How to Shop for Sustainable Jewelry

July 9, 2021 (updated August 17, 2021)

Conscious consumers (hi, that’s you!) know that their buying decisions make a real impact. Sustainable jewelry, which is friendlier to the environment and commits to more ethical jewelry-making practices, is one significant way to ensure those decisions make a good impact. 

woman wearing watch and bracelet from sustainable jewelry brand

By: Emily Barth Isler

IN THIS POST:

The jewelry you choose to buy and wear on a daily basis has an effect on the earth and on the people who make it. It might be a little more expensive in the short term, but thinking long-term about your jewelry choices is the most profound way you can make a difference in an industry sometimes known for unethical practices (conflict diamonds, gold mining pollutes drinking water, etc.).

By choosing to save up to buy jewelry that will last longer and that is made of ethically sourced materials, you can earn yourself a gold star! (A solid gold one made from recycled metal, that is!) And yes, we’ve got tips + recommendations, so keep scrolling.


Here’s what to look for when buying sustainable jewelry / ethical jewelry

Lisa holding her left hand to her heart to show off her engagement ring.

Go for the gold (Or white gold or platinum or silver—just keep it real)

Buy jewelry made of good, real materials. Buying something that is made of solid gold, for example, rather than gold-plated or gold-filled, will ensure that the jewelry will not only last longer but also that it will retain its value long-term. Solid-gold jewelry, or real silver or platinum jewelry, will likely always have value. Gold can be sold and melted down to make new jewelry in the future if you want something different. 

Reuse & recycle

Gold and other precious metals can be melted down to be recycled and reused. Even things that can’t technically be recycled—you can’t melt down a sapphire to create a new one—can be reused. Any time you can support an artisan who is reusing or reclaiming materials, you’re helping the earth.

Or, recycle/reuse something from your own collection. This doesn’t always work, but usually, there’s a way to turn your great-aunt’s brooch or your grandpa’s gaudy pinky ring into a necklace or bracelet you’ll actually wear.

Utilizing these stones is not only meaningful, but it is also incredibly environmentally responsible. Gemstone mining can have a vast and wide environmental footprint, including water contamination, landscape destruction, soil erosion and loss, and habitat loss (1).

Know thy designer

Instead of going for jewelry from a big company that mass-produces pieces, choose something designed by a person. Learning the inspirations and backgrounds, the strengths and insights of the people who design and make the jewelry adds depth to the history of the piece you buy. In addition to being jewelry makers, many designers have other interests and talents that bring something extra to their design.

Buy an heirloom 

Look for pre-owned jewelry that has been around for generations or well-made classics that WILL be around for generations to come. Buying vintage is one way to find jewels that have already stood the test of time. A good jeweler or antique dealer can help you figure out exactly how old a piece is, and verify the materials of which it was made

Buying one piece that will last forever is more sustainable than spending smaller amounts of money on more pieces that will get thrown away or not used in the long run.

Learn about all the aspects of ethical jewelry

It’s not just the stones and the metal that can make an environmental and human impact. Make sure the jewelry you choose is operating with fully sustainable business practices, from source to sell.

That means sourcing of materials, but also includes the work environment for the brand’s jewelry makers; whether they make a fair wage and receive benefits; how they package their final products; what cleaning products, inks, dyes and other supplies they use in their studios and more. A jeweler’s website should be clear on this—just like a beauty brand. If they aren’t, reach out and ask them! If the brand isn’t open to answering your questions, that might be a reason to choose someone else.  

Check for sustainable jewelry certifications

There are several certifications and organizations jewelry brands can adopt or join to ensure the most ethical practices. Check the brand’s website to see if you notice any affiliation with these before purchasing.

Umicore is one of the largest recycling companies in the world. It was ranked number one in Global 100 Most Sustainable Companies in the World Index.

Ethical Metalsmiths is a community of jewelry makers that inspires responsible jewelry making through education, connection and action.

No Dirty Gold works to ensure that gold mining operations respect human rights and the environment by demanding changes in the way gold and other metals are extracted and produced.

Some brands have their own foundries. Internet sensation VRAI created a zero-emission diamond foundry, where they sustainably grow their own diamonds. If certifications aren’t available, ask what sustainable jewelry-making practices the brand you’re interested in uses.


10 sustainable jewelry brands we love

We’ve compiled a list of 10 sustainable jewelry brands we love (and it was really hard to narrow it down to only 10!), including the ones mentioned above, and a few more. Each of these brands is making an effort to practice sustainability, transparency, and ethical production. Take a look through, and let us know what ethical brands YOU love! You can never have too much sustainable bling!

Satomi Kawakita

Born and raised in Japan, jewelry designer Satomi Kawakita launched her eponymous brand in 2008 in New York City. The brand is a model of transparency, from the studio where you can visit and watch the jewelry being made, to the use of recycled materials whenever possible, to the ethical standards and ethical suppliers the brand works with. The line features timeless, geometric, architectural pieces.

