1 in 3 consumers care about sustainability and with the fine jewellery market worth over £3.3 billion, it’s no surprise that brands want to attract this key market of conscious customers. Premium products are now often associated with good ethics and environmentally positive production practices. However, this is not often as simple as finding a sustainability logo on a brand’s website. Precious metals and gemstones can have complicated histories, and looking after the planet does not often go hand in hand with fine jewels.

Ultimately, sustainable jewellery often revolves around traceability and ethics, and whilst this is important, there are also environmental factors to be considered. When mining for precious metals, deforestation is rife, chemicals affect ecosystems and the local wildlife suffers as a result. If you’re a consumer who wants luxury jewellery without negative ethical and environmental effects, there are some key things you can consider the next time you are purchasing.  

Unsustainable factory practices
It’s well documented that cheap costume jewellery has been found to contain banned and harmful chemicals, that’s why fine jewellery is worth its high price point. However, the chemicals in the manufacturing process can be harmful to the planet and the people who create it. If not disposed of properly, these chemicals can leak into the ecosystem and affect local wildlife and crops. On top of this, during the gem cutting stage, microscopic particles can infect workers’ lungs and cause longer-term damage that way, too.

Sustainable materials
Recycled materials like tin are popular with cheaper jewellery, however, in the luxury market, you should be looking for recycled gold and silver. Brands are beginning to use recycled production methods in their fine jewellery to ensure their ethical impact is minimal. A simple search will reveal various brands who are making recycled gold bracelets as well as recycled silver rings for example. The recycled content won’t always be the same though, it will depend on how much of the precious metal used is actually being reused, so be sure to check the descriptions.

Due to the way precious metals are scrapped some brands may actually be selling technically recycled gold jewellery but are just not aware of the benefit of advertising this. It’s standard practice in the industry to create new products from old ones, therefore don’t be alarmed if a piece you’re interested in isn’t explicitly “recycled”.

Background of metals and gemstones
To continue to purchase sustainable jewellery you also need to look into the ethical practices of the businesses you are considering. Brands often have an ethics section on their website which discusses their code of practice and their supply chain in depth. This way you can see where your precious metals and gemstones are coming from. This is especially important when considering the environmental impact of acquiring these materials. Often, people are displaced as well as landscapes being torn apart through deforestation just to mine these materials. On top of that, mercury and other harsh chemicals make their way into the local ecosystem and can be devastating for the region. Doing your research early on can ensure your next luxury purchase is not harmful to the planet in its sourcing practices. 

What can I do?
Reading a piece like this to understand sustainable jewellery is the first step. Caring for the planet and its people does not have to come at the expense of luxury and aesthetics. Look out for fair trade logos, discussions of their supply chain, mentions of recycled materials and also an ethics policy on the website. If you’re doing your purchasing in person, have an open conversation with the jeweller and they can inform you where their brand positions itself against these issues.

Fairtrade is sustainable. Fairtrade gold encompasses fair supply chains, it removes child labour, it reduces the environmental impact vastly and tackles systemic poverty at the source of our jewellery. In today’s world, luxury rings, bracelets and necklaces need not come at the price of the planet.

James Rees is founder of Wales-based independent jewellery boutique, Baroc, who stocks a range of brands alongside a variety of homeware products. Established in 2013, Baroc is a family-run business with a high street store situated in Neath, a small Welsh town. Baroc continues to stock more brands who are ethical and sustainable to encourage consumers to consider their fast fashion choices.