Shining a Light on Sustainable Jewellery
By Emma Fathers, Junior Designer
Ethical fine jewellery should have no negative impact on the planet or people. It puts quality over quantity, making sure that each step of the supply chain is regulated to guarantee that materials are recycled or ethically sourced, and that all people involved are treated fairly and in a safe environment.
What Does Sustainability Really Mean?
As the Junior Designer at Jessica Flinn Fine Jewellery, I have the privilege of working for an independent business that is dedicated to making a positive and refreshing impact within the jewellery industry. We call ourselves the rebels of the jewellery world, as we like to do things a little differently than the traditional high street retailer. We seek out unusual gemstones for our customers, including salt & pepper diamonds, tourmalines and coloured sapphires, using CAD technology to create their dream rings through our popular bespoke and custom design services.
As steadfast allies of the LGBTQIA+ community, and as a female-founded company, we're making strides in becoming a truly inclusive and welcoming space for all. Our mission? Celebrate love in all its beautiful forms, with no room for judgment. But can a business have multiple core values? Absolutely, and we're living proof of that. While we champion diversity and inclusivity, we're also on a journey towards a more sustainable future – a road we're committed to traveling. As of right now, we still have a way to go to ensure all of our fine jewellery is ethical and sustainably sourced and crafted.
RING DESIGNER, EMMA FATHERS
As a small independent business based in Sheffield, UK, we know that we can’t do everything at once, and it can be extremely difficult to know where to start when it comes to financial limitations. Could we do more to reduce our environmental impact within the jewellery industry? The short answer is yes. But do we have goals that we are determined to achieve in the forthcoming years? Absolutely, and we will shout about it at every step of the way.
Over the past few years of working with our manufacturers, we can now say that all our gold and silver jewellery is made from 100% recycled metals. Precious metals can be refined again and again without ever losing their value or purity, so recycled gold is becoming a norm in our industry.
As gold mining regions quickly deplete, recycling the metals we already have in circulation is now becoming more popular than ever. People will take their old jewellery and gold items to be scrapped, which are then put back into the system and can be used all over again. This is a much more ethical and sustainable process, and less impactful on our planet than mining for new gold.
Unfortunately the same cannot be currently said about our platinum pieces, however our manufacturers are making a conscious effort to obtain recycled platinum in the near future (and also have plans in the works to build a renewable energy plant to power their factory!).
As gold is much more abundant than platinum within the Earth to start with, recycling gold is currently a much cheaper process than recycling platinum, as it is slightly less desirable with it being easier to get hold of. We believe that over the next few years, refined platinum will be much more easily obtained, and will soon be available industry-wide.
Lab-grown diamonds are taking the fine jewellery world by storm, now more than ever, yet there is still so much controversy surrounding these man-made gemstones. At Jessica Flinn Fine Jewellery, we offer our customers the choice of both lab-grown and earth-grown diamonds for their jewellery, however we have been seeing an increase in customers choosing lab-grown diamonds. One of the biggest benefits of lab-grown diamonds for consumers is their lower price point compared to their mined alternatives, offering the opportunity for people to purchase a larger and higher quality stone for their budget.
Lab-grown diamonds, also known as lab-created or synthetic diamonds, are diamonds that are produced in a controlled environment using advanced technology that replicates the natural diamond formation process. They possess the exact same chemical and physical properties as naturally mined diamonds, but they are created in a lab over a much shorter period of time (by a few billion years!).
These lab-grown diamonds offer the same brilliance and sparkle at a fraction of the price, and are a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional mined diamonds. However, some people believe that because these stones are created in a lab, they are not as rare or desirable as mined diamonds.
I believe that as we look towards a more sustainable future, it is our duty as luxury retailers to create as little impact on our environment as possible, and that choosing lab-grown diamonds is the most effective place to start.
Why are lab diamonds better for the environment?
The environmental benefits of choosing lab-grown over mined diamonds are significant. While it is argued within the industry that the process of creating them does require a substantial amount of energy, it is far less energy-intensive than mining new diamonds from the earth. Mining diamonds involves extensive excavation, which leads to deforestation, habitat destruction, and soil erosion. In contrast, lab-grown diamonds have a much smaller carbon footprint, as they do not require such immense land disturbance.
As well as energy and landscaping, mining also uses vast amounts of water, which can lead to water pollution and depletion of local water sources, having a knock-on effect on the people and wildlife that rely on the water in the surrounding areas.
Traditional diamond mining has long been associated with negative social impacts, including labour exploitation and human rights abuses in certain regions. Although regulations are improving within the mainstream diamond industry (thanks to the Kimberley Process) with workers being treated much more fairly than in the past, by choosing lab-grown diamonds, consumers can be reassured that they are making a more ethical and responsible purchase. For eco-conscious consumers who prioritise origin and ethical considerations, lab-grown diamonds offer a transparent and traceable supply chain. Unlike mined diamonds, which may have unknown origins, lab-grown diamonds have a clear and documented origin, making them more appealing to those who value ethical sourcing.
Last year I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the AGTA trade show with work in Tucson, Arizona. We made some amazing connections with some really interesting and responsible gemstone suppliers, whose stones we can proudly say are fully traceable from mine to hand. However, we were absolutely blown away by Eric Braunwart in particular, founder of Columbia Gem House, whose passion for his business and making a positive impact on our planet was admirable and really changed our mindsets on the jewellery industry as a whole.
Eric told us the story of how in 2000, he was working in Madagascar to explore the ways gemstone supply chains could improve. When walking out of his hotel he stepped in an open sewer, completely ruining one of his Italian leather shoes. It was then, although at first upset by his fateful step, that he then realised that one single shoe cost more than the average annual income of the country.
Things had to change. His work to benefit the people within the supply chain became imperative, and has since done some pretty amazing things.
In Malawi, where Columbia Gems mine many of their sapphires, they have made sure to build safe infrastructures and factories, hire and train local people, and assess what else this community needed to thrive.
These were then implemented by building a school, a pharmacy to provide the safe distribution of AIDS medication, and building water wells. Not only does Eric and his team care for local communities, they actively seek to improve them.
Jewellery is a luxury, not a necessity; we need to do all that we can to create a world where responsibly sourced gemstones and metals are the rule, not the exception.
Where to start
As a small business, it can often seem unachievable when tallying up the costs of making more sustainable decisions, as traceable and ethical materials can often be more expensive due to being more thoroughly regulated.
However, we can all do our part one step at a time, no matter how small. It starts at home or in the office; can you change up your packaging materials or stationery, or make sure you and your staff are recycling all that you can? Even if you aren’t able to make more sustainable changes directly to your products straight away, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make a start and still do your part as a business.
At Jessica Flinn Fine Jewellery, and our sister brand Flinn & Steel, we are constantly making changes to ensure a more sustainable future. We are currently working our way through changing our packaging that we post rings to our customers in, to make sure that everything is 100% recyclable.