It’s not all glitz and glamour in the world of jewellery making. In terms of its ecological impact, gold mining is one of the most environmentally damaging forms of mining. Add to that the plight of exploited miners, who usually work in dangerous conditions without health care, and often with below-minimum-wage pay.
And don’t even get us started on diamonds. Have you watched Blood Diamond? Sure, Leo was cute in that film, but on an even more important note, it opened our eyes to the dirty and often violent trade going on behind the diamond-mining industry.
The good news is, there are plenty of ways to add sparkle to your wardrobe without having to feel guilty for hurting the planet, or feel responsible for the suffering of workers in gold mines.
We’ve rounded up 11 of the most sustainable and ethical jewellery brands that are transparent with where they source their metals and stones, as well as who makes them.
New York fine online jewellery retailer AUrate is shaking up the jewellery world with its revolutionary direct-to-consumer business model. Instead of paying by the thousands, expect to pay between $300 to $500 for each piece with wholesale and third-party retail markups, as well as inventory and warehousing costs (since they only work on pieces when you order), out of the equation.
Aside from the fair price, here are other things to love about the brand:
- Ethically made: In sourcing its diamonds, AUrate follows the Kimberley Process to ensure conflict diamonds don’t enter their supply chain. The company also works only with mines that offer fair pay, safe working conditions, and respect their local communities.
- Environmentally responsible: AUrate’s 14K, 18K, and 14K gold-plated vermeil pieces are made from 100% recycled gold, which can be infinitely repurposed without losing its quality. Their South Sea pearls are sustainably farmed and harvested responsibly to ensure that marine biodiversity isn’t harmed or disrupted.
You may know Catbird as the small jewel box shop in Williamsburg that made ring stacking popular, but there’s so much more to this brand.
This Brooklyn jewellery store makes dainty earrings, midi rings, chain bracelets, and a lot more with recycled and fair-trade gold, conflict-free stones, and recycled diamonds.
Catbird also cares about its team of bench jewellers, who work inside a well-ventilated, LEED-certified green building. The same building also houses their office and warehouse, which keeps their transportation costs (as well as carbon footprint) to a minimum.
Behati Prinsloo, Liv Tyler, and Lorde are just some of the more recognizable fans of the brand.
Toronto-based jeweller Mejuri makes “fine jewellery for every day,” with fairly priced but excellently crafted rings, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and anklets.
We took down notes on what makes Mejuri worth wearing:
- Handcrafted pieces: Mejuri makes jewellery the traditional way, reducing its environmental impact.
- Limited quantities: The brand believes in quality over quantity, coming out with new pieces each Monday of the week in small batches.
- Fair pricing: Using a direct-to-consumer model that does away with traditional markups, Mejuri sells fine jewellery at a fraction of the cost but with the same high quality.
- Ethical: Mejuri only sources diamonds from socially responsible and conflict-free suppliers.
Starfish Project stands out in our list since it’s more a social enterprise than a jewellery brand. However, that doesn’t make us love its unique jewellery pieces any less.
Starfish Project rescues sexually trafficked women from Asia and gives them opportunities to rebuild their lives through vocational training, education grants, and healthcare. So far they’ve helped 140 women by providing them a safer and more sustainable source of livelihood.
Starfish Project’s pieces, while not made entirely of recycled materials, are lead- and cadmium-free and are crafted by hand.
Alighieri is a London-based handmade jewellery brand, named after the Italian author of the literary classic Divine Comedy. Its unique, perfectly imperfect trademark (nicks and dents lend each piece a handcrafted touch) has landed it on the pages of Vogue.
Each handcrafted piece is made of either recycled and ethically sourced bronze or silver, which is then gold-plated and wax-cast. All pieces are made locally in the UK, which helps minimize the brand’s carbon footprint.
Alighieri currently donates 10% of its online sales to Refuge, a nonprofit that helps domestic abuse survivors.
Soko is a brand that melds chic, sustainable, and ethical. Founded by social entrepreneurs Ella Peinovich, Gwendolyn Floyd and Catherine Mahugu, the startup works directly with talented artisans in Nairobi, Kenya, who produce jewellery pieces that are locally and sustainably sourced.
