Your Complete Sustainable Jewelry Buying Guide: Tips, Labels & 13 Top Brands
Diamonds are forever, and unfortunately, their environmental impact is too. Like the fashion industry, the jewelry industry has a large carbon footprint and high environmental costs. But as the slow fashion movement comes for our clothes, our jewelry is also starting to get a sustainable, ethical upgrade. Here's how to find gems and jewels that are better for the planet and its people.
How can you tell if jewelry is sustainable?
When shopping for sustainable pieces, you'll want to think about their entire lifespan: what materials they're made of, where and how those materials were extracted, who touched them, and what will happen to them after you're done with them.
1. It uses recycled metals and stones.
Precious metals like gold and silver are endlessly recyclable, meaning they can be reused again and again without losing their quality. Certain diamonds and gems can also be repurposed into new pieces.
Jewelry that is made from recycled material is almost guaranteed to be lower in impact than a brand-new piece since it doesn't contribute to extractive mining. One recent lifestyle assessment on recycled gold, for example, found that it was 300 times better than primary production in terms of its energy demand and global warming potential.
While most jewelry companies source their recycled material from within the jewelry supply chain, some are now using materials from other industries like tech (think computer parts and circuit boards).
2. It has a transparent supply chain.
While gold and silver markets tend to be more straightforward, diamonds and gems can pass through a lot of hands before they get to your wardrobe. So if you're buying new, Dittmer says it's essential to look for pieces that have fully traceable supply chains and are certified conflict-free—meaning they weren't sold by rebel groups to fund military activity and violence.
This can be a tricky business, but shopping from local artisans tends to be the most transparent choice. When expanding your search outward, some certification programs verify the supply chain of jewels that have been imported to the U.S. (more on those below).
3. It uses low-impact processing.
Once metals and gems are mined, they need to be cut, processed, and styled into wearable pieces, which requires a lot of energy and potentially some hazardous chemicals. When shopping for a piece, look for companies that use low-impact processing, run on renewable power, or offset their emissions.
4. It's lab-grown.
Lab-grown diamonds are manufactured in the high-heat conditions of a laboratory so you don't need to worry about their sourcing. (That being said, these gems can also put jewelry workers around the world out of a job—there are always trade-offs!)
First created in the 1950s, the stones mimic true gems very well, and large jewelers are taking notice: Pandora, for example, just launched its own lab-grown collection.
"I have not worked with any pieces personally, but from my research, it appears the process is often able to avoid social and environmental conflicts, lessen harsh community impacts, decrease energy and resources usage, improve quality, and is often more affordable," says Dittmer. "Overall they appear to have great value, and I would love to see more companies explore and expand this movement."
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5. It's made to last and priced fairly.
Jones says that when shopping for sustainable jewelry, opting for quality over quantity is always a smart move. Whether you're going with recycled, new, or lab-grown pieces, invest in ones that are well made and timeless.
While those plastic throwaways you see in the checkout aisle might be more affordable at first, their price per wear is probably comparable to more expensive pieces that will last you a lifetime.
Labels to look for.
The complicated supply chains and global nature of the jewelry business mean that certifications and labels can be difficult to monitor, and Dittmer says that different countries will often have their own standards in place.
However, these are a few well-known labels and processes that seek to certify ethical and sustainable jewelry in the U.S. They're not perfect, but they do add some much-needed transparency to the industry and can help guide your search:
- Fair Trade Certified: This is one seal that Dittmer says is well-respected in the industry. Fairtrade International seeks to certify products that empower workers with standards that prioritize equitable pay and safe, legal working conditions.
- The Kimberly Process (for diamonds): This international certification scheme works with countries around the world to phase out conflict diamonds.
- Fairmined (for metals): This standard certifies gold, silver, and platinum that come from small-scale mining communities that use sustainable extraction practices. Reduced chemical use and native ecosystem rehabilitation are a few of the things they look for.
- Gemological Institute of America (for gemstones): This nonprofit evaluates and grades diamonds, stones, and pearls based on authenticity and quality. It can ensure that the piece you're buying is real, but it doesn't say much about its environmental impact.
Silver or gold?
According to a 2019 life-cycle analysis on the two most popular precious metals, silver tends to have a lower environmental impact than gold (though they both contribute more to climate change than materials like zinc and copper).
Gold pieces require more fossil fuels and electricity to create and tend to lead to chemical runoff that can damage natural ecosystems. So if you're going to go for the gold, make sure it's recycled.
13 sustainable, ethical jewelry brands.
These companies prove that jewelry can still tick off your sustainable boxes and still be lovely. Peek through to find your next stylish statement piece:
1. Anndra Neen
Anndra Neen's one-of-a-kind metal earrings, cuffs, rings, and necklaces are great for everyday wear. Every piece is handcrafted by artisans in Mexico City, and the brand's founders, Phoebe and Annette Stephens, travel there every two months to oversee production and ensure transparency.
Sustainability perks: Handcrafted, transparent supply chain that uses metals and not stones (which tend to be harder to trace)
Other perks: One-of-kind designs
Price point: $85–$225
Aurate is a larger brand that sells every type of gold jewelry under the sun, from second-skin necklaces to high-end statement pieces. The common thread? All their gold is recycled, and all their diamonds are certified conflict-free by the Kimberly Process.
