Fine Jewelry

10 eco-friendly designers making the fine jewels you want to wear now

CHARLIE BOYD speaks to the fine jewelry maisons and independent artisans crafting lasting treasures with sustainable shine

Emily P. Wheeler launched her eponymous jewelry line with a strong focus on ethical craftsmanship

For so long, ‘sustainable’ was a loaded, somewhat unsexy term in fine jewelry circles (if it was even mentioned at all). It read eco-friendly, but also carried connotations of second-rate artistry – twee, rustic craftsmanship that lacked the glamor and prestige of the major maisons and slick, avant-garde designers. Over the past few years, however, the tide has turned and contemporary jewelers are in hot pursuit of authentic sustainability credentials, integrating robust ethical practices into their brand DNA without compromising on compelling design. “So many of the brands we partner with are taking steps to address sustainability, and we hope to be able to celebrate even more of this important work in the future,” explains Emily Wansbrough, fine jewelry and watches buyer at NET-A-PORTER.

Our aim is to grow and evolve the NET SUSTAIN edit to include more and more products and brands as we embed sustainability into the day-to-day business of the luxury industry

Of course, every NET-A-PORTER-stocked jeweler uses diamonds that adhere to the Kimberley Process – a trade scheme dedicated to eradicating conflict diamonds, and NET-A-PORTER is also a member of the Responsible Jewellery Council – a body committed to improving and refining the eco-friendly merits of every single jewel. The launch of NET SUSTAIN in 2019 signaled further commitment to green initiatives, showcasing a prestigious edit of designers who have made sustainability their priority, and assessing their supply chain for environmental, human and animal-welfare impacts. “Our aim is to grow and evolve the NET SUSTAIN edit to include more and more products and brands as we embed sustainability into the day-to-day business of the luxury industry,” says Wansbrough. And we’re just getting started – let us introduce the clutch of fine jewelers going above and beyond to ensure that every gem is as sustainable as it is scintillating.

Based in Los Angeles, Azlee combines handcraftsmanship and playful silhouettes with a sentimental quality

Designer Baylee A Zwart was pulled in two directions when she founded fine jewelry brand Azlee – she wanted to create beautiful, long-lasting pieces, while helping to preserve the world’s oceans. She decided to combine both passions in Azlee, with every sale now benefiting an ocean-related organization. “Our donations have contributed to enabling non-profits such as The Marine Mammal Center to create measurable change,” explains Zwart. “Our custom clients also have the option of choosing vintage or post-consumer recycled diamonds for their pieces, too – these diamonds are just as high quality as newly mined diamonds, but require no new mining,” she explains.

Khiry Fine is one of the latest brands to join NET-A-PORTER’s Vanguard program for emerging talent

Khiry Fine has launched its first collection made entirely from ‘Single Mine Origin gold’ – a new global standard for gold that guarantees it to be responsibly sourced and fully traceable to a single mine. Each piece of SMO gold bullion comes with its own QR code so that jewelers and their customers can precisely pinpoint its provenance. SMO mines must meet rigorous standards, guaranteeing zero child labor, fair wages and minimal environmental impact while ensuring local communities benefit directly from the mine through long-term, life-improving initiatives.

Octavia Zamagias, founder of LA-based brand Octavia Elizabeth, is a passionate advocate of eco-friendly fine jewels. “Our goal at Octavia Elizabeth is to make fine jewelry that will last a lifetime, create jobs that pay fairly and competitively, and to source as cleanly as possible,” she explains. Zamagias began her career as a traditional bench jeweler, and each of her designs is made locally using recycled gold. Zamagias uses Fair Trade-approved diamonds and has a new partnership with Myne London to ensure a responsible supply of emeralds from the Swat Valley in Pakistan, which, in turn, will also help to empower women in the nearby emerald-mining community, providing them with access to education and skilled employment in the 75-percent-female workforce.

