As sustainability takes shape in the jewellery industry, more and more designers are forging new paths towards ethical practices – from their choice of materials to business operations. These trailblazing jewellers are making indelible contributions to the global sustainability movement.
Bracelet from John Hardy’s Mad Love Collection
Men’s rings by John Hardy
Men’s rings by John Hardy
Men’s rings by John Hardy
Fairtrade gold wedding rings by Serendipity Diamonds
Eloise earrings by Shakti Ellenwood
Callie, Chooli and Pari ethical bridal rings adorned with a Canadamark™ diamond by Shakti Ellenwood
This article first appeared in the JNA May/ June 2021 issue.
Jewellery designers are at the forefront of an ever more important initiative that places responsible business practices on equal footing with the quest for beauty and artistry. JNA talks to these socially minded artists about their sustainability journey as well as their creative process and future plans.
Jewellery designer Shakti Ellenwood made a decision that redefined her career after learning about deplorable working conditions in small-scale gold mines, which involved unfair wages, unsafe environment and the use of dangerous chemicals.
“I wanted to be part of the solution rather than the problem,” she remarked.
Since 2015, her company, Shakti Ellenwood Precious Jewellery, has been fully licensed with the Fairtrade Foundation to ensure that the gold she uses is sustainable and responsibly sourced.
Fairtrade Gold comes exclusively from small-scale mines that meet the Fairtrade Gold Standard – an internationally recognised marker of best practices for workers’ rights and environmental protection that gives informal miners access to formal trading channels and guarantees a fair price for their goods.
Many years later, Ellenwood has made a name for herself as a renowned ethical jewellery designer. Apart from using solely 18-karat Fairtrade Gold, she works with diamonds bearing the Canadamark™ symbol – an assurance that the diamonds were conscientiously mined – as well as sustainable sapphires from suppliers in Australia, the US and Africa, all of which are fully traceable and responsibly sourced.
Ellenwood also initiated a “Giving Back” project where she donates £10.00 (around US$14) from every wedding ring sold to Survival International and £10.00 from engagement ring proceeds to The Orangutan Foundation.
She describes her creative process as organic, which means inspiration comes anytime, anywhere. It could be images in her imagination or the gemstones themselves dictating how a jewellery piece would look like.
She draws inspiration from the vast culture of ancient Egyptians as well as the romanticism of the Victorian era.
Working with sustainable materials however presents its own challenges, particularly sourcing completely traceable fancy colour diamonds. “I hope that this is something that changes within the industry as we move forward,” noted Ellenwood.
The designer is working on a new collection that will shine the spotlight on gems from ethical sapphire miner Svend Wennick of Wennick-Lefèvre.
She is also applying for a B-Corp certification and a membership in 1% For The Planet project. According to Ellenwood, B-Corp companies meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, with certified businesses working toward protecting the environment, reducing inequality and poverty, and creating high-quality jobs.
The 1% for the Planet movement meanwhile involves businesses giving 1 per cent of gross sales each year to approved environmental causes, revealed Ellenwood.
The dedication to protecting humanity and the environment is baked into the psyche of jewellery brand John Hardy. The company, established in 1975, has deep connections with nature, humanity and culture. Its production facility in Bali, Indonesia harnesses a local community of artisans who handcraft jewellery pieces using traditional techniques.
John Hardy has been certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council since 2011, disclosed Polly Purser, senior director of Heritage and Brand Management at John Hardy.
What makes the brand sustainable are responsible practices being carried out from sourcing and production to employee and community engagement. John Hardy created a self-sustaining farm and a network of suppliers in Bali that provides its staff with daily traditional Indonesian lunch. The company also installed a state-of-the-art water purification system that is located in the middle of a sudak (interconnected rice fields), which supplies water to the facility and its surrounding areas.
John Hardy also partnered with the Bamboo Village Initiative, a programme aimed at restoring degraded lands of isolated communities. For every jewellery piece sold from its Bamboo collection, a bamboo tree is planted. The company has so far planted more than a million bamboo trees, revealed Purser.
“More than ever, we need to collectively come together to create a more sustainable and fair future. Each brand – large or small – can easily take simple, actionable steps in reducing environmental impact and creating a pathway towards a sustainable future,” the company official continued.
Jean Kee, design director at John Hardy, said being sustainable is a challenge in itself, especially in the modern world that thrives on the fast and inexpensive “disposable industry.”
At John Hardy, partnering with like-minded organisations with the same values is crucial. Other sustainability initiatives include using 100 per cent reclaimed gold and silver, and making jewellery handcrafted by multi-generational artisan families – an initiative that sustains the local community.
John Hardy melds time-honoured jewellery-making traditions with ethical business practices to ensure that Bali’s natural allure is celebrated and immortalised in its jewellery designs.
Kee explained that inspiration is drawn from “anything and everything,” from everyday occurrences to material or technique exploration. “It’s a beautiful, organic amalgamation of bringing different ideas to the table, and connecting the dots between them to tell a story that defines not just who we are, but who we want to become,” she added.
Serendipity Diamonds was among the first to create entirely traceable bridal jewellery using sustainable materials, according to founder Mark Johnson. His sustainability journey began after meeting with a group of ethical jewellers at a UK trade show in 2014 where he learned about smaller, independent jewellery makers using Fairtrade Gold.
“I saw their commitment and passion for responsible sourcing,” shared Johnson.
Over the last five years, the company has introduced Fairtrade Gold for many of its jewellery designs. It has also partnered with Dominion Diamonds to purchase fully traceable Canadamark™ diamonds.
The jeweller created some of the first traceable diamond engagement rings with Fairtrade Gold and Canadamark™ diamonds, revealed Johnson. He said, “We chose Canadamark™ owing to the CSR structure of the organisation and audited supply chain. These elements provided us with a way to determine exactly where a client’s diamond originated – the Ekati and Diavik mines in Canada’s Northwest Territories.”
The company has since provided responsibly sourced diamonds to the jewellery trade. Currently, it is one of the only UK suppliers of Canadamark™ melee diamonds. Johnson’s team is also composed of trained Fairtrade Gold ambassadors who educate and discuss sustainable options to clients.
Serendipity Diamonds offers contemporary and traditional designs alike, with many of its bespoke
creations featuring classic diamond settings. Its Ursa engagement ring – a finalist in the 2016 Canadamark™ design competition – features a marquise-cut Canadamark™ diamond in 18-karat Fairtrade Gold.
The design offers a unique alternative to solitaires, with the diamond oriented diagonally across the setting, according to Johnson.
Moving forward, the company is working with a group of sustainable jewellers to create jewellery with smaller traceable diamonds, including stones of 1mm to 3mm in size, which are cut from Canadamark™ rough.
The jeweller is also looking at recycling packaging and waste materials and adopting low-energy lighting in its showroom. This year, Serendipity Diamonds wants to expand its inventory of traceable diamonds and gemstones, Johnson disclosed. It is also planning to launch a unique and patented fair gold product.
“The growing demand for provenance demands that businesses invest not just money but time to develop sound sustainability practices and to review and improve on these regularly,” Johnson stated. “It is essential to educate the public, raise awareness and help drive the demand for ethical sourcing.”