Sustainability perks: Recycled gold, conflict-free diamonds
Other perks: Large selection at various price points
Price point: $65–$1,200
3. Bario Neal
Dittmer looks to Bario Neal as a leader in sustainable sourcing. The Philadelphia-based custom jeweler works primarily with recycled materials, and any new metal they use is Fairmined while new gems are traceable. Founders Anna Bario and Page Neal are both very involved in the ethical jewelry business and serve as founding members of the Ethical Metalsmiths Jewelers Directory and the Ethical Sourcing Consortium. They specialize in rings (engagement and otherwise) but make lovely necklaces, bracelets, and custom pieces too.
Sustainability perks: Use mostly recycled materials, with some Fairmined metal and traceable gems
Other perks: Offer custom and personalized pieces, U.S.-based
Price point: $67–$5,000
4. Bayou With Love
Founded by actress and environmentalist Nikki Reed, Bayou With Love partners will Dell to make jewelry out of discarded technology. (Yep, e-waste can make for some killer earrings.) Most of their diamonds are from Diamond Foundry, a carbon-neutral producer. Bayou sells earrings, accessories, rings, and necklaces, and Jones loves their colorful designs that are unique yet totally timeless.
Sustainability perks: Uses recycled metals from old tech and carbon-neutral diamonds
Other perks: Colorful and unique designs, U.S.-based
Price point: $187–$20,000+
5. BR Design Co.
Not a diamond fan? BR Design Co. is a Charleston-based company that specializes in traditional clay jewelry. Founded by two sisters that learned the craft from their mother, they sell handmade earrings that are lightweight, beautifully shaped, and affordable.
Sustainability perks: Handmade, diamond-free
Other perks: Affordable, U.S.-based
Price point: $24–$34
Brooklyn-based jeweler Catbird gives public tours of its production factory every month (you can't get more transparent than that). They sell a variety of jewelry, engagement rings, and accessories made from recycled, ethically sourced, and conflict-free materials.
Sustainability perks: Uses recycled and conflict-free material, transparent factory
Other perks: Come in a variety of styles and prices
Price point: $14–$13,000
Jones is a fan of Futura's timeless styles made from Fairmined Ecological gold. The more rigorous of the two Fairmined standards, ecological gold is mined without the use of toxic chemicals like mercury and cyanide. Futura gets theirs from one of three certified mines and turns it into a small collection of classic, streamlined pieces any minimalist would love to wear for life.
Sustainability perks: Uses Fairmined Ecological gold
Other perks: Minimalist, delicate designs
Price point: $1,250–$17,500
8. Karo Koru
Pandemic-born company Karo Koru specializes in colorful necklaces and bracelets. Made from recycled and reused beads, pearls, and glassware sourced from estate sales and vintage jewelers, each piece is an arts-and-crafts project, elevated. The founder, Karo, handmakes each one in her Los Angeles home.
Sustainability perks: Made from reclaimed materials
Other perks: U.S.-based, handmade
Price point: $82–$198
Another top pick of Dittmer's, Kimai combines lab diamonds and 18-carat recycled gold into delicate, elegant pieces for men and women. The female-founded company is based in Antwerp, Belgium, but ships across the U.S.
Sustainability perks: Recycled gold, lab-grown diamonds
Other perks: Offer styles for men and women
Price point: $225–$2,750
10. Melissa Joy Manning
Designer Melissa Joy Manning specializes in heirloom pieces, designed to be passed down through generations. Each one is made to order in California using recycled metals and responsibly sourced stones, purchased from domestic sources when possible.
Sustainability perks: Made from recycled metals and responsibly sourced stones
Other perks: U.S.-based
Price point: $40–$10,100
Mociun's jewelry and engagement rings are a feast for the eyes, often featuring intricate, unusual diamonds and gemstones. Every piece is designed by founder Caitlin Mociun and produced by New York City–based jewelers. Mociun also sells a colorful array of home goods and a curated vintage collection full of whimsy picks (egg-shaped locket or fencer charm, anyone?).
Sustainability perks: Vintage options
Other perks: Unique designs, U.S.-based
Price point: $170–$90,000+
12. Monique Péan
Monique Péan approaches jewelry with an artist's eye, and poking through her site feels more like visiting a gallery or natural history museum. Her collections feature rare materials like fossilized dinosaur bones and recycled platinum in intricate designs. They, unsurprisingly, come at a high price tag, but Jones says if you can afford them, these forever pieces are well worth it.
Sustainability perks: Uses mostly recycled stones and metals
Other perks: Made from rare materials
Price point: $2,000+
13. Pamela Love
Pamela Love counts astronomy, astrology, and alchemy as her design influences, and it comes through in her mystical collections. Her extensive jewelry line is made from recycled metal and conflict-free or upcycled stones. The NYC-based company collaborates with makers around the world and partners with artisan entrepreneurs in Afghanistan.
Sustainability perks: Uses recycled and vintage materials
Other perks: Unique designs
Price point: $80–$6,000
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