Growing awareness of violence within the diamond industry has had a chilling effect on jewelry purchases, more broadly, but that’s not the only reason consumers are rethinking their adornment purchases. No, changing ethical standards surrounding jewelry production and sales are largely motivated by an increased commitment to sustainability. Today, you’ll find sustainable fashion dominating the runway, eco-friendly children’s toys, and upcycled housewares. But even those who are ambivalent toward sustainable consumption make a conscious decision to purchase sustainable jewelry.
Replacing The Diamond
The first item jewelry consumers typically look for alternatives to when making a purchase is, unsurprisingly, the classic diamond – and they have a few options. One of the most popular, though, is moissanite, another clear gem that’s more sustainable than diamonds. Moissanite stones look similar to diamonds and are highly durable, but they’re also generally more affordable than diamonds. This combination makes moissanite an ideal choice for environmentally and fiscally responsible individuals, and most people can’t differentiate them from diamonds.
Seeking Out Sapphires
Diamonds may be an obvious trouble spot within the jewelry industry, but they’ve also lost some of their importance from a fashion perspective. Instead of diamonds, many buyers are looking for colored gems, which are more unique and have even caught on with celebrities. Kate Middleton’s engagement ring was blue sapphire (it formerly belonged to William’s mother, Princess Diana), while Halle Berry and Victoria Beckham both have emerald engagement rings. But are they more ethical than diamonds?
As it turns out – yes. Though colored stones can, of course, be produced in unethical conditions just like other materials, across the board, they’re almost always more sustainable and ethically produced than diamonds. This is because colored gems, like the sapphires mined by Reign Sapphires, rely on a more mine to market approach. With fewer middlemen trying to turn a profit, businesses are motivated to provide better working conditions and a direct investment in the land where those stones are mined. You don’t want to destroy the environment where your trusted employees live and where your products are produced within the earth.
An Emphasis On Emeralds
Sapphires are among the most popular colored stones on the market right now, but emeralds also have significant market share. These stones are primarily produced in Zambia, where the largest emerald mine is run by Gemfields. Gemfields laser-inscribes tracking information into their stones, allowing consumers to track them through mining and processing, ensuring responsible provenance.
It’s worth noting that, in addition to sustainability, many consumers seek out colored gemstones, even for engagement rings, because diamonds are a relatively new trend. Diamonds became popular due to a 1930s marketing effort by DeBeers, but from the 14th century until well into the 19th century, colored stones ruled the scene. Many women may recognize these older gems, such as these Art Deco and Retro Era emerald rings. In other words, it’s not just environmentally responsible to give colored gems as engagement rings, but also deeply traditional.
A Greener Kind Of Gold
It’s very hard to have jewelry without some kind of metal, but how is the gold for sustainable jewelry sourced? Like gems, some comes from green mining operations, such as the CARING Gold Project, which works in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO). This project supports artisanal and small-scale gold mining operations in the Philippines to improve labor conditions, end the use of children in mining, and eliminate the use of mercury in gold processing, making the process safer and cleaner.
Other jewelry makers eschew new mining entirely for their metal needs – there’s plenty of gold and silver out there already, after all – and opt for recycled metals instead. Since metals are easy to recombine and reshape, they’re the perfect material for recycling. It involves far less processing than plastic or even paper recycling and can generally be done on a piece-by-piece basis. Individuals can even bring family pieces to jewelers to be modified for new pieces – even resetting old stones into the recycled metal.
Sustainable jewelry doesn’t just look great; it makes people feel good about what they’re wearing. In the next several decades, the jewelry market will have to adapt to these changing norms. Beauty doesn’t have to come at an ethical expense, and more manufacturers are finding ways to pass such flawless beauty on to consumers.