THE RISE OF SUSTAINABLE JEWELLERY

Untold Jewellery Slider Gold Green Tourmaline Engagement Ring
The rise in sustainable practices means that we’re all consciously questioning our purchases. Desiring to know where things come from, how they’re produced and most importantly what impact it all has on our environment. Yet did you know that your jewellery all has a sustainability story attached to it? Do you know where that ring on your finger comes from, or how that beautiful charm necklace you love to team with your favourite dress was made… and by whom? The sustainable jewellery industry is on a fast growth journey, which, when you take even the smallest of dives into the world of jewellery ethics, is an incredibly positive thing.
I spent some time chatting to Liz Stovell, founder of sustainable jewellery brand; Untold Jewellery. She shares a fascinating insight into the world of jewellery ethicality, why the Kimberley process isn’t all that it’s made out to be and gives us all a few easy pointers towards making more conscious purchasing decisions…
 Untold Jewellery Liz Stovell

What does sustainable jewellery even mean?

The meaning of sustainability is at the core of the debate within most responsible jewellery discussions. The designers leading the charge with their ethical brands have all approached it in a slightly different way, from providing employment in war torn ares, empowering women in developing countries to safeguarding artisanal miners and the environment. It’s a big question and while we don’t have the answers yet it’s important that we continue to ask the questions.

The industry is responding and organisations such as FairLux and the Responsible Jewellery Council are and will continue to explore the issues.

Why is it important and why should we take action?

I believe most people are aware of blood diamonds and the devastating effects it had on the countries involved, it incited significant brutality including enforced child labour; diamond sales were used to fund militaries and rebels in civil wars. The Kimberley Process was put in place to try to address the traceability of diamonds and prevent conflict diamonds coming into sale.
While this issue is on the radar there are a myriad of other issues attached to the rest of the supply chain that’s buyers should be mindful of when making an investment in jewellery, namely the welfare of the miners and the impact on the environment.
The mining of precious metals and coloured gemstones place both the miners, local communities and environment at a point of vulnerability. In the same way that we are beginning to question where our food and clothes come from, we should do the same with our gemstones and precious metals. Excessive water and toxic chemicals, such as mercury and cyanide, are used to extract both. This is putting a strain on the planet’s resources while in parallel polluting the land and usable water for local communities. In addition, working conditions, and pay are often at unacceptable standards for most workers.
How can you tell if your jewellery is sustainable? 
I would encourage you to speak to the retailer or your jeweller and ask them to take you through their ethical or sustainability policy. If they don’t have one and/or only mention the Kimberley process for diamonds I would suggest that it’s not something currently within their business practices.
At the moment as coloured gemstones are unregulated it’s difficult to demonstrate but Fairtrade is available for gold as is recycled precious metals. Jewellers using fairtrade gold will have to registered and will be able to provide evidence of their registration.
While this issue is on the radar there are a myriad of other issues attached to the rest of the supply chain that’s buyers should be mindful of when making an investment in jewellery, namely the welfare of the miners and the impact on the environment.
What impact does it have on me choosing to sustainably for my jewellery?
It’s probably a cliche to say that you vote for the kind of world you want to live in every time you buy something, but I actually think it’s true. Any supply chain will only change direction when there is customer demand.
If you purchase a piece of jewellery that is made from recycled materials the impact on the environment is significantly less and if you buy a ring made from FairTrade gold you’ve knowingly supported a local community. There are amazing brands out there offering various responsible options..it really comes down to what is the most important issue you’d like to support.
Are certain jewellery pieces more ethical than others? 
My business practice is to find an ethical option for each material and I do believe there are options out there, it’s just a little more work and presents some restrictions to my design process.
I offer either FairTrade or recycled for precious metals and coloured gemstones. I did exclusively use recycled materials initially, but sustainability for me couldn’t exclude the humanity aspect so FairTrade enables me to elevate the welfare of the workers through my supply chain choices.
Untold Jewellery Slider Silver Gold Bead Ring Collection
Why did you choose to become a sustainable jewellery maker?
When I graduated college I didn’t consider being anything else; the more I learnt about the exploitation of miners and the significant impact the jewellery supply chain has on the environment the more I felt I needed to have a level of responsibility. I also genuinely think it makes a piece more special knowing that the story of its creation goes beyond the maker and the wearer; it creates a positive dialogue that continues back to the source of the materials.
Tell us about your favourite piece and why?

Now that’s a question! I’m mostly commissioned based at the moment so each piece has come to me wrapped up in a unique story; I don’t think I could choose between them.

I did make an engagement ring for a couple that used recycled gold and reclaimed diamonds. The centre stone was sourced from a gemstone dealer who closely manages their mines in Africa to ensure fair pay and safe working conditions; they also donate 25% of their profits to the local community to build schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure. The bride-to-be was born in the same country and for her, knowing that her stone supported her native homeland was something quite special to her.

Untold Jewellery
Tell us a little more about Untold Story
My ethos is really about the integrity of materials and a good old love story! I called my brand Untold as it represents the way in which we all have an emotional relationship with jewellery and that the materials I use have their own stories to tell too.

Each commission comes to me wrapped up in an old story or a story about to begin and sometimes a story that needs a new chapter. I like to honour those stories as I repair, redesign and design-a-new with the knowledge that to tell the tale I haven’t attached anything negative to it by using materials that have caused exploitation. There are no baddies in my stories and they all have happy endings!

What’s your best advice for anyone looking to explore a new sustainable jewellery piece?

I would recommend anyone interested in sustainable jewellery to seek out a jeweller who talks about their sustainability policy openly and advertises it on their websites. Don’t settle for a lite touch approach that only address diamonds via the Kimberley Process.

An internet search will help and there are definitely jewellers out there who have been pushing this issue for years. There are also various conscious consumer platforms emerging which is exciting; one such platform is Seekd which launches next month which will exclusively showcase sustainable brands.

What does a day in the life of a Jewellery maker look like?
Well for me it starts at 7am with yoga, meditation, tea and post it notes! Aside from that each day can be so different; as a designer-maker with my own business, I’m the photographer, the social media manager, accountant, materials sourcer, customer services manager as well as the designer and maker. I spend a significant amount of time sourcing materials for my commissions as my supply chain is limited but this is the commitment to my brand ethos. It can be hard to juggle the production of pieces with the running of the business, I’m still not convinced I have the balance right…but it certainly keeps me busy!

Who / what inspires you?
In terms of design, my inspiration is pretty broad; I love architecture which I think is apparent in my recent designs. I am also fascinated by the Bauhaus movement; Marianne Brandt who studied there was an inspiring metalworker. I also love the work of Barbara Hepworth who’s work exemplifies modernism in sculpture.
I like to explore the concept of minimal design that is still elegant and that showcases gemstones rather than obscures them.

I am also inspired by brands who adopt a robust approach to social enterprise and I aspire to be able to use my brand to directly support the causes I am passionate about…watch this space!

To see more of, or shop Liz’s incredible collection, head to her site.
Chelsea Parsons

Chelsea Parsons is the passionate founder of Well + Happy. A trained Kinesiologist, Yoga Teacher, NLP Practitioner and Performance Coach; Chelsea helps to inspire and educate people to live more abundant lives through high vibes, happy food and a more conscious way of living.

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