Sustainability is a buzzword across every industry right now, from fishing to fashion to fine jewelry. Consumers’ desire to know how, where and by whom their goods were made has sparked positive change and increased transparency at every step along the supply chain. But it has also led to confusion over exactly what ‘sustainability’ means.
The jewelry industry is renowned for its opaque supply chains, making it difficult for customers to know the origin of their gemstones and gold. But many brands go to great lengths to ensure that their jewelry is not only beautiful, but also has a positive impact on both the environment and the people who made it, too.
Pippa Small has championed ethical jewelry for more than 25 years, working with artisans around the world to preserve ancient crafts in pieces that are handmade using responsibly sourced stones and gold. Many jewelers share her commitment to environmental and cultural sustainability.
“One of the reasons I love fine jewelry is that it’s inherently more sustainable than other industries, as clients pass their pieces on to the next generation,” says LA-based Octavia Elizabeth Zamagias, who founded her label Octavia Elizabeth in 2016 and makes every piece by hand.
“As I grew and needed help, I met managers of production companies in downtown LA and asked to see the jewelers at work. I’d ask questions like, ‘Do the workers here get a lunch break? Do they make minimum wage or better?’ People rolled their eyes and laughed, but to me a piece of jewelry holds the spirit of the individual who made it, so I want that person to have been taken care of.”
All Octavia Elizabeth jewelry – from textured-gold hoop earrings to delicate gem-strewn necklaces – is handmade using 100 percent recycled gold by a small family-owned company, thus minimizing carbon emissions. “Gold is one of the rare materials that can be repeatedly recycled without degradation in quality. By using recycled gold, we lessen the need for new mining.”
“One of the reasons I love fine jewelry is that it’s inherently more sustainable than other industries, as clients pass their pieces on to the next generation””Octavia Elizabeth Zamagias
For over a decade, Geneva-based Nadia Morgenthaler’s high jewelry has been made using recycled gold and diamonds certified by the Kimberley Process, meaning they come from mines that meet strict human-rights and environmental standards. Morgenthaler works with an RJC-certified gold supplier in Switzerland, where pieces such as her ruby-, pearl- and diamond-strung chandelier earrings are made. “I believe in recycled gold, as I consider it far more sustainable than extracting gold that is labeled Fairtrade or Fairmined,” she says.
As well as minimizing her carbon footprint by working with local artisans, Morgenthaler uses only FSC or recycled paper in her packaging, champions recycling of waste and chemicals in her workshop, and employs bicycle couriers to transport goods.
This 360-degree ethos is echoed by Melissa Joy Manning, whose recycled-gold jewels feature responsibly sourced stones. “As an artist inspired by the environment and people, it would be disingenuous of me not to honor both through my work,” she says. “Not only are our production processes clean, but our back-office and retail operations are, too – from waste-water treatment to energy use, packaging, carbon offsetting, shipping and offering bicycle repair kits.”
She couples this with a strong social commitment to the artisans who make each piece. “It’s easy to make jewelry from recycled components, and brands should go beyond that measure. As an industry, we need to make sure that jewelers are well treated, well paid and work in healthy conditions. If a piece of recycled-gold jewelry is made in dirty conditions, how responsible is it, really?”