Family-owned maison Chopard is renowned for its exceptionally handcrafted watches and fine jewelry

Chopard has a long-running history of promoting ethical practice: in 2013, the brand unveiled its Journey to Sustainable Luxury, a program devised to improve the environment and lives of all those involved in crafting its exquisite jewels. The maison is also famed for its Green Carpet Collection – bringing Fairmined-certified gold and gemstones to the red carpet with the support of Marion Cotillard, Julianne Moore and Charlize Theron. Since 2018, every single Chopard jewel and timepiece has been crafted from 100-percent-ethical gold, and complemented by rare and responsibly sourced gems, such as Paraiba tourmalines and D-flawless diamonds.

Co-founded by Thomas Montier Leboucher and Iris de la Villardière in 2020, Viltier is a vertically integrated company, allowing the co-founders to control every step of their supply chain, sourcing and crafting all their own precious metals and gemstones. “We consider sustainability to be an essential component of a brand’s identity to evolve successfully – these two worlds must be intertwined,” says Montier Leboucher. Viltier uses only Fairmined gold from small artisanal mines and pays a premium of 20 percent on top of the gold price, which is then invested back into the mine to finance a regular audit that ensures Fairmined conditions are maintained. Even Viltier’s clasps and claws are made using recycled gold – a feat not yet achieved by most fine jewelers.

Geneva-based Nadia Morgenthaler was championing sustainable initiatives way before the recent wave of eco warriors were in business. “Sustainability has always been a priority for me; we have been using exclusively recycled Swiss gold for years without communicating it, because it went without saying,” she explains. Morgenthaler has overhauled every element of her production process to favor local suppliers, too, with most of the work done in her own workshop or within a 10km radius, and jewels ferried by bicycle between ateliers. From repairing tools rather than replacing them to supporting charities like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Morgenthaler is leading the eco charge by example – she even cycles the 18km round trip to her solar-powered studio every day.

Each Viltier collection is meticulously handcrafted in the label’s Parisian workshop, where the co-founders oversee every step of production
Jeweler Pippa Small is committed to preserving traditional craft techniques and providing long-term job opportunities to locals by working with artisan collectives across India, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Bolivia

Pippa Small founded her eponymous fine jewelry brand in 1996 and is the poster girl for eco-friendly evolution. She has worked tirelessly over the past 25 years to create sustainable, safe jobs in vulnerable areas affected by conflict and poverty, while preserving traditional artisanry. “Knowing that the business helps to keep artisans safely and sustainably employed in areas where there are very limited opportunities is so important to me,” says Small. “I get to see the pride in a young Syrian woman who has had to flee her home and lost everything to finding happiness making her first ring in the Pippa Small Turquoise Mountain training project in Jordan – or see a young Burmese goldsmith mastering their skills before seeing the pieces they have made for sale on NET-A-PORTER and being sent around the world.”

Foundrae’s necklaces feature iconic spiritual and mystical symbols that “allow the wearer to express something of herself to the world”, says creative director Beth Bugdaycay

“We are committed to creating jewelry focused on intangible symbolism and tangible quality and craftsmanship, while protecting the human rights of all individuals in our supply chain,” says Beth Bugdaycay, founder of the bohemian fine jewelry brand Foundrae. Cast from 100 percent recycled gold certified by a third-party verification system, Foundrae’s jewels are made from a naturally renewable source, as re-refined metals can be recycled repeatedly without any degradation in quality. Every diamond used is also sourced ethically, and promises exceptional color and scintillating clarity.

Each of Emily P. Wheeler’s collections comprises a selection of unique and limited-edition designs that are produced in small quantities in the United States to reduce waste and carbon impact. A member of the Responsible Jewellery Council, Wheeler has developed her own Supplier Code of Conduct and undertakes due diligence to ensure that every supplier is able to prove their shared commitment to responsible and ethical business conduct. Each jewel features 18-karat recycled gold, conflict-free diamonds and semi-precious stones with traceable origins – even her exotic materials, such as recycled ebony, are sustainably sourced.

Italian maison Pomellato preserves rare craftsmanship skills on the brink of extinction to ensure the safeguarding of its jewelry-making heritage and age-old savoir faire. Its education program partners with Galdus Goldsmith Academy in Milan to support young talent and assure the transfer of its know-how to future generations. Having established ethical rigor for its gold and diamond supplies, the brand is now developing an alliance to ensure colored stones’ traceability, too, while championing actions to support women in accessing the labor field and sponsoring community charity projects for victims of domestic violence.