For its raw materials, Soko uses upcycled brass (a metal that’s abundant in Kenya) and horn (a food-industry byproduct), which help give the brand’s designs a genuinely African vibe.
Using a direct-to-consumer model, Soko has allowed its artisans to keep 20 percent of revenue from sales—a huge leap from the industry standard of 5 to 10 percent.
Former FLOTUS Michelle Obama has been spotted wearing Soko’s pieces for a shoot for Essence magazine.
SVNR (pronounced souvenir) started out as an online shop that exclusively made earrings. What makes this brand unique is that each piece is made of nothing new, which gives SVNR an extremely low carbon footprint.
Christina Tung, founder and CEO, reveals that all of her materials are either donated by family or friends, salvaged from manufacturing scrap, or are used pieces given new life. That, and the fact that Tung only uses all-natural materials (nothing plastic!), makes SVNR tops in our fashion book!
We always have a soft spot for brands that have their hearts in the right place, like this promising jewellery brand.
Anna-Mieke started jewellery brand MiaDonna to help child victims of conflict-diamond mining. Ten percent of the company’s net profits go toward restoring communities ravaged by irresponsible mining through The Greener Diamond (TGD) foundation.
Here are other ways MiaDonna is making jewellery responsibly:
- Lab-grown diamonds and gems: synthetic stones are an excellent alternative to earth-mined diamonds and precious stones. It’s basically the same thing priced 40% less and without the negative environmental and humanitarian cost.
- Recycled metals: MiaDonna uses recycled gold, platinum and palladium for its setting, avoiding the environmental and ethical problems that come with gold mining.
MiaDonna also commits to environmental stewardship by planting a tree with every piece you purchase.
Vrai is French for “truth,” a core value at the heart of this Los Angeles-based direct-to-consumer online fine jewellery retailer. Beyond their elegant, understated designs, Vrai’s commitment to transparency, ethics, and sustainability has us rooting for this brand.
Vrai partners with Diamond Foundry, which produces above-ground diamonds that are grown via solar technology. The result: diamonds that have a zero carbon footprint, are certified conflict-free, and don’t disrupt the ecology (unlike earth-mined diamond does).
The company also only uses recycled solid gold in making its jewellery and engagement rings.
If you’re a fan of eco-friendly minimalist and classic jewellery, you should definitely have a look at this up-and-coming jewellery brand.
10. Bario Neal
Here’s a custom jewellery maker with a conscience that’s been earning plenty of rave reviews not only for its beautiful designs, but also for its values.
It’s easy to throw around words like “ethical and sustainable.” But what does that really mean? Here’s how Bario Neal breaks that down for us:
- Reclaimed or Fairmined metals and stones: Bario Neal uses recycled metals and stones whenever it can to reduce its environmental impact. For gold extracted from the earth, the company only offers Fairmined gold, making sure that these are mined responsibly, with as little impact on the environment as possible and by small-scale and artisanal miners that are paid justly and who work in safe conditions.
- Responsible labour: The company ensures each person in its supply chain is paid fairly, treated justly, and is working under healthy conditions.
- Traceable supply chain: Bario Neal isn’t content with certifications; it actively pursues steps to verify that each earth-mined diamond and gemstone that enters the supply chain is ethically and responsibly sourced.
We checked out Bario Neal’s stats on brand sustainability watchdog Good On You, and were pleased to see that it’s earned a “Good” rating.
AGMES is a New York-based jewellery line offering locally handcrafted jewellery. Sisters Morgan and Jaclyn Solomon draw inspiration from architecture, modern art, and cityscapes in designing their modern-minimalist pieces that feature clean lines and simple silhouettes.
AGMES keeps its carbon footprint at a minimum by crafting all its pieces by hand and employing local jewellers. It also keeps things sustainable by using recycled metals and stones in almost all its jewellery pieces, making sure nothing goes to waste.
As this list shows, living sustainably doesn’t have to mean compromising your sense of fashion. By doing a bit of research on the environmental footprint of the brands you buy from, you can still accessorize and express your individuality with a guilt-free conscience.