As we ease out of lockdown and shed our tracksuits for more formal attire, many of us will also be dusting off our jewellery boxes to accessorise our outfits.
And we're not the first generation to do this. Evidence of jewellery making predates modern humans, with archaeological evidence that Neanderthals created necklaces with tiny beads made from teeth, shells and ivory. In a constantly changing world, jewellery has consistently been a symbol of wealth in cultures all over the world.
Diamonds and gold are still status symbols today, and engagement and wedding rings are important indicators of wealth and status. But we should consider where these precious metals and stones come from and the consequences of their production.
The Problem With Silver and Gold
It might seem that silver and gold are infinite resources, however as they are found underground they can only be extracted at great human and environmental cost.
Gold and silver are abundant in regions like West Africa, where mining is destroying important forests and habitats. There is no guarantee that miners are paid fairly, and they lack the right to advocate for their own health and safety, making gold and silver mining a dangerous business.
Stones like rubies, emeralds, opals and of course diamonds have been highly prized throughout history, frequently being a source of immense wealth. Unfortunately even today warlords and dictators use the profits of precious stones mined in the middle of conflict to finance wars. These precious stones are known as 'Conflict Gemstones' or 'Blood Diamonds'.
During the civil war in Sierra Leone (1991-2002) children as young as five were made to mine and smuggle Blood Diamonds out of the country to sell on the black market. Sadly, these human rights abuses are still happening now in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The OECD have created guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas which aims to help companies respect human rights and avoid contributing to conflict through their mineral purchasing practices. Although you can purchase precious stones with certifications, you can never be completely sure they have not come from illegal and exploitative mines.
The Sustainable Solution
Recently one of the world’s biggest jewellers announced they will no longer be selling mined diamonds, citing concerns about the environment and working practices in the mining industry. Instead they will switch to exclusively laboratory-made diamonds, using renewable energy.
Lab-grown diamonds are chemically and compositionally the same as mined ones, graded by the same standard (colour, clarity, cut and carat weight). However they typically retail at a 30% lower price than the natural equivalent.
In the past two centuries we have extracted a vast amount of silver, gold and precious stones from the ground at enormous cost to human welfare and the environment, and the question is, do we actually need more?
Recycling the precious materials in a piece of jewellery that once held significance can extend its life and create something beautiful that can be reused by future generations. If the silver cigarette case you've inherited feels a bit dated, you can always find a jeweller who will melt it down and create a beautiful new modern piece, which you can in turn pass on.
French brand Ombre Claire use only recycled silver and gold and no precious stones in their collections. Using artisan skills to create intricate patterns, the brand creates beautiful jewellery with a conscience.
What will jewellery look like in the future, with the potential of new technologies like 3D printing and even virtual jewellery?
We are proud to be working with the London College of Fashion to display the work of their Year 1 BA Fashion Jewellery students in store.
London College of Fashion BA Fashion Jewellery Year 1: Exploration of Sustainable Values exhibition is now open to view at 69b Boutique.
28th June - 4th July
10.30 to 18.30 weekdays
10.00 to 18.00 Saturday
11.00 to 17.00 Sunday