Going over all the pros and cons of jewelry options, in depth, would take more time than we have in just one posts. Clearly, this is just a kick off point, but if you’re looking to get started on the path to eco-friendly jewelry material options, below are some quick tips.
Right out of the gate, gold is not eco-friendly. No Dirty Gold, an international campaign working to ensure that gold mining operations respect human rights and the environment, notes that the production of just a single gold ring generates 20 tons of waste. They also state that gold mining is one of the world’s dirtiest industries, using cyanide, generating heaps of waste, and “leaves a long-lasting scar on landscapes and communities.”
What to do: You can take the No Dirty Gold pledge, wear recycled gold jewelry instead of new, and look for retailers who have taken the Golden Rules pledge, a set of criteria regarding responsible gold mining.
Silver has historically been recycled more than other metals by jewelry makers, so in that sense it’s a somewhat ethical metal. Still, like other metals, it’s also mined, which creates problems for human health and the environment. Extraction techniques for metals can include stripping surface soil, chemicals that can cause soil erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity and contamination of soil and both ground and surface water.
What to do: Go recycled. With silver this is easy because there’s a ton of jewelry designers out there nowadays who use only recycled silver.
Platinum is another mined metal and is actually more rare than gold, making it an expensive choice. It’s also very durable, shiny and won’t tarnish or oxidize though it will wear and scratch over time.
What to do: Think of platinum like gold or silver and go recycled.
While some are harvesting pearls in a somewhat eco-friendly manner, a lot of pearl farming has, over time contributed to destruction of ocean areas and natural pearl oyster beds from pollution and over-harvesting. Plus, if you’re vegan, or just would rather not wear something that harms animals in the making, keep in mind that pearls aren’t animal friendly.
What to do: Look into synthetic pearls, which are inexpensive and look decent, but are not always as long lasting as real pearls (they can flake) and are often made with shells of sea creatures. Basically, if you’re ok with jewelry farmed from or in animals, but want something a little more eco-friendly, go with vintage pearls. If you’re vegan or believe that animals shouldn’t be harmed in the making of your jewelry, I’d skip all pearls, including synthetic, unless you can find pearl-like glass beads or other synthetics that aren’t made with sea creature shell.
Toby Pomeroy makes wedding and engagement rings with reclaimed gold or platinum or from TRUEGOLD™, artisan-mined gold and platinum using socially and environmentally responsible practices and no toxic chemicals. They also use certified conflict-free Canadian diamonds traceable to their source.
Real diamonds are not eco-friendly or human-friendly and should be avoided at all times.
What to do: Never buy real diamonds. If you must have a diamond go with a vintage or reused diamond, because a diamond already in circulation won’t cause more harm to people or the planet. For example, if your mom has a diamond ring you love, you can have it re-purposed into a new piece. Man-made diamonds take a lot of energy to make, but they do far less harm than the real deal. Moissanite is an interesting diamond solution, being both synthetic, and a diamond simulant with the molecular structure of a stone found in nature. While Moissanite does occur in nature, most moissanite today is grown in a lab. Cubic zirconia is another diamond-like choice that’s man made and less harmful than real diamond, though it’s not as long lasting.
Sea glass is man-made glass (such as a bottle) that’s been tossed into a body of water, which isn’t of course eco-friendly BUT as the glass is tumbled in the waves it becomes smooth and frosted and once found can be turned into jewelry or used for other objects which is eco-friendly, making sea glass, in my opinion, a very interesting topic.
The process of glass turning into sea glass can take 7-10 years, and because more people are recycling now, not simply throwing glass into bodies of water or onto a beach, real sea glass is becoming more rare.
What to do: Sea glass isn’t perfect because really, throwing trash into the environment is a bad move, but it’s a safe bet for jewelry because procuring it isn’t harmful. You do need to watch out for fake sea glass though. According to By the Sea Jewelry, artificially made sea glass usually has jagged edges and more intense colors. Here’s an in depth guide that will help you sort out real sea glass from the fakes.
