With climate change becoming more visible in the news day by day it’s not surprising that many ethical buyers are looking to make sure the items they purchase are not connected with harm to the environment.
Most fine jewellery is constructed from precious metals and gemstones which must be mined and extensively refined before reaching their final form. The energy invested in this process is substantial, and the carbon cost can be high, so what can we do to limit or eliminate this cost? Antique jewellery may not be most people’s first thought, but there are many reasons why it is one of the more eco-friendly choices.
Modern mining operations are fraught with ethical concerns. Extracting raw ore and rough gemstones from the earth uses extremely heavy machinery to clear vast areas of land, doing often irreparable damage to the environment and burning fossil fuels which push harmful chemicals into the air. Entire ecosystems can be wiped out in the process, and the pollutants released can extend the damage far beyond the initial site.
Mining is also problematic from a human rights standpoint. Many of the largest reserves are located in developing nations which have previously lacked the resources to extract them. Unfortunately these areas often have little to no legal protections for their workers, which means that they can be exposed to dangerous conditions for low pay.
Older methods of mining undoubtedly caused damage of a similar kind to both the people and places involved, however the technology available was limited, which kept the broader environmental damage to a lower level. Smaller, low tech mines were far from perfect, but the ecological cost was much lower than those caused by modern mining methods.
All precious materials require some manner of work to be done to refine them into a form that a jeweller can use to practise their art. Metal ores must be smelted at high temperature to separate them from their host rock, gemstones must be carefully shorn of the surrounding non-precious materials before being cut and polished.
These processes have been refined over centuries, and new machinery has been created which has allowed them to be performed more quickly and at a larger scale, but these processes have come with a cost. Manually wearing away the facets of a precious stone with hand tools took a long time and required great skill, but it did not require the large amount of energy burned by high-powered abrasive wheels and lasers. Similarly modern smelting furnaces may be able to process many tonnes of raw ore at a time, but although this is more efficient and productive it generates large amounts of environmentally unfriendly substances.
Recently it has become possible to create lab-grown gemstones such as sapphires, emeralds, and even diamonds. Although these chemically identical replacements remove the ecological cost of mining their creation still consumes a large amount of energy. Whilst they may be overall more ethically sound they still contribute new pollutants to the atmosphere, just in a less obvious manner.
Make Do And Mend
One of the reasons that antique jewellery can be more expensive than modern pieces is that a single piece may have taken many weeks of skilled work to produce. Fortunately this need for time and training meant that the carbon cost was extremely small compared to that incurred in modern production.
Of course the main reason why antique jewellery commands a higher price is that less of it has survived to the modern age. There were comparatively few pieces available to begin with, and many have been lost or damaged beyond repair in the intervening years between their creation and present day. The rarity of these pieces means that they typically inspire their owners to act as custodians. Antiques are treated with a greater amount of care. When they acquire wear or damage there is an incentive to repair them, or even to accept their imperfections as a condition of their age – something which proves their status as historic objects.
In choosing a piece of antique jewellery over a modern reproduction a buyer can ensure that their purchase will not contribute to pollution, ecological destruction or human misery. Any damage that was caused by the item’s creation is mitigated by the fact that it has been used and reused by successive generations of owners, eliminating the need to process new materials.
If you are looking for a piece of beautiful jewellery but want to ensure that you are not damaging the planet or its people in the process it is a good idea to find a historic piece which you can preserve so that you, and future generations, can enjoy it without guilt.
At Jewellery Addiction we specialise in pre-loved pieces from bygone times. Our mission is to find reasonably priced, high quality antique jewellery for our customers to enjoy and care for over the course of their lifetimes and beyond.
You can view our full collection here.
Can’t see what you are looking for? We have many connections with jewellers around the world, and our friendly staff will always do their best to help you find your perfect piece.