One of the most meaningful pieces of jewellery that the founders of fine jewellery label State Property have ever worked on is a gold button. It belonged to a woman who used to wear it as a statement piece on her shirts but had to stop doing so when she began to don the tudung (headscarf).
“Her impressive gold button sat in her jewellery box for years until her youngest son’s wedding, when she decided that she wanted to rework it to suit her needs today. We re-fashioned it into a ring, while honouring the style and era that it came from,” says Afzal Imram, co-founder of State Property.
This unique service of reimagining a piece of bijoux, especially heirloom items, is one of the ways an increasing number of independent brands are supporting conscious and ethical practices in the jewellery industry.
Another homegrown label that has a strong sustainability ethos is Simone Jewels, which has been recycling fine jewellery since it was launched in 2006. The jewellery brand, which is the first from Singapore to be showcased at Harrods, has a bespoke service that helps clients remodel their existing pieces.
“One plus point about fine jewellery is that it never goes to waste. We can reuse all the material and create new designs”, says founder Simone Ng.
“The process allows clients to use the precious materials they already own and bring it to life again with our fine artistry and craftsmanship; creating something special and wearable just for them. Any reusable gold will be melted and reused, together with all gemstones in the existing piece.”
Indeed, there is a growing awareness of the pressing need to scale back the harmful practices that are rife in the traditional jewellery industry. For instance, mining for precious stones and metals not only causes tremendous environmental damage, it can also result in a litany of human rights violations when miners are forced to work under untenable conditions. There are also concerns about supply chain transparency as many of these materials pass through multiple hands as they are processed and traded, often with little accountability and traceability.
Not surprisingly, upcycling one’s existing precious pieces is one of the more popular ways for a conscious consumer to eschew such unsustainable practices.
“We believe that everyone has the responsibility to, in their own way, whether big or small, make some effort to lessen our impact on the environment. Reworking an existing piece also retains the sentimental value of each piece, making it that much more valuable to the owner — this emotional connection is likely to further extend the lifespan of the object,” Imram elaborates. State Property also offers jewellery repair services and will also buy back old gold to offset the prices of its pieces.
Besides recycling, jewellers — both local and abroad — also incorporate various conscious practices into their design and production, so as to mitigate some of the damage incurred in the quest to give luxury consumers a beautiful product.
In 2018, Chopard announced that its gold chain supply would be 100 percent ethical while in 2019 Tiffany & Co. pledged to provide provenance information for every newly sourced, individually registered diamond it uses. Net-A-Porter, one of the world’s most influential luxury retailers, also took a stand by being a part of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) since 2014. The RJC has a Code of Practices that addresses issues including human rights, labour rights, environmental impact, mining practices and product disclosure in the jewellery supply chain.
Emily Wansbrough, Net-A-Porter’s fine jewellery & fine watches buyer, says: “Sustainable luxury continues to be of integral importance and has certainly amplified in recent years.”
“A lot of our brands are also really trying to keep their supply chains local to where they are based and some of our brands, such as Foundrae, are moving their atelier in-house and employing more staff themselves.”
Watch brands are also playing a more active role in sustainable luxury. At this year’s Watches & Wonders, Cartier unveiled its first ever eco-friendly solar-powered Tank Must SolarBeat movement and non-animal derived leather straps while Panerai showcased new timepieces made with recycled materials like eSteel to reduce the carbon footprint required to produce virgin material.
“Craftsmanship lies at the heart of luxury, and this attribute celebrates products that showcase exceptional artisanal skills or techniques and brands that adhere to fair trade principles and invest in communities,” Wansbrough observes.
Other fine jewellers are finding ways to tackle the supply chain issue. For instance, many now use Kimberley Process-certified conflict-free diamonds in their designs.
There are also efforts to introduce fair trade processes to improve traceability of the materials. Shanya Amarasuriya, creative director of BP de Silva Jewellers, for instance, has spent the last three years working to positively impact certain processes in the industry; among them, efforts to build a transparent mine-to-market sapphire supply chain. She also spearheaded the family business’ effort to source for ethical gold, which it achieved last year. Now, all the gold purchased for BP Collections are from a sustainable line of gold from Swiss refiner PX Precinox, which supports mercury-free artisanal mining in Peru.
“This gives back to artisanal and small scale mining communities in Peru through the premium paid for the artisanally-mined gold, which guarantees that the mining process is done without the use of mercury, which, if handled without proper training, could be harmful to the environment and the miners too,” says Amarasuriya. Resources have also been used to build science laboratories, school libraries and sanitary and sports facilities for the local mining communities to empower the next generation.
Or, just like the ever growing style quotient of vintage fashion, there is also an increasing appreciation for vintage jewellery, where the finest pieces showcase a level of artistry and workmanship that is now largely lost to mass production.
Brenda Kang, founder of Revival Jewels, Singapore’s first and only vintage jewellery boutique, observes: “I would say that pieces were made a lot more thoughtfully in the past. For many of the major and reputable jewellery houses, it was not so much about churning out and producing as much jewellery as possible. Rather, back then, it was really about being proud of making that one wonderful piece of jewellery that took time and artistry.”
And of course, there is no denying that buying vintage is an eco-conscious fashionista’s best way of contributing to the circular economy.
Kang adds: “Often, people grow out of jewellery they might have loved at one point because it might not fit them anymore or because their lifestyles change. And the beauty of vintage is that when this happens, off it goes to another good home and a new owner who will appreciate the history and artistic value of the piece.”
As bling lovers with a heart of gold would say, there is more to a shiny bauble than just how much it glitters.