Article Cover Photo: © ZM Jewellery
Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to shop more consciously, and evermore thoughtful about how they spend their hard earned income. It’s shocking to believe that the fashion industry alone emits more carbon than both maritime shipping and international flights combined. It is for this reason that many are choosing quality over quantity when it comes to selecting their attire and the fashion brands they invest in, and the concept of capsule wardrobes is being widely adopted across the Western world.
With accessories being a key component of every woman’s outfit, it’s only natural that sustainability extends beyond clothing to the jewellery being worn. But what does it mean to buy ethical and sustainable jewellery? We break down exactly that, what you should be looking for and the 10 brands that are leading the way in terms of beautiful, ethical and sustainable jewellery pieces.
- What is Sustainable Jewellery?
- How to Buy Ethical and Sustainable Jewellery
- Our 10 Top Sustainable Jewellery Brands
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What is Sustainable Jewellery?
When it comes to shopping for sustainable fashion items, many are already aware of what this means and what to look out for: products that are high quality, long-lasting and that have minimal impact on the environment. But what about buying sustainable and ethical jewellery, and what does this actually mean? How can we tell what impact the jewellery we buy has on the environment, and do sustainable and ethical mean the same thing?
The Definition of Sustainable Jewellery
At present, no international standards have been developed for brands to officially classify themselves as ‘sustainable jewellery’, so it is very much left up to the brand to demonstrate to buyers how they are sustainable. According to Investopedia, “sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. It about ensuring best practise under three key pillars: economic, environment and social.
In the case of jewellery, the concept of being sustainable often refers to the materials being used in the production of the pieces, both through the use of recycled or waste materials and through ensuring that the overall lifecycle of the piece can easily follow the ethos of reduce, re-use, recycle. If unable to use 100% recycled materials, how were the materials being used sourced and what economic, social and environmental impact did that have on the surrounding localities?
The Definition of Ethical Jewellery
It’s pretty much impossible to be sustainable without being ethical, as the very notion of sustainability encompasses care for the planet, people and their profits. If we were to dig a little deeper into what it means to buy ‘ethically produced jewellery’, the well-being of each and every character in the supply chain must be respected. Some experts also argue that to use the term ‘ethical’, brands must comply with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions which promote health and safety at the work place, the avoidances of any kind of discrimination, slavery and child labour, to name a few.
How to Buy Ethical and Sustainable Jewellery
Buying your first pieces of sustainable jewellery can be tricky – there are no international rules for using the term ‘ethical’ or ‘sustainable’ and some brands may not be as sustainable as they seem. Here are some handy tips on what to look for when buying sustainable jewellery; from the materials used to questions you should ask the brand you are purchasing from:
- Ensure that the brand uses either recycled or ecological gold, or ethically sourced metals in general. Of course, it may not always be possible to use recycled metals, and we acknowledge that gold is mined and used for a lot more than just jewellery. That said, if it’s not recycled, ensure that it has been ethically sourced without being detrimental to people, communities or the environment. A good way of establishing whether gold has been sourced ethically is to look out for the Fairmined Standard label. Holders of the label guarantee that they follow strict standards for responsible mining in terms of social, organisational and economic criteria. Fairmined Ecological Gold takes it a step further, with strict environmental criteria and requires that NO toxic chemicals (cyanide and mercury) are used in the extraction of gold and silver.
- Diamonds and gemstones should ALWAYS be recycled or ethically-sourced. Readers will likely have come across the term ‘blood diamonds’, and what that meant for both the miners and the environment in order for the diamond to make its way to you. Always ask for full certification from the seller and if not convinced, perhaps consider lab-grown diamonds!
- The only way to guarantee that your diamonds are 100% ethical and conflict-free is to go with lab-grown diamonds. Even with schemes such as the Kimberley Process Certification, it still remains hard to achieve full traceability for every diamond. On the other hand, lab-grown diamonds have 100% traceability and are, in fact, REAL DIAMONDS.
- An informative, helpful and knowledgeable customer service is incredibly useful when shopping around for high end sustainable jewellery. Each of the brands listed below are able to talk through where their material is sourced in detail and have dedicated pages on their respective websites to discuss why they are sustainable and their overall brand ethos. Our advice is to always go with your gut – if you find that a brand is making themselves out to be more sustainable than you suspect, purchase elsewhere!
- Vintage or second-hand items make a great alternative to buying brand new pieces. Check out Vestiaire Collective or Farfetch Pre-Owned for some great pieces at equally great prices!
