All that Glitters…sustainable jewellery..

Making it, Buying it, Loving it.

Do you love jewellery? Is it the choosing, the buying, or the wearing that you really like, or perhaps all three! Or do you want to make your own? Then there is the guilty bit, “where has it come from, how do I know it has been ethically sourced; the makers treated fairly; the materials what I am told”?

If you are interested in making your own jewellery… “where do I get my materials from, what impact are the processes I am using having on the environment”? Sometimes it can all seem too much.


Today’s blog written by Susheel Rao, environmentalist, jewellery maker and volunteer at Sustainable St Albans…


For the Love of Making

I started making jewellery just over 10 years ago, and I have been working in the sustainability and environmental area for over 25. When I started I should have known better! I worked with people who looked at the environmental impacts of materials, I knew about aluminium and steel, and the impacts of those. I wasn’t just thinking about silver (or gold) and I certainly wasn’t thinking about the chemicals used either in their extraction, or in the making processes. I was thinking about the making.

Impact of the materials used

As I started getting more into jewellery making, I started to think about the impacts of the materials I was using. Silver and gold are expensive, so it does mean that where possible any waste in the process is recycled. Did you know that you can buy 100% recycled silver? Once I found that out, I started using it whenever I can (some pieces, like tubes, aren’t made in 100% recycled silver, and I don’t have the tools to make my own tubes yet). You can also buy Fairtrade silver and gold – not always practical for the small designer maker, but look out for it when you are choosing your jewellery….www.fairgold.org and www.ethicalmaking.org/fairtrade-metal-suppliers/

Gemstones

And then there are the gemstones. I love using gemstones in what I make, it adds colour, as well as there being something quite enticing about different gems. Again, though, how do you know how they have been sourced? This is particularly difficult, trying to follow the supply chain, mining, processing, cutting and with lots of one person operations. For precious stones, such as diamonds, sapphires and rubies http://www.nineteen48.com sells ethically sourced stones, and now includes semi precious stones too. They source the stones direct, and use carefully chosen suppliers. The alternative is to go to a supplier you trust, and ask questions there.

Techniques in jewellery making

Sometimes that all feels too much, how can I source what I want at a price I can afford? Or do I change my design so I don’t use certain things? So start simple – there are a lot of techniques in jewellery making that use chemicals, and I am careful about which I choose, and look for the most environmentally sound option. Whether that is general silversmithing (soldering and pickling) or in choosing the processes I learn and use. So, for instance, I love colour. A fairly easy way to introduce colour into my work would be using resins – but there are environmental implications. There are now eco resins, which are better, and have different properties. I am more drawn to simple enamelling to get the results I want, but that too will have environmental consequences, everything does. So when buying or designing jewellery, think about the different materials, processes and ask questions. We may not know the answers, but it will start a discussion.

There are some things all jewellers (and all businesses) can do to be more ethical – choose your energy supplier carefully, source your stationary ethically, choose an ethical bank etc. These are things some of us take for granted, but I hadn’t thought of it in terms of my jewellery making until I did a day course at citylit (www.citylit.co.uk) on ethical jewellery run by Ute Decker . Another good resources for the practical and business side of making jewellery are www.ethicalmaking.org, Christine Dhein’s Eco Jewellery Handbook and greenjewelrynews.com

But what if I just want to buy some jewellery, I hear you ask!

If you can, buy from designer makers who you can ask questions about their jewellery, how it is made, what consideration they give to environmental aspects etc. You are also supporting small jewellers. Or buy from places who have asked the questions for you, such as www.ethicalsuperstore.com, www.sharedearth.co.uk, wwf.org.uk etc. and people you trust.

Herts Open Studios in September

Herts Open Studios starts on 1st September and runs to 30th September, and there are a number of jewellers participating. I am sure they will be delighted to have a conversation about their work. Its online this year due to COVID-19, but there will also be some pop-up shops too. (www.hvaf.co.uk).

Perhaps even commission someone to make something for use, with your environmental requirements?

Remember, enjoy the jewellery you have, the best gift you can give if you already have it is to enjoy it! If you don’t like it, either pass it on or get someone to make something you do love out of it. Or if you do it yourself! 


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