When it comes to contemporary wedding ring metals, such as tungsten, titanium and stainless steel, cobalt chrome might be the best if you’re looking for a rich look as it most resembles white gold. Cobalt is also fairly scratch-resistant. Cobalt is obtained through nickel mining operations as a by-product of refining. Downsides of cobalt is that it’s difficult to work with and cannot be crafted into intricate styles or shapes, plus it’s not local to the USA, but instead imported. Additionally The International Agency for Research on Cancer has said that cobalt is a possible carcinogen to humans.
What to do: Cobalt is a decent metal for jewelry, inexpensive, and can be combined with other elements (wood, gemstones) to get the look you want. Still, keep in mind that cobalt is mined and going vintage with your metals is a better eco-choice. See a more in depth guide to cobalt.
Stainless steel is theoretically 100% recyclable, and in fact steel is the most recycled material in the world according to most reports. It’s not coated with any toxic material and so it does not produce toxic run-off. Stainless steel is also very strong, long-lasting, easy to keep clean and can be used to make surprisingly delicate pieces of jewelry.
What to do: Stainless steel is a good choice if you’re looking to keep it green.
Raw sea green tourmaline recycled white gold engagement ring by Angeline who purchases all her metal from a family owned refinery in Portland, Oregon where they recycle old jewelry, precious metals, refine and create high quality precious metal casting grains and fabrication supplies.
Rubies, sapphires, emeralds are the considered the big three of the colored gemstones, but there is also topaz, amethyst, turquoise and dozen of others. Mining for colored gemstones is usually a small, informal operation as opposed to diamonds which are almost always mined via huge industrial mines. That said, mining for colored stones can still cause environmental problems and health risks, though folks also debate that these smaller mining operations can be good for the economy of some areas.
What to do: When buying colored gemstones, research who you’re buying from and make sure the company has taken steps to ensure that their gems were produced or mined as responsibly as possible. Also don’t get confused by the term Fair Trade gemstone, as it’s a cool buzz word but nothing more. A better, though not perfect option, as it doesn’t cut out the history of the stone, is to go with vintage or reused colored gemstones.
Black, grey or silver, titanium is hypoallergenic, durable, and rings made of this metal often have inlays of other metals, though it’s near impossible to fashion titanium into delicate or intricate designs. Titanium is also lightweight and looks fairly modern. Like other metals, titanium is mined, which yes, creates environmental issues, but it can also be recycled, which is always a perk.
What to do: Titanium is hard to resize, which is a major con. It’s abundant in the earth, which is a pro, but still minded, a con, so you could choose to go with a recycled titanium piece as a more eco-friendly option.
Wood is beautiful, renewable and makes a great piece of jewelry. However, not all wood is sustainably sourced, and in fact, some wood, such as Brazilwood, Spanish Cedar, Madagascar Ebony, mahogany, rosewood and sandalwood are considered endangered. Also, wood requires more care than metal.
What to do: Make sure your jewelry maker sources responsibly harvested wood. For example, salvaged wood is great. Also if you’re considering wood for your ring, be sure to look at MANY types before making a decision. Wood rings come in so many different woods and all have a distinct look and color to them. NOTE: I’ll loop bamboo in here while we’re discussing wood. Really, bamboo is a grass, not a tree, but it’s also renewable, and makes a pretty ring. However, make sure it’s sustainably sourced. Many people talk like all bamboo is eco-friendly, but that’s not true.
Tungsten is extremely scratch resistant, affordable, and has a nice weight to it, plus is hard so it won’t bend out of shape. It’s also hypoallergenic and comes in a metal grey color, but can be plated black, white, or even gold colors. This metal is so hard that it cannot be resized and yup it’s a mined metal, thus not a perfectly eco-friendly material but it can be recycled.
Copper is a reddish gold metal that is mined and in high demand, thus causing the same problems as other mined metals. Copper jewelry is often considered to have healing properties, though this is widely debated. Copper is eco-minded in that it can be recycled and is very long lasting.
What to do: Go with jewelry made with recycled copper.