We’ve all heard about the dark side of fast fashion: workers getting paid next to nothing, toiling in dangerous conditions to make cheap clothing designed to be discarded after a single wear. Sustainable fashion is a top concern for today’s consumers. But what about when it comes to a charm necklace or simple pair of stud earrings? Diamonds are forever, right? As it happens, gem and metal mining create a significant amount of waste too. Keep reading to find out what you should look for when shopping for bling.

Seek Out Ethical Raw Materials

Gems and jewellery don’t take up much physical space, but their small size belies the amount of work and environmental impact that goes into their making. The history of gem and metal mining is, unfortunately, pretty shady. Private companies and governments plundered much of the world in search of precious stones and metals, devastating the surrounding ecosystems, and exploiting the locals into doing perilous work for low pay. The film Blood Diamonds highlighted the far-reaching consequences of the diamond industry, and how it fuels war and perpetuates suffering.

One alternative option is to seek out certified conflict-free gems. Another is to buy lab-grown gems. Almost any gemstone can be lab-grown now, including diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and opals. They are chemically identical to mined gems, but greatly reduce the impact on the environment and do not involve any unethical labor practices. A third alternative is to seek out recycled jewellery. Both stones and metals can be recycled, and they retain their beauty for as long as they are cared for. A fourth option is to shop consignment. Vintage is hot right now, making heirlooms (whether from your own family or someone else’s) a top pick, as well as an economical one.

Look for Transparency

We’ve heard a lot about supply chains over the past few years. Just like those in the apparel industry, jewellery supply chains can be quite complex. Brands that share their information about the steps in the process, from mining to artisan compensation to packaging, are the ones you want to buy from. Anyone who won’t tell you about the origins of their stones or even how they plan to ship the jewellery to you should give you pause.

Support Lower-Impact Processes

Another often overlooked aspect of jewellery-making is cutting. This process frequently takes place in countries with few or no regulations concerning worker’s health and safety. Inhaled dust damages the lungs, as does the use of toxic chemicals that are a part of the grinding and cutting process. Lab-growns avoid both of these, as does buying vintage. It should also be true for recycled, but be sure to ask.

Shop Locally

One of the best ways to cut down on carbon emissions and environmental impact is to work with local artisans. But, be sure what you’re getting is actually being made locally. Note the difference between ‘Designed in the UK’ versus ‘Made in the UK.’ A piece that is designed locally may still be produced overseas by workers who may or may not be paid a fair wage. Voting with your wallet is one of the best ways to bring about change.

Track Down Sustainable Packaging

Brands that are committed to sustainability will not swathe your jewels in acres of plastic, styrofoam, or other environmentally irresponsible wrappings. Recycled materials that are themselves recyclable should be used to protect the item. Likewise, pieces of paper such as receipts and packing slips should be at least offered to be sent electronically.

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