Our 10 Top Sustainable Jewellery Brands
It’s no secret that the team behind Dukes Avenue are avid travellers, and so, when we find a brand whose whole ethos is inspired by travel and adventures, we are sold. ZM Jewellery was founded by London-based Zoe Morton in 2014. A frequent traveller herself, Zoe was inspired by the people she met on her journeys, and went on to create beautiful sustainable jewellery pieces that aim to connect people from all over the world.
Ethics and sustainability is a priority at ZM Jewellery, without sacrificing that luxury feel. Each and every product is cast from recycled materials, the packaging is made from recycled cardboard and stones are sources from sustainable and conflict free suppliers. In addition, each and every product is made in London, where workers are paid a fair London wage. Read more about Zoe’s mission to change the jewellery industry here.
In 2019, Net-a-Porter launched NET SUSTAIN – a place where online shoppers could easily source brands that put sustainability, as well as style, at the forefront of what they do. NET SUSTAIN launched with 26 brands, and is where we discovered and fell in love with Laura Lombardi’s beautiful designs. The Brooklyn-based eponymous line crafts minimal jewellery using a mix of new, recycled and reclaimed metals, inspired by her upbringing in New York and Italy, and her background in fine arts, sculpture and mixed media.
Laura Lombardi’s commitment to social justice is as admirable as her designs, and the brand stands firm against systematic racism, police brutality and white supremacy, with donations to numerous initiatives. In addition, the New York City store is currently being used to prepare and distribute refreshments and PPR for protesters and essential workers.
Zoë Pook Jewellery
Our search for ethical and sustainable jewellery takes us from New York to Sydney, Australia. Founded in 2008 by classically trained jeweller of the same name, Zoë Pook Jewellery offers clientele exquisite ethical wedding and engagement rings, as well as handmade bespoke commissions. Her designs are an artistic blend of vintage yet on-trend pieces, featuring a vast range of styles, diamonds and coloured gems. The Headdress Collection of rings is a wonderful example of this (and our personal favourite!).
As the pioneering supplier of Fairmined and Fairtrade Certified Gold in Australia, Zoë Pook is one of the names leading the way in ethics and sustainability in the jewellery industry. The diamonds and coloured gems used in her creations are ethically sourced from select countries, and careful due diligence is carried out to ensure they are not a product of human exploitation. Even if not looking to purchase an engagement or wedding ring, the Zoë Pook website offers a plethora of information on ethically sourced gold, why it’s important and why recycled precious metals are no different to when they were first mined out of the ground.
Lebrusan Studio Jewellery
Lebrusan Studio Jewellery was founded by award-winning jewellery designer and trained gemologist Arabel Lebrusán. Arabel is no stranger to the world of luxury jewellery. Before founding her eponymous line, Arabel spent five years as Creative Director of Leblas Jewellery – the first ever ethical jeweller on London‘s well-known Sloane Street. Her designs are intricately delicate and exude femininity, and together with her skilled team of experts (including Lorenzo the master filigree artisan), these designs are transformed into beautifully crafted timeless heirlooms that can be passed down for generations.
Not only is Arabel a creative genius when it comes to designing timeless works of art, but she is also a key founder of the ethical jewellery movement. Lebrusan Studio Jewellery is committed to an admirable ethics code, one that ensures only sustainable and responsibly sourced materials are used – materials that cause little damage to human life and that have minimal impact on the planet. By only working with Fairtrade, Fairmined and recycled gold, silver and platinum, Lebrusan Studio offers their clients timeless jewel that is beautiful both inside and out. It’s no wonder that her pieces are worn by Sienna and Savannah Miller, and Queen Letizia of Spain.
Emma Aitchison Jewellery
Founded in 2016 without any investment, UK-based Emma Aitchison Jewellery is another eponymous sustainable jewellery brand. After growing up in the British countryside, Emma draws her inspiration from nature, specifically, the beauty of the weather and its changing forms. Our personal favourites are the show stopping earring designs made using recycled metals.
Through her creations, Emma hopes to draw attention to the change in weather patterns and the impact that has on the planet. Just like each of her creations should be preserved for generations to come, we are reminded of the importance of preserving the planet for future generations. Along with having such a great message, Emma Aitchison Jewellery prides itself on being what they refer to as an honest jewellery brand – a business which has minimal impact on the environment. The brand uses 100% recycled silver and gold whenever possible, never uses any newly mined stones and only works with UK suppliers that offer workers safe and non-discriminatory working conditions.
