What is Sustainable, Ethical or 'Eco' Jewellery?
I care a lot about the world we live in and looking after our natural environment and hopefully you do too.
Curlicue NZ is committed to operating as a socially and environmentally sustainable business on an ongoing basis.
Picking the right jewellery has the power to transform the look and feel of your entire outfit.
Usually we only consider the type of jewellery we want to wear: delicate minimalist earrings or large colourful earrings? Plain, simple ring or cocktail ring? Choker style necklace or long rope necklace?
But how often do we stop to think about how our jewellery was made?
- Where did the materials come from?
- Who’s hands has it touched?
- What environment was it made in?
- Who’s lives has it affected?
- How long was it made to last?
What does ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ jewellery actually mean?
It means that the raw materials I have used to make Curlicue NZ’s jewellery have been responsibly sourced from places with easy to follow processes, and materials that have an ongoing supply.
“Sustainable and ethical jewellery means transparent and responsible sourcing practices and use of sustainable materials.
It has a minimal impact on the environment, isn’t involved with conflict, and gives back to workers by way of fair wages and safe working environments.
Looking at sustainable jewelry is kind of like looking at sustainable fashion…overwhelmingly complicated and more than a little convoluted.
They share lots of elements, like supply chain considerations and overconsumption. However, the jewelry industry adds yet another ethical and eco complexity to consider — mining.”
The processes used to mine metals and gemstones from the ground have numerous harmful impacts on our natural and social environments.
When jewellery comes in a cute box and is worn by gorgeous models, we love the shine and sparkle, but typically ignore the fact that the jewellery industry is rife with concerns regarding ethics and sustainability.
It’s easy to get caught up in the occasion of gifting jewellery, but we don’t tend to think about the fact that the new ring or bracelet’s materials were unsustainably mined in the one of the world’s poorest regions.
It seems hard to believe that something as tiny and seemingly innocent as gold earrings can do so much damage. The main issue is in how metals – and gemstones – are mined.
The Problems with Mining for Metals and Gemstones
Firstly, the extraction techniques – which may include stripping the surface soil and using chemicals – can cause:
- soil erosion,
- formation of sinkholes,
- loss of biodiversity,
- contamination of soil, and
- both ground and surface water contamination.
This happens even when fairly stringent environmental regulations are followed.
In developing countries, where regulations can be less likely to be enforced, large-scale lead poisoning or heavy metal soil contamination are just some of the likely consequences.
Secondary factors include the manufacturing processes (energy to produce certain types of glass, for example), and materials (like toxic dyes) that are used in those processes. In addition, there is a possibility of environmentally harmful practices in jewellery creation, chemical disposal and packaging.
Transparency is extremely difficult in the jewellery industry. The raw materials are often mined in one country, processed in another, then turned into jewellery in yet another country.
An estimated 250 tonnes of earth is shifted for every single carat of diamond. For context, 148 million carats were mined in 2018. Some mines are now so huge they can be seen from space using Nasa’s Terra satellite. But that’s just for the mining of diamonds, a stone smaller than your fingernail!
NB There is also now the creation of diamonds within a lab environment. A lab-grown diamond is still a diamond. It is chemically, physically and optically identical to a mined diamond. Lab-grown diamonds are also created using extreme pressure and heat, but inside a machine rather than the bowels of the Earth.
It has been assumed that lab-grown diamonds are more sustainable and ethical. However – they are not without fault. They still use a large amount of energy, and there have been (albeit questionable) claims that lab-grown diamonds are much more carbon intensive.
The mining of the precious metals themselves (i.e. gold, silver, and platinum) have their own fair share of problems, including:
- Air pollution: Manufacturing pollutants include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released from the solvents, and fumes containing hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).
- Water waste and pollution: Not only does precious metal mining require massive amounts of water, but it also contaminates groundwater and threatens drinking supplies. Toxic chemicals like cyanide, mercury, and sulphuric acid commonly end up running off into local waters and soil.
- Ecosystem loss & damage: Biodiversity and vegetation losses are common in mined areas, as is erosion.
- Greenhouse gas emissions: It’s been estimated that every mined carat releases around 57kg of carbon into the atmosphere.
- Dangerous materials: Nickel, cadmium, lead, the chemicals in glues, as well as PVC and other plastics – there are a plethora of harmful materials in jewellery. Not only can they be dangerous for wearers, but they’re not great for the planet, either.
- Waste: Some jewellery fashion trends are short-lived (anyone remember Loom Bands?) which means that a lot of jewellery ends up in landfills. Since the vast majority of it is not biodegradable, it’ll sit there, pretty much forever.
So – I believe – creating jewellery from recycled metals, man-made beads and ethically sourced gemstones is definitely the way to go!
Sustainable practices at Curlicue NZ:
- Using recycled metals as much as possible*
- Up-cycling vintage materials into new jewellery
- Recycling: metal scrap, paper scrap, packaging and shipping materials
- Using recyclable and/or biodegradable products within my packaging
- Using Compostable Trackpack/ Courier Bags
- Re-using the mountains of bubble wrap that I have collected over the years
- Paper is always printed on both sides and used for scrap before being recycled by our Council
- Soft plastics and plastic bags are collected and deposited at Soft Plastic Recycling collections – supported by major brands who help pay for the collection, processing and recycling costs.