Valerie Madison

Incredibly unique, gorgeous pieces made in Seattle, Washington. Valerie Madison is known for exquisite engagement and wedding rings, but she also creates beautiful everyday necklaces, earrings, and engravable gifts, all crafted with her environmental science knowledge in mind to inform her eco-friendly practices. Another standout? VM offers what the brand calls “Heirloom Reworks” for people who already have a diamond they want to use in a custom engagement ring.

Bario Neal

Bario Neal was created by design partners Anna Bario and Page Neal in 2008. Based in Philadelphia and New York, the brand is an industry leader in ethical sourcing and progressive manufacturing. It’s founders are co-founders of the Ethical Metalsmiths organization we mentioned above.

Jennifer Dawes Design

Jennifer Dawes Design has been a leader of the sustainability movement in jewelry since 2005. Dawes uses only recycled gold and responsibly mined stones whenever possible in her collections, and she’s a board member of Ethical Metalsmiths, known for her work for industry transparency. Based in Northern California, the brand employs “solar heating and water solutions, natural lighting, non-toxic chemicals for cleaning, recycled paper products, zero-impact packaging and soy-based printing.” JDD buys materials and supplies from local and US-owned businesses, helping to reduce their carbon footprint. They even use a green merchant account for credit card purchases! As their website says, “Every decision we make is weighed with its environmental cost.”

Zoë Chicco

ZoĂ« Chicco is consistently reducing her brand’s carbon footprint and using recycled and upcycled materials. Her timeless classics are accessible and chic, and she is adamant about treating employees fairly. The brand’s website  talks about the importance of how employees are treated, stating, “[the brand’s 20+ employees] are paid competitive salaries and receive health insurance, paid vacation and family leave.”

Polly Wales

A trailblazer, Polly Wales created her own jewelry-making style, called “cast-not-set” and inspired by her sculpting background. Because her work showcases the uniqueness of stones and finished products, Wales’ designs only get better with age and are meant to be lived in and passed down. The brand’s website clearly states that “Everyone in our workshop is paid a living wage with full benefits, time off and a comfortable and supportive work environment,” and the brand also mentions that, since they make each piece by hand in their own workshop in Los Angeles, there are no overseas factories used and no outsourcing involved in their production. 

Catbird

Catbird is a leading force in the world of ethically made jewelry. In addition to showcasing other artists in their online and brick-and-mortar boutiques, the brand’s own line uses recycled gold and responsibly sourced stones and gives 1% of sales to nonprofits aligned with their values. The women-led brand is transparent and committed to equity, diversity and inclusion.

VRAI

VRAI has elevated lab-grown diamonds to a new level with their Diamond Foundry Created diamonds. Grown and made in the Pacific Northwest, VRAI has a zero-emission facility powered by the Columbia River.

Carrie Hoffman

In addition to using ethically sourced stones, woman-owned brand Carrie Hoffman exemplifies an important aspect of sustainability: philanthropy. A breast cancer survivor herself, Carrie Hoffman’s Tata Collection speaks to those who have been touched by breast cancer, and Hoffman donates a significant portion of wholesale proceeds of this collection to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. She makes custom pieces of all kinds and can help customers recycle old jewelry for cash or repurpose stones and metal into new pieces. 

Futaba Hayashi

Futaba Hayashi is based on the designer’s values of minimalism and simplicity. Meant to be worn every day, Hayashi’s pieces are made to last and feature symbolism from her Japanese heritage. Each piece is handmade in NYC, using the highest-grade refined gold and ethically sourced precious gemstones. Futaba’s background in graphic design, as well as her cross-cultural experience living in New York City, have shaped her ethical design aesthetic.

What sustainable and ethical jewelry brands do you love? Share with us!

Note: This article contains affiliate links. TOG uses affiliate links as a source for revenue to fund operations of the business and to be less dependent on branded content. TOG stands behind all product recommendations. Still have questions about these links or our process? Feel free to email us.

REFERENCES:

1. Cartier, Laurent E., PhD candidate; Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Basel, Switzerland; Environmental Stewardship in Gemstone Mining: Quo Vadis?; http://www.uvm.edu/~shali/egems.pdf

By Emily Barth Isler

Emily Barth Isler lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two kids. A former child actress, she performed all over the world in theatre, film and TV. Emily writes about sustainable, eco-friendly beauty and skincare for magazines and websites such as Organic Spa and Allure, and also writes novels for kids and families. Her debut Middle Grade novel, AfterMath, will be published in September 2021 by Carolrhoda/Lerner Books, and she has also written web sitcoms, parenting columns and personal essays. She has a B.A. in Film Studies from Wesleyan University, and really, really loves television. Find her at www.emilybarthisler.com and on Twitter and Instagram at @emilybarthisler.

3 Comments

  1. Reply

    Ruella Yates

    John Hardy is an ethical brand with beautiful jewelry.

  2. Reply

    Molly

    Thank you for writing about this important issue! Jewelsmith in Durham, NC is another great example of the practices you are talking about. https://jewelsmith.com/ethical-practices

  3. Reply

    Paula

    This is a great compilation of ethical jewelry brands. Thank you! If you allow my recommendation I love this small jewelry shop.pompomclay.com that advocates for sustainability and local consumption.

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