Cecilia Accardo and Scéona Poroli-Chauveau: «There is no difference between extracted or non-mined metal in terms of quality». A conversation about the recycled jewelry industry
Recycled jewelry: the demand for sustainable jewelry is increasing
In the Conscious Jewelry Trend Report 2020 conducted by ExJewel, data suggests that the demand for sustainable jewelry is increasing. Searches for ethical diamonds have increased by seventy-five percent with lab-grown diamonds by eighty-three percent. Ethical gold had increased by seventy-three percent. Meanwhile, searching for a diamond without qualifiers remains constant, suggesting that customers increasingly pursue ethical purchasing behaviors.
The Severe Impact of the Jewelry Industry
The jewelry industry has an impact on the environment due to mining. This can have numerous harmful adverse effects on the environment. These range from erosion of the land to leakage of toxic chemicals into the water supply. It can also lead to alterations of an entire ecosystem. According to reports, mining one gold ring creates 20 tons of mine waste while obliterating the natural landscape.
To provide electricity for gold and diamond mines, companies use fossil fuels that pollute the air with smog and CO2. Mining one carat of diamond produces on average 65kg of CO2. This is higher than lab-grown diamonds, which is around 12kg. Alongside mining, trucks emitting fumes and the equipment that digs gold-mine, produces particles. These contain metals and chemicals like Mercury and Sulphur Oxide. They can affect the respiratory system, mainly lung function, and the eyes.
Cecilia Accardo on the importance of being sustainable
Jewelry production not only pollutes the air in its life cycle but also water. Toxins from gold and diamond mining, such as Cyanide, contaminate the soil and water supplies. These find their way into the food chain. Adding to that, the acid-washed out of mines finds its way into streams and rivers. This can alter the water pH levels and harm aquatic creatures. In addition, some mining operations illegally dump toxic byproducts in bays, affecting locals and wildlife. Reports state that mined diamonds consume 480 liters of water per carat. This is compared to the seventy liters needed by lab-grown diamonds.
The dark side of the jewelry industry is not only being noticed by consumers but also on designers and brands. Cecilia Accardo is the jewelry designer for her namesake brand. She explains: «Being sustainable is such an important matter for the industry. It is crucial to carefully curate the material selection process. My jewelry is made with recycled and purified natural stones and metals. The boxes, also made in Italy, are made with certified FSC paper».
Diamonds Mining Is Not Sustainable Or Ethical
Many worldwide-known brands like Pandora have switched to lab-grown diamonds. This is feeding a growing demand from consumers who believe they are making a more responsible choice. As a result, the lab-grown diamond industry has ballooned in recent years. Between six and seven million carats were produced in 2020 alone. This is still a small percentage compared to diamond mining, which peaked at 152 million carats in 2017. It currently stands around 111 million carats. Lab-grown diamonds are increasingly pitched as the sustainable choice to consumers. If produced under optimum conditions, lab-grown diamonds potentially have a lower carbon footprint than mined ones. However, other environmental, social, and economic factors must be considered.
Scéona Poroli-Chauveau is the creative director of Scéona, a sustainable fine jewelry brand based in France. She states: «Water and energy are not the only two key issues with waste management in diamond mining. This industry fuels a wide array of human rights abuses. The supply chain is a source of conflicts and human rights violations, as highlighted by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International». And she continues, «one of the main issues is the traceability of the diamonds. Experts agree that a diamond will likely change hands eight to ten times from the country of export to the final consumer. This makes it hard to track down where they come from and whether they’re responsibly sourced».
Lab-Grown Diamonds Might Help Reduce Pollution
With lab-grown diamonds, the story is different. They are cultivated in a laboratory using artificial technology and consist of the same chemical composition as mined diamonds. «Cultured diamonds still arouse suspicion and questioning», explains Poroli-Chauveau. «In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission amended its jewelry guide to remove the term natural from the definition of a diamond. They clarified that it is no longer accurate to define a diamond with this word. It is possible to create a product which has the same optical, physical and chemical properties as a mined diamond».
When asked why they use lab-grown diamonds for their brand, she explains that it’s a matter of transparency. «Despite mined diamonds being well marketed for decades and it looked like there was no alternative, now lab-grown diamonds are a viable choice». Indeed, diamonds grown in labs are not extracted from mines. This leaves the earth free of mining manipulations and saving up mining costs. The resulting lab-grown diamonds are also at least fifty percent cheaper than their mined counterparts.
The diamond mining industry fuels human rights abuses
Moreover, synthetic diamonds overcome the ethical issue that has interested the history of mined diamonds for centuries. Yet, as Poroli-Chaveau pointed out, the diamond mining industry fuels a wide array of human rights abuses. «Its supply chain is not transparent and is a source of conflicts and serious human rights violations. This is highlighted by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Fifteen percent of the diamonds are still mined in countries using child labor».
