Opinion: Did you know that fine jewellery can be as ethical and sustainable as it is beautiful?

Emily in her studio. (PHOTO: Calla Lily)

Singapore — With many of us now more concerned about shopping consciously and sustainability, about even choosing to travel in a more eco-friendly way, everything we add to our lives these days is becoming a more, and more considered choice.

So, what about jewellery, fine jewellery in particular? For a while precious stones like diamonds, and materials like gold and platinum, have been targets of ethical and environmental concerns with issues like ‘blood diamonds’ and the chemicals used in gold mining, for example, making people question as to whether or not they should be buying these items.

Sure, lots of us don’t really think that hard about where our engagement rings or other expensive pieces of fine jewellery come from, but more and more people are starting to so.

So, what can you do if you want to buy more ethically sources, or environmentally friendly fine jewellery made of diamonds, gold and other precious materials?

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Aquamarine with casing and sketch. (PHOTO: Calla Lily)

“Repurposing your jewellery – whether heirloom pieces or existing pieces – is a form of recycling [jewellery], explains jeweller Emily Tan, the founder and creative lead of new Singapore artisan bespoke jewellery brand Calla Lily Fine Jewellers.

“Many people have heirlooms that they are attached to but never wear because it might not suit them or are simply considered old-fashioned. These pieces stay hidden away in a safe or a bank,” says Ms Tan.

As a jewellery designer, Ms Tan is able to give an existing piece of jewellery a new life by redesigning it completely, or repurposing the stones used.

“You can preserve the memory associated with a piece, but restyle it into something that you would enjoy wearing. The options are quite endless, even while preserving the integrity and value of the gem,” says Ms Tan.

Jade ring design. (PHOTO: Calla Lily)

She notes that the gemstones from heirloom jewellery pieces can be reused to create other, more wearable pieces: “A ring could become a pendant, earrings could be reset into a

ring, and a necklace could be recreated in a number of ways.”

And Ms Tan agrees that repurposing your existing jewellery pieces “makes both financial and environmental sense”, if you are concerned about both the ethical issues and environmental issues surrounding the production of fine jewellery.

“For example, we restyled an heirloom jade ring into a pendant with diamonds and tsavorite garnets, and reset a marquis diamond solitaire into a stunning armour ring,” explains Ms Tan.

“What’s important to remember when repurposing heirlooms are the stones that are set in the original pieces. Stones like diamonds, sapphires and rubies are very durable, but care would have to be taken with softer stones like turquoise and moonstone.

Old marquis solitaire ring and sketch design. (PHOTO: Calla Lily)

“A jeweller with extensive experience in coloured gemstones can work with you to ensure the value of the piece is preserved, while also enhancing the design in the process. The old becomes new again,” says Ms Tan.

What do you do, however, if you don’t have any heirloom or existing jewellery to repurpose?

Well, there are now ways to ensure that the gold you are buying comes from responsible sources, eco-friendly sources or is recycled gold. There is even a new label to look out for: ‘fairmined’ gold.

Even some of the world’s most exclusive jewellery brands are now taking on these ethical and environmental issues; Swiss fine jewellery house Chopard became the first big name to commit to ‘100% ethical gold’ used in its watches and jewellery in July 2018.

If you decide you want to choose ethical gold, there are two main ‘labels’ that you can use so that you know you are buying the right kind of gold.

Both the Fairmined gold label certified by a Colombian NGO, and the more widely recognised ‘fairtrade’ label launched by Swiss foundation Max Havelaar, ensure their labeled gold meets a set of standards that help minimise negative environmental impact from mining gold. This type of mining also has to ensure decent working conditions and wages for the miners.

Unfortunately, mines that fit these strict criteria are still relatively limited. There is only a few hundred kilograms of certified gold produced every year; whereas the traditional world gold production is around 3,300 tonnes per year!

So, if you can’t afford this highly certified gold, you can also look at ‘recycled gold’.

The non-profit Responsible Jewellery Council makes its members sign up to agree to a strict supply chain, that include things like human rights, ethical and environmental practices within the precious metals production chain.

Luxury jewelry from the Plume de Paon collection sit inside a display case in the renovated Boucheron luxury jewelry flagship store, operated by Kering SA, ahead of reopening in Place Vendome Square in Paris, France, on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. Boucheron is part of the elite club of French jewelers that produce haute joaillerie, or high jewelry: one-of-a-kind pieces priced from $50,000 to several million dollars, which are handcrafted in Vendome ateliers to show off precious stones and their makers’ most advanced techniques. Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

Top luxury brands like Boucheron, Pomellato, Dodo and Gucci – all under the Kering luxury group – are signed up to use the recycled gold certified ‘RJC Chain of Custody’, since these brands use quite a large amount of gold in their products.

While Fairmined or Fairtrade gold is only about 10-12% more expensive than traditionally sourced gold, recycled gold costs almost the same price.

There are also companies like Courbet that uses gold recycled from from electronic or industrial waste; according to the brand you find five grams of gold in a tonne of land, but up to 200 grams of gold from a tonne of electronic waste.

Once you’ve got your hands on some gold, silver or platinum, and you are looking for ethical gemstones, where do you go?

Diamonds. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

Courbet uses only laboratory-grown diamonds and other gemstones, because no land or environments are disturbed or destroyed to make them.

The mining of diamonds, in particular, is problematic due to issues of large-scale industrial mining which damages the environment and can abuse workers, or the additional humane issues regarding small-scale mining that is often manipulated and abused by organised crime or other external forces.

There are a number of organisations that are working towards improving the conditions of miners in the diamond industry like the Peace Diamond Alliance (PDA) and Mwadui Community Diamond Partnership in Africa, which is the source of most diamonds in the world.

Other than diamonds, there are a number of organisations that sell responsibly sourced gemstones of all kinds from opals to emeralds, rubies and sapphires.

Once you’ve accessed your materials, you then need to find someone to create your bespoke piece of fine jewellery.

Pink spinel ring. (PHOTO: Calla Lily)

The founder and lead creator of a bespoke jewellery brand, Emily Tan, has a degree from the London College of Fashion, and is a graduate gemologist for the Gemological Institute of America; she also worked with Jimmy Choo Couture in London, Marni in Milan, and Kara Ross in New York before moving back to Singapore, and eventually launching her own brand.

Ms Tan totally understands the importance of creating a bespoke piece of fine jewellery.

“This is the age of the individual, a celebration of quirks, tastes and unique affections,” explains Ms Tan.

“Jewellery has always been a powerful form of self-expression, and it is even more so now. Our customers don’t just want to buy off-the-shelf or mass produced pieces. They want to create bespoke pieces that are of true value, and that suit their style and budget.”

Working with an artisan jeweller like Ms Tan helps you create pieces of jewellery can capture your personality, or celebrate an important moment in your life.

“One customer commissioned a piece as a tribute to a beloved family cat,” explains Ms Tan, “others want to experiment with personal style – a customer who usually wears diamonds collaborated with us on a striking pink spinel ring with the added twist of a halo of flutter wings.

“That’s the essence of bespoke – the piece you create contains a narrative with both meaning and memories. It is personal to you.”

The Calla Lily atelier is located at 56 Eng Hoon Street #01-56. To make an appointment, go to www.callalily.sg/contact.

For Chopard Boutiques in Singapore, go to www.chopard.com/intl/storelocator; Boucheron boutiques are located at Ngee Ann City and Marina Bay Sands; the Pomellato boutique is located at #01-17 Hilton Hotel; and Gucci boutiques are located at Paragon Shopping Centre and Marina Bay Sands.