What is Sustainable and Ethical Jewellery?

What is Sustainable and Ethical Jewellery?

Sustainable, or ethical jewellery can be defined as jewellery that has as little negative impact on the environment as possible and without impact on human rights. The main reason behind sustainable jewellery is the impact of mining.  These negative impacts include mercury pollution, contamination of soil, release of hazardous substances to the environment, water pollution, erosion and sinkholes.  These problems then lead to biodiversity loss and habitat loss. There are also well known issues surrounding human rights with non fair-trade gold mining.

In order to make a difference to these impacts some jewellers are now finding ways to become sustainable and ethical in their making.  This includes sourcing ethical metal, ethical gemstones and up-cycling.

Sourcing Ethical Metal 
Currently a range of gold and silver can be purchased as recycled.  Though this doesn't greatly effect the rate of the mining industry, it does allow us to use what we already have.  It is a sustainable way of sourcing metals.  Most scrap material used for silver and gold comes from jewellery, giftware, medical and electronics industries. 

Melting don scrap gold

Though recycled gold is available, we cannot be certain it is ethical. This is because we cannot trace the gold completely. Cooksonsgold, retailers of recycled gold, state that the gold they recycle is always from scrap, though they cannot know where the gold was originally mined. This leaves the possibility for dirty gold to be involved at some stage. Dirty gold involves one or more of these issues; environmentally unsound practices, war crimes, child labour, human rights violations, forced labour. There are other ethical sources available, including fairmined and fairmined ecological gold that have good human rights for their workers and eco friendly policies in place.

- Fairmined gold

  • Environmentally friendly
  • Mined using responsible use of toxic chemicals
  • Gradual reduction in the use of toxic chemicals

- Fairmined ecological gold

  • No use of toxic chemicals
  • Rehabilitation of native ecosystems
    • For example restoration of forests in highly biodiverse areas
  • Additional requirements for minimization of ecological disruption

Fairtrade gold mining in Sierra Leone

Fairmined ecological gold is something I’m very excited about! It comes from XAMODX in Mongolia and the miners of La Llanada, Colombia offer Fairmined Ecological Gold. On the downside it seems extremely difficult to purchase, mainly due to the small amount they are making.   Fairmined gold on the other hand is easier to find as a supply and finished product and after my research I think it’s the best option at this time.

Currently, I use ecosilver and Argentium® silver which are both 100% recycled. Argentium® is an alloy of silver (93.5%), germanium and copper and is a purer, brighter, tarnish resistant and hypoallergenic silver. Ecosilver is recycled sterling silver which is an alloy of silver (92.5%) and copper (7.5%). 

Reusing items to make jewellery
A great example of sustainable jewellery is using items which are otherwise thrown away or have been previously used.  For example, I have seen jewellers using coloured glass from bottles to make beads for their pieces. It’s so creative and a great way to reuse glass bottles, the results are stunning.

Often broken jewellery is thrown away, however it can become good as new with a little work. Old beads and stones can be up-cycled into brand new pieces and broken chains can be fixed and polished up.

As always, I fully encourage vintage jewellery. Buying any jewellery from vintage or second hand is a great way to show off your own unique style and a good example of sustainable jewellery.

Ethically Sourced Gemstones
It is hard to say whether gemstone mining is ethical.  Surely there are some mines that are ethically managed, the problem is finding out. There isn’t a mass amount of information out there about where you are buying your stones from without a lot of research on your own part. This is a whole other ball game and I will go into more detail another time. Here is a link to a very in depth article on forced labour in coloured gemstone mines. Personally, I’m very lucky to have a gemologist as a father-in-law whom I trust to find the best ethically sourced gems, some even mined by himself, click here for Anders’ website (example of some stunning amethyst druze below). I will be sure to update when I get around to stone setting - hopefully very soon!

I certainly learnt a lot though writing this blog post, hopefully it’s been helpful to you too. If so, please share, like, comment etc!  Whether you’re a jeweller interested in better ethical or sustainable practices or a jewellery lover interested in an eco lifestyle I hope you’ll think about these points next time you buy.  

My entire shop is ethical and sustainable. Be sure to take a look and see what you find! 

Sophie x