A Beginner's Guide to Sustainable Jewellery

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If, like me, you've never been in a position to afford *real* jewellery, you may not have considered the impact of gold, silver and diamonds on people and the planet. After watching the Business of Fashion's panel discussion about human rights in the jewellery industry, and meeting lots of local jewellers at Coburg House, I decided to look into this topic a little more in my journey towards learning about all things ethical fashion.

Mining is arguably one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. From mercury or cyanide poisoning and carcinogenic exposure to radioactive substances, to floods and cave-ins; all of these risks are exchanged for extremely low wages and few labour rights.

Child labour is also an issue in this industry; because of the confined spaces involved in mining which favours a physically smaller workforce. In places with little other job alternatives, families living in poverty have no choice but to send their children to these dangerous sites.

You also may have heard about 'blood diamonds' before; the diamond mining industry is historically politically corrupt, creating bloody civil war in Sierra Leone, as well as funding terrorist organisations; conflict diamonds have created worldwide unrest for over 20 years.

Gold, silver and diamond mining also have a devastating impact on the natural environment. From practices like open-pit mining and cyanide heap leaching, toxic waste is a gigantic problem, causing mercury pollution, coral reef destruction, a large-scale reduction in biodiversity, and serious impacts on the health of both marine and human life.

What's more, precious animal habitats are torn down to make room for vast mines; deforestation rates in the Amazon have increased six-fold due to gold mining alone. Finally, the demand for fine jewellery exists mainly in the Western world, but precious metal deposits exist mainly in developing countries and therefore the carbon footprint of transportation and distribution can be staggering.

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Luckily, until our hunger for naturally mined precious metals and stones wavers, there are several solutions out there for sourcing materials for jewellery in an ethically sound and environmentally sustainable way. Here are just a few key signifiers, certifications and organisations to look out for:

But remember to look out for recycled materials to ensure you are making the least impact as no new gold, silver or diamonds are being mined from the earth. Here are some ethical jewellers who are creating beautiful recycled jewellery without compromising on human rights and the future of the planet:

But what about ethical and sustainable jewellery for those that love wearing necklaces, earrings, rings and bracelets but can’t splash the cash on fine jewellery? Here are some of my favourite affordable ethical jewellery brands:

 

Ethical jewellery designers pictured in header photo:

Penguin brooch: Cara Rooney
Pink necklace: Paperchain jewellery
Blue earrings: Elk accessories
Pink earrings:  Elise Brimer
Blue necklace: Beth Lamont

Further reading:
The Ecologist: Ethical jewellery: what to ask and what to buy
Human Rights Watch: The Hidden Cost of Jewelry
Ethical Consumer: Ethical jewellery