Image credit: Senia
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If you consider yourself a conscious consumer, a minimalist, or simply care about the impact your purchasing decisions have on the world around you, then you know that less is more. And this could not be more true than when it comes to jewelry.
Most of the fine jewelry you purchase will probably still be in your possession for many years to come, so you want those pieces to be special, beautiful gems that you love and feel represent you. And, of course, that means prioritizing ethics, sustainability, and transparency in the production process, too.
Here’s what to look for from ethical, sustainable fine jewelry brands
Traceable Diamonds and Gems: Unfortunately, if you’re buying diamonds, you have to use discretion. We have written about how it’s practically impossible to 100% ensure the ethical sourcing of mined diamonds, even with things like the Kimberley Process and “beyond conflict-free” claims. That’s why it’s understandable that lab-grown diamonds, which are less taxing on the environment, are growing in popularity (although at times they can be less transparent than a mined diamond). And yes—they are real diamonds, with an identical chemical structure to one gouged out of the earth.
But you can’t overlook the fact that switching completely to lab grown diamonds could impact local communities, as the ethical mining industry does provide employment and many benefits to locals. But that’s not always the case. It’s been brought to light that mine workers for all types of precious and semi-precious stones, including children, typically work “in extremely hazardous conditions without supervision or safety gear.” These kids have a high chance of suffering many health issues, including lung and respiratory system damage and hearing and vision problems from noise. Don’t be afraid to ask the brand questions about their pieces and request verification. Stones change hands multiple times between mining and manufacturing, which becomes almost impossible to trace their origins.
Your best bet, if you want a new diamond, is to ask your jeweler where your diamond was mined or produced and get a solid answer before proceeding.
Recycled gems: If you can get your hands on repurposed/second-hand diamonds, that would be even better! Some of the brands below use recycled diamonds and other types of gemstones, taken from old pieces or “scraps” from larger stones and then redesigned.
Recycled metals or ecological gold: We need to recycle as much as possible and support brands that work towards a circular economy, as this model preserves resources and keeps them in use. But recycled gold does come with its own troubles, such as no guarantee that it wasn’t extracted illegally or linked to human rights abuses or corruption, so you could also choose ecological gold when possible (though there are very few brands creating with ecological gold as of right now).
Durability: If you’re a gold person, we recommend you prioritize solid gold when buying jewelry, as it’s built to last and won’t rub off or change color over time. Jewelry made out of gold plating or vermeil could be considered the fast fashion of the jewelry industry: affordable and not as durable. If shopping for gold plated or vermeil pieces, however, make sure the gold has been sustainably sourced. For a more affordable, durable option, you can also buy solid silver pieces.
Vintage / Secondhand pieces: Unlike clothing, which will fade out over time, well cared for fine jewelry can actually become even more beautiful and valuable as it ages. And of course, since there aren’t additional resources needed to create a new piece, this is one of the most sustainable options available!
Fair labor and transparency: Finally, check for fair labor practices. Check how much brands share about their supply chains and suppliers and how much information is backed up with third-party certifications like Fair Trade.
Sustainable packaging: Typical jewelry packaging can be made from virgin materials, PU leather or plastic. Buy from brands that use packaging that contains recyclable or biodegradable materials, like recycled cardboard or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified paper.
Excellent customer service and return policies: Before you drop a chunk of change, make sure the brand you’re buying from has a readily-accessible customer service department and a clear return/exchange policy should you need to use it. Some of the brands below also have at-home ‘try before you buy’ programs you can take advantage of.
Here are our favorite brands creating beautiful, ethical, and sustainable fine jewelry:
This New York-based, third-generation jeweler works with lab-grown diamonds as well as fair-mined, recycled, and re-refined metals to create statement fine jewelry. With over 40 years of experience in the world of fine jewelry, Navi mainly focuses on bespoke wedding rings but also offers fine pendants, earrings and bracelets in classic, timeless designs that will become your favorite lifetime pieces.
Senia’s modular, versatile pieces are made of recycled precious metals and conflict-free gems. Its sustainable approach is apparent at every step of the design process, from the responsibly sourced raw materials to the packaging, which doubles as a travel case. Senia also donates a portion of its proceeds to the Wond’ry Innovation Center at Vanderbilt to help support young entrepreneurs.
Zoë Chicco designs delicate, modern, and versatile jewelry with 100% recycled 14kt gold. Its diamonds are conflict-free and compliant with the Kimberley Process, and its gemstones are ethically sourced from reputable partners.
Based in California, Valley Rose Studio creates fine jewelry inspired by nature and the cosmos. Its designs are made out of 100% Fairmined gold and lab-mined, traceable diamonds. The company ensures the people in its supply chain are paid fair livable wages and that its products have a minimal environmental impact with the extraction of its materials and supplies. Valley Rose Studio uses recycled post-consumer paper or compostable materials for all its packaging, including its paper packing tape, tissue paper, and paper card inserts.
Founded in 2018, Astor & Orion creates modern, ethical jewelry out of recycled materials and are designed to be easily recycled with no extra processing. Its products are made at an ethical manufacturing facility using sustainably cast 18k gold over recycled sterling silver or just solid sustainably cast recycled sterling silver. You can learn about its manufacturer here. A portion of Astor & Orion’s proceeds goes to The Cal Arts Community Art Partnership, which offers free after-school and school-based arts programs for youth.
Created in Los Angeles, Washed Ashore’s pieces are inspired by powerful natural forces, such as the wind and the waves. Its rings, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces are made entirely of recycled precious metals and post-consumer gemstones. Its packaging is fully recyclable, and they have partnered with Carbon Fund to support clean energy efforts.
Based in Downtown Los Angeles, all J.Hannah jewelry is hand-made to order. Its pieces are made from recycled solid 14k gold or sterling silver, and the stones are recycled and/or ethically sourced. You can also check out its sister company Ceremony, for wedding and engagement jewelry.
Designed and handcrafted by local artisans in Vancouver, Poppy Finch uses primarily recycled solid gold, of which 70% of it is SCS certified recycled gold. The brand also ethically sources its precious gemstones, and its diamonds come from suppliers that adhere to the Kimberley Process, which ensures the diamonds are conflict-free. The team handpicks each pearl to match each product’s size, color, and shape. Its freshwater pearls are from China, and the Akoya saltwater pearls are from Japan, all sourced directly from reputable pearl suppliers.
Founded in 2014, Linjer designs sustainable fine jewelry without the luxury markup. It offers a 14k solid gold, Eco-Luxe collection made with 100% recycled gold and guaranteed conflict-free diamonds. Its packaging boxes are made with recycled greyboard, and the inserts and paper in its boxes are from FSC-certified sources.
We’re big fans of Melissa Joy Manning here at EcoCult—she actually created Alden’s engagement ring! Everything is handmade in Melissa’s studios in New York City or California. The Berkeley studio is green-certified, and the NYC studio, though not certified, employs the same methods. The jewelry is made using recycled precious metals from a Green-Certified refiner and packaged in recycled packaging. The brand also carbon offsets all its shipping.
Omi Woods is a Canadian, ethically handmade jewelry brand founded by Ashley Alexis McFarlane that celebrates her connection to Africa. The pieces are made out of globally sourced conflict-free fine metals, helping the living conditions in the continent. The gold is sourced from small-scale artisanal mines that support miners’ well-being and their communities by paying miners a fair wage and contributing to improved health care, education, safety and living conditions on the continent. Its gold is also extracted utilizing traditional methods that have a low impact on the earth.