Happily, more and more crafters and goldsmiths starting to promote and sell sustainable /eco /ethical /Fairtrade jewellery. This is great, but also confusing as the price points vary tremendously and most of the time, the terms tend to be used interchangeably. What does the term sustainable jewellery mean? Is it really just a super cheap ring crafted in a sustainable way, as some say?
The way we craft jewellery nowadays is still mostly harmful for the environment. This is mainly because of:
THE WAY THE METALS ARE MINED
The extraction techniques used contribute to the loss of biodiversity and contamination of soil both ground and water. This harmful contamination is still an issue in 2019; even in countries who practice stringent sustainability regulations.
On top of this, a lot of the time children are still used for mining, local people are exploited and abused and usually, the profits are used to support for illegal activities; ie money-laundering, terrorism and drug profiteering.
THE WAY GEMSTONES ARE MINED AND CUT
A cheap precious or semi-precious stone comes at a cost. The mining process has the same negative environmental and ethical issues as mining of metals. Gem cutting produces microscopic dust which is damaging to the lungs. Workers in gem cutting facilities often work without proper ventilation or safety gear.
THE WAY JEWELLERY IS CRAFTED/ PRODUCED
Whether in a small studio or a big factory, jewellers often use harsh chemicals to craft and finish the pieces. When the pieces are produced in third world countries, the working conditions for the crafters are almost non-existent - no safety gear and, no proper waste management for toxic substances in place, which means that poor people and mother nature suffer again and again.
With different options in place, if you end up finding and considering a piece of jewellery that is either eco, sustainable, ethical, this is what it means and by the way, congratulations!):
This term is mostly applicable to gold pieces and jewellery made with precious gemstones. Buying Fairtrade gold jewellery means you know the small-scale and artisanal miners were paid a fair price, giving them financial security. In this case, environmental considerations and organic production are always promoted.
There is not cheap or necessarily 'affordable' gold, diamonds or semi-precious gemstones (the lab-grown ones are cheaper, and they have they same qualities as the natural stones). If they are too cheap, we talk about dirty gold and conflict stones, which means environmental unsound practices, child labour, war crimes and forced labour.
This term is used to emphasize the origins of the metals, or jewellery which is made of recycled and scrap metals (this can be either sterling silver or gold). Most of the time, if not mentioned, we don’t know where the jewellery is produced, how it was produced and, in what conditions.
This term can have different definitions, most of them overlapping with sustainable jewellery, but if not clearly explained, usually it focuses on the treatments and working conditions of the laborers for both the mining and jewellery production parts. The main narrative is around jewellery that has no negative impact on either people or our planet.
Today this term can be used to cover any of the above type of jewellery. But hopefully, in the near future, it will stand only for holistic green approach in crafting jewellery, where both environmental and ethical principles are considered and applied. It will tackle not only with the metal mining, but also with production, nature and people.
For instance, a sustainable ring could mean that is made of recycled/Fairtrade gold, it is set with ethically sourced stones, and finished with green alternatives to the chemicals used today. Also, the safety and environmental production regulations were applied and if at a higher production scale, the laborers were paid a fair share.
Jewellery shouldn't only be beautiful; it should also be good for our planet too. We all have the power to drive this just by choosing jewellery carefully - and remembering to ask the crafter where the metals and stones are sourced from and, where the jewellery has been produced.
Good to know! Thanks.
I hope this finds you well.
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