Unlike many of the other brands listed here, Futura Jewelry made a name for itself solely in gold and rose gold. Readers will note that none of the pieces are made with diamonds, gemstones or even silver, yet each piece captures the imagination and takes wearers back in time. Futura collaborates with notable jewellery historians to find hidden treasures of the past, and artistically reworks them into timeless, yet modern day classics. As they put it, they are a ‘modern fine jewelry brand where purity is the new luxury‘.
Many often dream about being part of the top 1% of the world. Futura Jewelry explains which 1% they prioritise. It’s a sad fact that 99% of the world’s gold is mined by releasing toxic chemicals like mercury into the environment – what the United Nations calls ‘a worldwide crisis’. All Futura Jewelry collections are crafted with Fairmined Certified Ecological 18kt gold, are traceable through the whole supply chain and ensure that human rights are respected throughout.
Pippa Small is a London-based jeweller who is no stranger to working with some of the best names in the industry, collaborating with people like Nicole Farhi and Tom Ford at Gucci. Her shops may be based in international hubs like London and California, yet her illustrious history is far more colourful. With a Master’s degree in Medical Anthropology, Pippa cultivated a strong interest in human rights among minorities and has travelled to work to countries such as Borneo, Thailand and India to work with grass roots local organisations.
It is this varied resumé that inspires Pippa’s jewellery collections and it is her hard work in helping communities in developing countries which led to her being named Ethical Jeweller of the Year in 2016, and to her being awarded an MBE by the Queen in 2013 for ethical jewellery and charity work. To find out more about her work in countries such as Myanmar and Afghanistan, head over to the Pippa Small website. We are in love with the Golden Flowers Collection!
Founded by banker turned designer, Amanda He, Poppy Finch is another sustainable jewellery brand that can be found on Net-a-Porter‘s NET SUSTAIN category, as well as Nordstrom and various high-end boutiques globally. This Vancouver-based brand uses a variety of materials to create dainty, fine jewellery pieces for the modern woman and is proud to say that each material is sustainably sourced. From the diamonds to the pearls, wearers can feel confident that their accessories were locally made in a responsible manner.
If not recycled (overall recycled material at 75 per cent), fair mined and fair trade gold is used. The pearls are all sourced from reputable pearl farms in Asia, with each pearl being handpicked and matched at their Vancouver studio. The diamonds used all comply with the Kimberly Process and gemstones are all sourced from trusted suppliers from specific countries around the world (Thailand and Sri Lanka for rubies, Columbia and Zambia for emeralds and Australia, Thailand and Sri Lanka for sapphires.)
Founded by Geneva-based Elisa Pantazopoulos, Eli-O is a whimsical sustainable jewellery brand which draws heavily on the founder’s Greek roots. In fact, each and every single piece of Eli-O jewellery holds a Greek mythological name. As a lover of anything vintage, Elisa’s designs are a unique blend of Ancient Greece and timeless classics, and her goal is that these are passed down from generation to generation. To emphasise that vintage feel, Elisa uses the ancient technique of wax casting, which involves Elisa slowly hand carving into wax, before sending her creation off to be cast in metal.
Sustainability is critical to Eli-O. Not only do they find it important that each piece they craft lasts for generations, but they also strive to make beautiful pieces in a beautiful way. Using only recycled 18k gold or Sterling Silver 925 throughout her designs, each piece is cast in Geneva to minimise environmental footprint and sent to their new owners in beautiful linen bags.
The final name on our list of ethical jewellery brands is Bario Neal, based in both Philadelphia and New York. Founded in 2008 by Anna Bario and Page Neal, Bario Neal is a women-owned, feminist company that puts ethics and sustainability at the heart of its collections. Their Philadelphia workshop can be found in the well-known Jeweler’s Row – the oldest continuously-operating jewellery district in the country. By working with the talent found on Jeweler’s Row, Bario Neal produce collections of beautiful, feminine and timeless pieces using ethically sourced diamonds and recycled gold. Be sure to check out their cluster rings and solitaires!
Bario Neal follows a strong moral compass. From an ethical standpoint, they are long-term supporters of worldwide marriage equality and work to undermine and eliminate the concept that heterosexuality should dominate the wedding and jewellery industry. In terms of sustainability, Bario Neal was one of the first jewellery companies to hold the Fairmined Assurance label!
If you’re looking to read more about fashion and style, you might want to check out our articles on luxury French brands, how to look expensive and the top 10 nail colours that go with everything.
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