- I use Energy efficient light bulbs throughout my home and office and turn off all appliances at night and when not in use.
- I make all of my jewellery myself, in my home studio in Titirangi, Auckland, New Zealand. So, my commute involves nothing but walking downstairs!
*Since mining new metal is fundamentally not an environmentally-friendly process, regardless of how many regulations have been put in place to make it more so, I would like nothing better than to use 100 percent recycled metals for everything.
Accessibility, however, just doesn’t make this realistic. For example 100 percent recycled chains, clasps and earring hooks just aren’t readily available. Hopefully this will be remedied in the future, but in the meantime I fully support and utilise organisations that are working to improve mining practices and regulations, like Morris & Watson and Regal.
Even if the jewellery industry switches to all recycled metals, new metals will continue to be mined for other industries, making the work of these organisations very important.
Curlicue NZ Materials
I only use 100% recycled .925 Sterling or .935 Argentium Silver, Copper or Brass wires for wrapping my pieces. All the wires used for rings, pendants and ornaments are made from 100% recycled Silver.
I also try to use recycled Silver in other areas (such as chains and hooks) where possible and am currently looking into sourcing such findings made from recycled materials, rather than trying to hand-make them myself. (However, I still haven’t found any, so continue to handmade earring hooks, and clasps myself.)
However most of my current stock of earrings, necklaces and bracelets may have other components that are not made of recycled materials (such as clasps, ear wires, hooks and chain sections).
I now purchase my recycled .925 Sterling Silver, Copper and Brass wires from two different New Zealand companies: Morris & Watson and Regal who both strive to create the most eco-friendly production conditions possible.
As New Zealand is a small country, we do not currently make Cultured Freshwater Pearls here, so those items are bought mainly from China where they are man-made. I mostly buy from shops where culturing pearls is a family business, knowledge of which has passed down the generations.
However most other materials such as Swarovski Crystals, NZ Greenstone, Kauri Gum and Semi-precious stones are sourced from retailers within NZ.
What does ‘recycled silver’ mean in this context?
My supplier produces much of the precious metal products by recycled waste from the Jewellery Industry within Australasia. They also take scrap silver from jewellers, hobbyists, and other industrial uses – even old photographs!
I also like to use vintage materials and up-cycle your pre-loved and heirloom jewellery into new and distinctive designs. I often do this through Custom Orders (which are always welcome), or when people give me their pre-loved jewellery that they no longer want.
Curlicue NZ Packaging
I have recently decided to no longer use my gift boxes – except for shops or occasional displays.
I am still considering the best ways to sustainably package Curlicue NZ jewellery going forward. However, I do already have some cardboard boxes and small velvet bags that I will use up whilst considering what to do in the future.
For now though, I’ll just commit to all of my handcrafted pieces to come lovingly, personally and sustainably packaged by me. Each item will be wrapped in tissue – like a gift, then wrapped with reused bubble wrap to ensure its safety during transit.
My product tags/ business information cards (on which my jewellery sits), have been made using fibre from sustainable forests, are chlorine free, ISO 14001 certified, use Integrated Pollution Prevention Control and use environmentally friendly inks.
Premium Gift Wrap – my New Zealand flax kete (woven bags) are not recyclable, or compostable – in fact flax has been used for a long time in textiles and weaving because of its known strength and durability properties.
It is, however, great to re-use this wonderful bag for keepsakes and treasures!
As I grow and evolve, I will continue to look at other ways my business can be more environmentally friendly.
I just wanted to share some of my personal philosophy and that which drives Curlicue NZ Jewellery.
I strongly believe in helping others – and those that can’t help themselves (such as animals and the natural environment) wherever and whenever I can and I am constantly looking at different ways that I can do this. My husband supports me in this and we have both taught our daughter to have the same values – to always be kind, and help others where possible.
Personally, I have volunteered my time and made donations with different NZ charities over the years, including: Waitakere Guardian Angels, Plunket and Dress for Success (as well as schools and kindy).
We have also ‘adopted’ endangered wild animals through WWF, donated to the Red Cross on several one-off occasions and also donate food and toiletry items through our local patakas (community pantry) on an ad hoc basis.
As a family, animals are very important to us and we try to visit the Kruger National Park in South Africa every few years to enjoy the amazing wild animals that inhabit the park and help with conservation through park donations and educating others. We have also ‘adopted’ a different endangered animal every year for the past few years and have helped Snow Leopards, Amur Leopards, Polar Bears and Vaquita Dolphins.
The philosophy behind Curlicue NZ is to help women feel confident and elegant by wearing beautiful jewellery that has been inspired by nature.
Over the years that I have been in business, I regularly donate jewellery to support charity auctions for various causes both in NZ and internationally and want to donate part of my proceeds to endangered plants and animals – and now I am!
I’m very proud to say that since the last quarter of 2020, I have been donating 10% of my profits to conservation efforts in New Zealand through Forest & Bird.