The downside with this kind of synthetic diamond is thatchy still creates sustainability problems of its own. The pressure and the heat needed to make a lab-grown diamond demand vast energy usually generated from fossil fuels. It may even create more carbon dioxide emissions than natural diamond mining. Diamonds are grown in countries including China, Singapore, and the US, which lean heavily on fossil fuels for energy.
The amount of power needed to create a diamond can lead to output in carbon pollution if the energy source is dirty. This point was made in a 2019 Trucost report. It found that on average, greenhouse gas emissions are three times greater for lab-grown diamonds than their mined counterparts.
Quartz And Semi-Precious Stones Are Also A Viable Option
Using synthetic diamonds is not the only way to reduce the impact of the jewelry industry on the environment. Semi-precious stones and quartz can be a solution. Accardo explains: «As a gemologist and crystal therapist, I don’t use synthetic diamonds or stones. Quartz requires a less invasive mining process than diamonds since they can be found in earth’s mantle». In addition, unlike diamonds which must be mined from specific locations, quartz is readily available worldwide. It is the second most abundant mineral on the planet.
It forms between other rock formations, either underground or in open cavities. Therefore, it is easy to access and mine. When being processed, quartz does not need special handling. Therefore, fewer pieces are damaged or lost during the process, and waste is minimized.
«Another factor that influences sustainability when it comes to stones is cutting. Laser cutting is more environmentally-friendly since operators work on a computer. They can recycle and clean water used in the process». It is also better in cutting precision and can reduce the thicknesses of up to three millimeters. The application of laser cutting can limit the exploitation of all the natural resources involved. This can drastically reduce water consumption and the production of wastewater derived from standard processes.
Gold And Silver Mining Affect Environment And Communities
Another issue with mining in the jewelry industry regards metals. Mining activities include prospecting, exploration, construction, operation, maintenance, expansion, abandonment, decommissioning, and repurposing of a mine. They can all have an impact on social and environmental systems in both positive and negative ways.
Mine exploration, construction, operation, and maintenance may result in land-use change and have associated negative impacts on environments. These include deforestation, erosion, contamination, alteration of soil, contamination of local water supplies. This can also cause an increase in noise level, dust, and emissions. Mine abandonment, decommissioning, and repurposing may also result in significant environmental impacts, such as soil and water contamination.
Infrastructure built to support mining activities, such as roads, ports, railway tracks, and power lines, can affect animal migratory routes, This can increase habitat fragmentation. Mining can also have positive and negative impacts on humans and societies, including human health and living standards. It is known to affect traditional practices of indigenous peoples living in nearby communities. Conflicts in land use are also often present, as are other social impacts. This includes those related to public health and human wellbeing. In terms of positive effects, mining is often a source of local employment. It may contribute to local and regional economies. Remediation of the potential environmental impacts, such as water treatment and ecological restoration, can positively affect environmental systems.
Recycled Jewelry: Metals From E-Waste
Poroli-Chaveau points out that gold mining also has an impact on the environment: «One single gold ring can create twenty tons of mining waste. This contains toxic chemicals which can contaminate the nearby water supply and soil». Local residents can also be exposed to chemicals such as mercury, a product used to reveal gold from rock. This can create severe long-term illnesses. To overcome this issue, brands decide to use recycled gold and silver: «We wanted to create long-lasting jewelry pieces. This is the reason why we chose 18kt gold; to avoid gold mining. We use recycled gold from e-waste, which consists in recycling gold from electronic waste. This includes computers and smartphones».
Accardo agrees this is a viable solution to make the industry more sustainable: «I chose an artisanal approach, every piece is handmade. I work with small artisan laboratories that pay people the right amount of money. I use recycled silver that comes from remelted objects. There is no difference between extracted or recycled metal in terms of quality».
Choosing more sustainable raw materials comes with limitations
As Poroli-Chaveau explains: «The first constraint of using only 18kt gold and lab-grown diamonds is the lack of diversity in the materials. We had to give up on all those mined colored gemstones. To compensate for this lack of diversity, we play with the gold textures».
In such an invasive industry as jewelry one, there needs to be viable options to reduce the impact of the sector. This ranges from choosing to work with synthetic diamonds, semi-precious stones, and recycled gold and silver. This is along with «a careful selection of materials. And collaborating with small artisans who hand down technical knowledge and artistic traditions,» Accardo concludes.
Creative director at Scéona, a sustainable fine jewelry brand based in Franc. They aim to create pieces of jewelry without harming the environment and the people, using only non-mined materials.
Jewelry designer and gemologist at Cecilia Accardo Jewelry. It is a brand with ancient charm, characterized by ornamental motifs such as flowers, leaves and lines inspired by nature. It has a rigorous search for harmony in shapes and proportions, to achieve a timeless sculptural aesthetic.