A circular economy is a model of production and consumption based upon sharing, leasing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products for as long as possible. In our current state of climate emergency, our need for circular economies is more pressing than ever. But how does the notion of circularity translate in jewellery terms?
This blog post explores some of the benefits of circular economies, the circular strategies that Lebrusan Studio adopts as a sustainable jewellery brand, and whether total circularity within the jewellery industry is truly sustainable.
Referenced throughout is Circular Jewellery, the three-part blog series presented by Levin Sources’ Estelle Levin and sustainable jewellery and fashion researcher, consultant, writer, lecturer and circularity advocate Danielle Keller Aviram.
We’re all familiar with the basic ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ approach to waste management, which centres on repairing, restoring, recovering and replacing. But, Estelle and Danielle observe, circularity also compels us to refuse, reject and rethink.
Largely, this means limiting our use of non-renewable resources, whether that be spurning single-use plastic packaging or completely avoiding all newly-mined metals and gemstones, whose deposits are finite and whose extraction involves the use of coal, gas, oil and nuclear energy. It also means thinking carefully about how the waste from one process may be converted into an input material for a different product, often crossing the border from one industry to another. (Think recovering precious metal from discarded old circuit boards to create new pieces of jewellery!)
All in all, this innovative mode of thinking gives rise to what’s known as ‘resource efficiency’: The act of maximising supplies of assets such as money and materials, and minimising the waste of natural resources whilst doing so. Models and processes that foster resource efficiency generate additional economic value and result in lower taxation, as regulators like the EU have begun penalising wasteful practises. Financially, circularity is an undoubtedly savvy approach to business.
Of course, however, the primary benefits of a circular economy are environmental. Circularity is one of the United Nations’ key Sustainable Development Goals, as captured in SDG12. Implementing circularity can result in:
💨 Lower pollution of air, water, and soil, including lower carbon emissions. For example, the act of recycling gold is thought to yield 99.8% fewer CO2 emissions per tonne than the primary production process. Reducing contribution to climate change means protecting the human right to a clean environment
💧 Lower water usage
🌳 Protection of forests and biodiversity by reducing demand for mined materials
🧪 Minimised chemical usage and the safe disposal of chemicals
🤍 Greater transparency in the re-use of materials, leading to greater accountability
Though we’ll leave it to Estelle and Danielle to discuss what the jewellery sector might need to become circular as a whole, we can offer an insight into some of the circular processes we implement within our jewellery business.
One of the most straightforward approaches to circularity is creating new pieces of jewellery entirely from recycled materials. For the past three consecutive years, reclaimed diamonds and recycled gold have proven the most popular material choices amongst our engagement ring clients. This trend is largely due to the affordability of recycled materials in comparison to traceable and newly mined alternatives. For example, a reclaimed diamond costs roughly 20% less than a newly mined Canadian diamond of exactly the same size and cut. Likewise, recycled gold is approximately 10% cheaper than Fairtrade Gold. This tendency also reflects an increased acknowledgement of the climate emergency, with De Beers revealing last year that 58% of global consumers would now only purchase a diamond that’s been obtained in an environmentally responsible way.
Alongside our default offering of recycled gold and platinum, reclaimed old-cut diamonds and a stock of ready-to-choose recycled gemstones, we also provide a bespoke remodelling service. For clients that are sitting on old jewellery – whether inherited family heirlooms or outdated pieces of their own – this is an opportunity to repurpose precious materials that are already within their possession, honouring legacy and sentiments in the process. As advocates of circularity we encourage this kind of emotional attachment to the jewellery we create, as evidence shows that a personal connection to an item is likely to increase its lifespan. Naturally, a piece of jewellery that once belonged to a loved one or symbolises a special event is very difficult to discard.
As such, sustainable jewellery design is not just the physical process of reducing our consumption of non-renewable resources, minimising waste, embracing environmentally friendly processes and materials, and employing skilled craftspeople who create jewellery that lasts. It’s also a philosophy that can increase the inherent value of the final product in the eyes of our client. As well as our bespoke remodelling service, we impart detailed jewellery maintenance tips and generally foster a collaborative approach to customer service, be that via our bespoke service or the host of customisation options inherent in the made-to-order system.
Decades of surplus wealth and overconsumption have generated a culture of wastefulness. As we transition from an era of overabundance into one of resource scarcity, it’s important that we design for longevity and personal significance.
Global warming has reached crisis point and it’s vital that we slow the rate at which we’re emitting carbon and expending finite resources. It’s undeniable that circular economies alleviate the strain on our planet, making recycled materials a no-brainer for any jewellery shopper who prioritises environmental sustainability above all. A new piece of jewellery is a particularly which deals primarily in hardy precious materials like platinum, gold and diamonds. These substances don’t biodegrade and boast characteristics that enable them to be used again and again and again, without their performance impacted.
For example, 100% of the gold ever mined since the beginning of human history still exists with us above-ground. That’s hundreds and thousands of tons of gold. Why wouldn’t we make use of some of it?
That said, by focussing exclusively on recycled materials for the sake of an environmentally sustainable future, we risk putting 15 to 20 million artisanal and small-scale (ASM) miners out of work and destroying whole communities who depend on this line of income. According to the Doughnut Economics framework upon which we base all of our business decisions here at Lebrusan Studio, long-term socioeconomic sustainability is just as pressing as the needs of our planet. Incorporating traceable, newly-mined materials like Fairmined Ecological Gold and Ocean Diamonds into our offering alongside recycled materials is an opportunity for us to also invest in ASM miners and ensure their fair wages, fair trading opportunities, safe working conditions, healthcare and future prospects. Although the primary benefits of investing in artisanal materials are humanitarian, some ASM mines are even champions of environmental sustainability, too. There are Fairmined Ecological Gold mines in Peru, for example, where gold is extracted without the use of any mercury or cyanide whatsoever. Work practise here is entirely circular, from water resources to electricity and the storing of excavated earth. Investing in circular economies as a jeweller isn’t necessarily an ‘all or nothing’ approach – there are means of embracing circular materials and processes without neglecting the needs of the human beings in the equation.
To learn more about the circularity model in the context of the jewellery industry beyond this rudimentary introduction, check outLevin Sources’ blog series and theFair Luxury Open House wherein our Creative Director Arabel Lebrusan discusses circular economies directly with Danielle Keller Aviram herself.