When you dive behind the alluring sparkle and dazzle of the conventional jewelry industry, you’re met with some harsh realities, from ecological destruction to human rights abuses.
But there’s a way to do better — and I’ve partnered up with consciously-made jewelry brand, Laura Elizabeth, to demonstrate how.
First, let’s talk about why we need a better jewelry industry…
The Environmental Impact of Jewelry Production
Most of the jewelry seen shining on display at jewelers and department stores have a dirty origin. Much of the world’s gold comes from open-pit mines where large areas of native vegetation are cleared out and massive amounts of earth are scoured away and processed for trace elements. 
As Earthworks puts it, “gold mining is one of the most destructive industries in the world.” It displaces communities, destroys environments, and contaminates drinking water with hazardous substances like mercury and cyanide.  And the energy use, degradation, and pollution will only increase as gold gets scarcer and more difficult to obtain, requiring increasingly more resources for fewer traces of gold.
Even back 20 years ago in 2000, the EPA found that mining had contaminated 40% of the watersheds in the West of the United States. 
How does this translate into the impact of the jewelry industry? The jewelry industry is the largest customer of gold, demanding about 50% of the world’s gold. .
And to help connect the dots between mining and the jewelry we wear, Earthworks calculated that there are 20 tons of mine waste produced for the average gold ring. 
The mining industry is just as exploitative of its workers as it is of the environment. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the mining and quarrying sector is a major driver of labor exploitation, responsible for 4% of forced labor globally.  The ILO also reports that there are tens of thousands of children working in gold mining today around the world, making the industry a major driver for child labor as well. 
So, the problems are clear — now, how can the industry do better? Conscious jewelry brands like Laura Elizabeth have been paving the way for years, demonstrating how to produce stunning jewelry in a more environmentally and socially responsible manner.
What is Eco-Friendly Jewelry? And What is Ethical Jewelry?
In order to find out if a brand is in fact creating ethical and eco-friendly jewelry, here’s what to look for:
1. Recycled or Vintage Metals
With the amount of gold and other metals in circulation today and the infinite recyclability of these metals, there is little reason to not choose recycled. Especially because recycled gold has the same quality as newly mined gold yet does 99% less damage to the environment, based on an analysis by DELL of various factors, like global warming, acidification, eutrophication, ecotoxicity, and carcinogens. 
Laura Elizabeth is among the companies choosing the conscious (and logical!) choice, using recycled gold and other metals for their uniquely designed and sculptural pieces.
The metal used in the brand’s pieces is sourced from local recycling plants in Los Angeles (with the exception of the chains, wires, and clasps, which are from a jewelry making company called Rio Grande that uses 100% solar-powered energy for their facility and follows ethical sourcing practices).
2. Non-Toxic Washes and Polish
Another dirty secret of the jewelry industry is that many manufacturers use chemicals like cyanide to clean and polish their jewelry, which has even led to some jewelry workers getting cyanide poisoning.  Laura Elizabeth, on the other hand, avoids using acids or hazardous chemicals and uses Seventh Generation’s household cleaning products instead.
3. Prioritize Ethical Production
Similar to the garment industry, many conventional jewelry workshops and factories do not follow fair production practices and just as we ask #WhoMadeMyClothes, we also must dive deeper and ask #WhoMadeMyJewelry.
Laura Elizabeth’s jewelry is made in a small, woman-owned studio in Los Angeles, that Laura has been partnering with for 10 years.
Silva, who owns the studio, ensures fair practices like reasonable working hours (7 hours a day, 5 days per week), proper ventilation, and fair wages, including paying employees 2 weeks additional pay when Los Angeles was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
4. Clean (i.e. Non-Polluting) Production
If you’ve seen the documentary RiverBlue, you’re aware of the problems of improper disposal in the textile industry and the pollution this creates. Again, the jewelry industry is similar. Many manufacturers will dump the plaster used in the production process in the water and sewage system.
The plaster to create Laura Elizabeth’s jewelry though is properly disposed of through a special sewer to ensure that it will not affect any ecosystem.
5. Eco-Minded Packaging
We can’t forget the last stage of the process: the packaging! Typically, packaging materials are made using virgin plastic and/or virgin paper. The more environmentally sound choice is to look for compostable and/or recyclable packaging.
Laura Elizabeth currently uses recycled paper and packaging and will soon by using compostable boxes with biodegradable algae ink.
And that covers many of the elements of what eco-friendly and ethical jewelry is all about!
Laura Elizabeth clearly has these areas covered — the woman-owned and-operated brand creates exceptional jewelry that’s handcrafted with respect to the planet and to the people making and wearing the pieces.
In addition to being earth-minded in their production of the jewelry, many of Laura Elizabeth’s pieces — like her cuffs — were designed by taking inspiration from nature’s elements!
To check Laura Elizabeth’s entire collection of timeless jewelry, visit their website LauraElizabethJewelry.com. You’ll find that Laura’s pieces are stunning by themselves or can easily be mixed, matched, and layered.
Pin this post to reference it later:
- : The Environmental Disaster That is the Gold Industry, Smithsonian Magazine
- : Dirty Gold’s Impacts, Earthworks
- : Liquid Assets 2000: America’s Water Resources at a Turning Point, EPA
-  Gold Demand Sectors, Gold.org
- : How the 20 Tons of Mine Waste Per Gold Ring Figure Was Calculated, Earthworks
- : Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, International Labour Organization
- : Child Labour in Mining, International Labour Organization
- : Net Benefit of Gold Recycling, Dell
- : Acute Cyanide Poisoning Among Jewelry and Textile Workers, The American Journal of Emergency Medicine
You May Also Want to Check Out:
32 Fair Trade and Artisan-Made Jewelry Brands
25+ Conscious Gift Ideas for Everyone on Your List
Living Wages in Fashion: What Will It Take for the Industry to Pay Fair?