I’ve been asked a couple of times this season about sustainable jewelry; how to buy it, where to buy it; how to know what you’re buying. As a jewelry designer and metalsmith, (my moonlighting gigs are many and random) I have a soft spot in my heart for independent jewelry designers and manufacturers, so that’s what you’ll see here. Then again, I have yet to discover a major-chain jeweler who’s going sustainable.
First and foremost in the advice I give all of my clients: Think out of the De Beers’s diamond box! Most people don’t know this, but diamonds as engagement rings, or symbols of status, are something solely created by Ernest Oppenheimer, who controlled De Beers in the 1930s. He and his son, Harry, created the “Diamonds are Forever” campaign and advertised everywhere from high schools to Hollywood. Prior to this, engagement rings were made from small, precious stones other than diamonds, especially rubies, emeralds and sapphires. For more information, read The Times (London) Why Diamonds Don’t Cut It Anymore and Marketing Campaign Case Studies on one of the most successful pull-the-wool-over-their-eyes marketing campaigns. Or try Janine Roberts’ Glitter & Greed: The Secret World of the Diamond Cartel and learn how DeBeers buys up mines and hides them to drive prices up (diamonds are neither rare, nor dear) to control the market.
But enough about not buying diamonds because De Beers is a great marketer. Diamonds are pretty, but there are so many gorgeous stones out there:
Now that you’re drooling over the choices, where should you buy them and then where should you get your ring made?
There are two types of stones, naturally
occurring (these are mined from the ground and often dyed or heat-treated to enhance or sustain color – so how natural are they exactly and what impact does their extraction have on the earth, the miners and the environment?) and lab-grown. Don’t let anyone fool you, ANY mining is bad for the environment, but for years, lab-grown have had a bad reputation as being of lesser quality, but they are the same exact chemical makeup as the kind in the ground and are gaining popularity as an eco-friendly alternative to mining.
So you have your stone or stones. Maybe you bought them while traveling, maybe you bought a ring in a jewelry store, but want to reset it, maybe you have a family heirloom stone; however you came by it, now you need to set it.
There are myriad options in design, but a good designer can create just the look you want, no matter what their general style is, so don’t discount them just because you don’t see exactly what you want in their current collection, display or online catalog. Here are my picks: Designers made this list because of their commitment to the sustainable manufacture of their jewelry: The two major components of which are using reclaimed or recycled metals and using either fare-trade or lab-grown stones; or even better – stones from other pieces of jewelry.
1. Alkemie – 100 percent recycled materials – If anyone wants to buy me a present, buy me Alkemie jewelry. Located in Los Angeles
2. Brilliant Earth – Canadian-sourced ethical diamonds, recycled metals, located in San Francisco
3. C5 Company – environmentally responsible in all company aspects, recycled metals, ethical stones, located in Oakland
4. Dawes Design – recylced metal, conflict-free stones, located in Northern California
5. Green Karat – recycled metals, lab-created diamonds, located in Houston
6. Kyler by Joy O – recycled metals and company-wide sustainability practices, located in San Francisco
7. Kris Nations – recycled metals, located in San Francisco
8. Kirsten Muenster Jewelry – recycled metals, reclaimed and family-owned and mined-stones, located in San Francisco
9. McFarland Designs – recycled metal, fair trade stones, located in Humboldt County
10. Okomido – all jewelry uses only reclaimed materials, located in Northern California
Just in case you’re wondering, my ring is platinum (probably recycled, but I don’t actually know) and aquamarine. I had it made at a small jeweler in Saratoga and many jewelers re-use materials to cut down on cost. I bought the stone already set in what I thought was a hideous gold wavy-ribbony design that totally hid the gorgeous stone beneath. If I can find a photo of it, I promise to post.