and they also support several community projects and the Pygmy Hippo Foundation. It’s not just a mine, it’s more than that, and I hope that with more and more interest in the SMO project, that our industry is able to offer a cleaner, more responsible product. The Hummingbird team were also planning for the eventual end-of-mine process, ensuring their footprint was as small as possible when finished.
I would love to return to see the operation in full swing when safe to do so.
What is to come for the Betts Group in the rest of 2021?
These are exciting times for the Betts Group. As part of the senior management team, we are always planning how to develop the business. We are currently looking at introducing a range of Fairtrade wedding rings and are also working on a range of products made from traceable recycled silver.
Our team in Kidderminster can recycle silver from X-ray films, which also helps to raise funds for the NHS.
In my role, I am continually looking to improve the efficiency of our manufacturing and refining processes up in Buxton.