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Go Green! With Jewelry?

Obviously the “Go Green” movement is huge right now.  It is so huge it has even leaked into the jewelry business (which is huge because this is one of the slowest moving industries).  There are lots of jewelers out there that claim to be making and selling “Green” jewelry.  The questions is whether it is actually green or not.

Jewelry by nature, is not green.  The mining of gold and gemstones is not exactly green since it disrupts the earth, not to mention how it affects the people actually doing the mining.  Casting is not exactly green because of the chemicals used in the process.  Even jewelry finishing isn’t really green because of the polishing compounds used, and again, the human rights issues.  Even though jewelry is not by nature very green, there are ways to be green-er.

Most companies claiming to be green use what they call “recycled metal.”  This means that they take gold that has already been used for jewelry or other things and re-cast it into something else.  The idea is that by using “recycled” gold, they are reducing the need for gold mining.  This is a great idea in theory and even sometimes in practice.  The problem has to do with the casting process.  When someone casts from casting grain, there are no chemicals in the casting grain that can weaken the finished piece.  They do add something called flux in the casting process to help the metal flow better which doesn’t generally affect that piece of  jewelry unless the caster uses way too much flux.  When someone takes a piece of gold that has already been cast into a piece of jewelry and melts it to cast it into another piece of jewelry, the small amount of chemicals that was in the first piece can start to affect the integrity of the second piece.  This isn’t always an issue, but it can be.  The more times gold is put through the casting process, the more chemicals are added, and the more likely it is to affect the finished product.

One way to get around this but still be slightly green is to sell your jewelry that you don’t wear anymore to one of those “Cash for Gold” places.  I know it sounds stupid, but the gold you sell to these places is sent to a refinery which takes all of the chemicals out of the gold and turns it back into pure casting grain that is then used to make more jewelry.   I don’t know how “green” refineries are, but at least your gold is being re-used and helps with the need to mine more gold out of the earth.

The same idea can be applied to gemstones.  I don’t know of anyone who will buy your gemstones (unless they are getting gold too) but you can always re-use them yourself.  If you take all of the stones from your jewelry that you never wear, use them in a new piece that you will wear, and sell the gold, you have just prevented the need for mining more stones for a new piece of jewelry for yourself.

The big “thing” with diamonds (and other gemstones) is how the people involved in the mining and initial selling of the stones are treated.  I don’t think any jewelry store in the US would knowingly sell “conflict diamonds.”  All of the vendors they buy from claim to use diamonds that are “conflict free.”  There are ways that you as the consumer can be sure that what you are buying are conflict free.  There are stones that you can buy with certificates of origin.  I think Wal-Mart even has a new line that has certificates of where the metal and stones in a piece have been.

My concern is still how the people involved are being treated.  Even if a stone is “conflict” free, that doesn’t mean the miners were treated well and paid a fair wage.  Same for the cutters and even stone setters.  If this is something that concerns you, I recommend buying Canadian diamonds.  The diamond mines in Canada are some of the best in the world (most likely, I don’t know for sure) for safety for employees, fair wages, etc.  You have know though, when you buy anything, diamonds, jewelry, anything that has better conditions for employees, you are going to have to pay a little bit more.  I think Canadian diamonds are around 10% more than African diamonds.

I personally do what I can to be a “green” jeweler.  I don’t have the ability to used recycled gold, but I encourage my customers to buy jewelry wisely.  If you only buy pieces that you really love and will wear, you are already reducing the affect of jewelry on the environment.  I am happy to use stones that a customer already owns.  A lot of “custom” places are really trying to sell you a diamond or a gemstone.  The biggest thing I try to do is keep everything local or at least within the US.  Jewelry made in China, India, Hong Kong, etc. is less expensive because of the working conditions for jewelry manufacturer employees.  By manufacturing in the US I am not supporting how other countries treat their people with low wages and unsafe work environments while also supporting industry in the US (local manufacturing also reduces the need for fuel to transport jewelry.)

If you are looking for “Green Jewelry,” keep in mind that recycled materials are good, but you can be responsible without them.  Don’t buy jewelry unless you really love it, sell your old gold back to jewelers so it can be refined and used for any kind of jewelry, and re-use your own stones that you already have.  I will always do what I can for the environment so if you have any ideas of how to be “Greener” with jewelry, please let me know and I will be happy to do what I can!

One Response to “Go Green! With Jewelry?”

  1. Rahul Gupta
    November 9, 2009
    3:19 pm

    Great article.

    I’ve thought about things like this for manufactured goods when green options aren’t available. If you want to market to the green-minded, you could put together a package in which you work in the price of carbon-offsets for a “greener” piece of jewelry. It might have to be a best guess, but if you know who’s doing the work, you might be able to get an idea of what the carbon costs are…

    Obviously, this doesn’t mitigate the mining, but it might provide another way of offsetting energy use.


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