All that glitters: Buying ethical jewellery

As with everything else, the scope for buying ethically sourced jewellery is huge. In the late 1990s, public awareness about the origins of jewellery began and organizations started talking about conflict diamonds which were fuelling wars in African countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and more recently the Ivory Coast.

Ethical jewellery currently accounts for less than 1% of the $56bn annual jewellery market. Even the big jewellery houses are taking note of this trend and are ensuring that they source their precious stones and metals in an ethical and environment-friendly manner. Many innovative young designers are finding ways to recycle, reuse and convert just about anything into trendy, one-of-a-kind statement pieces. Arteco is a US-company that makes recycled jewelry from high tech materials obtained from computers, electronics, industrial, aerospace and military waste.

Meghan Connolly Haupt one of the pioneers of ethical jewellery recently launched her brand which is handmade in Oakland, CA with 100% reclaimed precious metals and ethically sourced gems. Brilliant Earth is a San Francisco company that specializes in conflict-free diamonds as well as eco-friendly gold. Delhi-based designer Suman Mishra recently launched a line in Bangalore called Bohovillea made from 100% reclaimed silver. Making jewellery out of recycled metal offers a huge scope for e-waste streams.

UK-based Ingle & Rhode are tackling three main problems in the jewellery industry: human exploitation, conflict (or blood) diamonds and environmental damage with their products. They keystone business practice is creating a supply chain where the origin of each metal and gemstone can be traced back to the source. Only gold that is produced without mercury or cyanide is used and white diamonds are sourced from mines that are under environmental regulation.

This year, London Jewellery Week featured ESSENCE, a whole section of beautiful eco, ethical jewellery styles and many designers showcased their work here. Devon-based April Doubleday was one of them and her range features recycled metal and gold from sustainable sources. Ute Decker works with a range of sustainable materials to create her modern, silver bracelets and rings. Fifi Bijoux offers ready-to-wear collections as well as tailor-made couture items, using raw materials sourced from ethical operations. Avasarah and Oria are online ethical jewellery shops and they both have excellent ranges using sustainable materials.

CRED were the first European retailer to sell certified Fair Trade gold and ethically sourced stones. They worked with the Oro Verde green gold mine in Columbia, a small scale mining operation which "seeks to preserve the unique and vital virgin rainforest ecosystems while providing a fair, regular source of income to miners, their families and their communities. " Icelandic label Haf goes further by creating 'growing jewellery' using live Icelandic moss instead of gemstones.

The most high profile initiative for responsible jewellery is the Kimberley Process Certifcation Scheme which was established in 2003 by stakeholders who wanted to protect the integrity of the diamond industry by stopping the flow of confict diamonds onto the legitimate market. A lot of these ethical jewellery can be found online and websites like Etsy are a veritable mine of hand-made items from small designers.

Visiting local fairs and trade shows is also a good source of eco-jewellery as many creative designers show-case their work using innovative materials including wood, glass, recycled plastic, reclaimed metal etc. There are many ways to go green with jewellery as an ethical consumer and one of the ways is to encourage upcoming designers who use sustainable materials in their design...all that glitters can actually be green.

Photo: Growing Icelandic moss necklace box by Haf