With celebrities like Meghan Markle and Bindi Irwin shining the light on ethically made jewellery, there has been growing awareness about how the accessories we buy can impact the world around us.
Since Princess Eugenie’s wedding in October 2018, the Duchess of Sussex has been spotted several times wearing jewellery made by women trained by the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, an organisation that employs and empowers women in war-ravaged Kabul.
On her 21st birthday, Bindi Irwin showed off an ethically made engagement ring on Instagram, featuring an oval lab-created diamond in a recycled rose gold setting.
Celebs are going sustainable, and you can too. We talk to Sydney jeweller, Fairina Cheng (fairinachengjewellery.com), who shares 5 tips to finding and buying jewellery that’s kinder to the planet.
1. Buy from small designers and makers
Small, independent brands don’t produce the volume of products that bigger brands do, so there is often less wastage and more of a focus on quality rather than solely profit. Local handmade brands (the kind you’d find on Etsy or at independent design markets) often make their pieces in small batches or make to order. “While this isn’t a guarantee that these brands value sustainability, it’s a good place to start,” says Fairina. “You’ll also be supporting an independent maker who does a happy dance every time someone buys one of their creations. Trust me, this happens!”
2. Choose pieces made in recycled metals
Precious metals like silver and gold can often be melted down and made into brand new jewellery, so they should never go to waste. “Choose brands who reuse their metal scraps in the workshop as this process doesn’t require the chemicals that larger scale refining of metals can,” says Fairina. “My newest collection, Trinkets, for example, uses recycled sterling silver and 18ct gold melted down from precious metal off-cuts so nothing goes to waste.”
3. Choose pieces made with ethically sourced gemstones
Look for jewellery with gemstones sourced from local merchants, local mines or even from vintage jewellery (so no mining is required). “In some cases, the brand will be able to provide information about the origin of the gems they use (or be able to get this information from their supplier) including where they came from, who cut them and why they were selected,” says Fairina. “It’s always worth asking, and sometimes it’s fascinating to get an insight into where your jewellery came from.”
4. Choose brands that use sustainable processes in their studios
Harsh chemicals are often used to speed up the manufacturing process, such as sulphuric acid for cleaning jewellery and even cyanide and mercury for metal refining. They are fast and effective, however can have long term, detrimental effects to ecosystems. “Choose jewellers that substitute harsh chemicals with natural, environmentally friendly options and use metal suppliers with environmental management plans that are continually being monitored and improved on,” Fairina says. “In my own studio, I also minimise non jewellery waste by sourcing recycled and recyclable packaging like paper-based bubble wrap alternatives. There is so much a brand can do and it extends to all aspects of the business, not just manufacturing.”
5. Buy only what you LOVE
“I know it’s hard, but sometimes it’s the act of buying itself that leads to excessive waste,” says Fairina. “Before you buy, ask yourself: Do I really want it? Am I buying for the pleasure of buying, or because I have fallen in love with this piece? Will it go out of style or can I wear it for years in the future? As a jeweller, I want to see my pieces go to people who will love them for life and who will still be wearing the same pieces when I see them years down the track. The beauty of high quality jewellery is that it’s built to last, so buy with that philosophy in mind.”
Fairina has launched a range of eco-friendly jewellery all about mindful consumption.
“The Trinkets collection features a range of individually handcrafted matte black jewels embellished with 18ct gold granules,” Fairina says. “Both the silver and gold used to create the Trinkets collection are reclaimed from pre-loved jewels or leftover precious metals. They are melted down and reformed into new pieces, meaning that no new metal has to be mined or refined to create them.”
For more information on the Trinkets collection and custom made jewellery, visit fairinachengjewellery.com.
She Society is a site for the women of Australia to share our stories, our experiences, shared learnings and opportunities to connect.