Your Guide To Shopping Ethical Jewellery: What It Is & How To Identify It

In 2022, conscious shopping is becoming the norm. While sustainable products could be called a trend that poses the risk of giving companies an incentive to greenwash in order to attract customers, consumers are counteracting this by becoming more and more informed. While the apparel industry is infamous for its immense negative impact on the environment, fine jewellery is also a major player. 'Sustainable jewellery' and 'ethical jewellery' are often used synonymously, and while both phrases refer to conflict-free jewellery, the former contains a nuance of being gentle on the environment while the latter is a more general term for eco-friendliness as well as human impact.

What is sustainable and ethical jewellery?

Handmade earrings and ring


First, it'll be important to define the subtle differences in meaning between the two phrases. Sustainable jewellery is defined as products that are responsibly sourced, non-harmful and recycled when possible. These also typically include upcycled materials, fair trade practices and eco-friendly manufacturing. Secondly, ethical jewellery is defined as pieces that uphold

human rights, fair labour practices and sustainability. This category comes with a cause attached to it, whether it’s donating a percentage of profits to charity, supporting small, local craftsmen, or using ethically attained metals in the piece’s construction (That is, from sources that aren’t involved in human rights injustices like child labour, etc.).

A growing number of consumers are interested in the sourcing of precious metals and stones used in accessories, as well as the manufacturing process. For example, in recent years, more consumers have learned about the connection between gemstones and African conflict minerals, which has sparked an interest in conflict-free jewellery. This interest has been spurred by media attention, NGO campaigns and the introduction of legislation in places like the United States and Europe. As awareness of the issue has grown, more jewellers and manufacturers have started to offer conflict-free options.

Why does ethical jewellery matter?

artisan handcrafting


Most people don’t give much thought to the jewellery they buy, but every piece you wear has a story. Even seemingly simple pieces like rings and earrings are often made with precious metals that were mined in conditions that many would consider unethical. Many of the precious metals used in accessories are mined in developing countries where workers are subjected to unsafe working conditions, long hours and low pay.

Humans use ornaments as meaningful symbols of their values and milestones: why can't the power of jewellery go the other way around too? Choosing an ethical alternative to a traditional precious metal ring has the power to make a significant impact.

When you buy ethical accessories, you are supporting businesses that are dedicated to social and environmental responsibility. These businesses are also likely to have higher standards for worker rights, which means that you can feel good about the fact that you’re buying something that was made with a focus on people over profit.

What are the ethical jewellery best practices?

raw gold

Sustainable materials

First, one of the main parts of eco-friendly jewellery is sustainable materials. These raw materials come from a source that can continually be used and/or endlessly recycled. This also means that the source has minimal impact on the environment, such as metals or gems that cause minimal to no environmental harm when being mined, lab-grown diamonds, organic or Fair Trade-certified. Organic materials come from a source that does not use pesticides or chemicals that can be harmful to the environment.

Supply chain transparency

Another best practice that ethical accessories brands can be aware of is supply chain transparency. This means that consumers know where the item is coming from and who made it. There are many brands that offer a “traceability” or “chain of custody” on their website, which means that you can track your necklace or bracelet back to the community or workshop where it was made. This is a great way to verify that it was ethically sourced. Another key tip is to look for pieces made in countries with strong labour laws. Countries like the United States, France and Germany have strict laws that govern the rights of employees.

Positive social/environmental impacts

A third way that ethical ornaments earns its name is through social or environmental initiatives. Some examples of actions that socially responsible jewellery brands can take include rescuing and reusing materials that would have otherwise gone to landfill, donating a percentage of profits to charity, supporting fair trade initiatives, rehabilitating old mining sites, and using profits to restore habitats that are deteriorating due to climate change. Not only that, but choosing a piece of jewellery that supports a cause that is near and dear to you can help you feel even more connected to the piece. This satisfaction could contribute to buying fewer statement pieces, which is a significant factor in practising slow fashion.

Ethics and certifications

There are some industry-wide standards that help to govern the ripple effects of jewellery manufacturing. While there is no single label that ensures the trinket you're browsing is absolutely environmentally-friendly, these third-party certifications can be helpful indicators of ethical practices. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (which addresses conflict diamonds like blood diamonds), Fairtrade Gold (an independent certification for ethical gold), and Responsible Jewellery Council's standards (which cover human rights, environmental practices, and sustainable sourcing practices) are fairly baseline certifications to keep an eye out for.

Economic/social stability of locality where materials are sourced

Another important factor of ethical jewellery is ensuring the economic/social stability of the locality where materials are sourced. Countries such as India, Thailand and Ethiopia are renowned for their production of certain precious and semi-precious stones, but without international fair trade standards, it is critical to research the social and environmental standards of the manufacturer you are buying your products from so that you can help reduce poverty and improve the wellbeing of people in the supplier countries. One practical way to find brands committed to the economic stability of the communities they work with is to look for the Certified Responsible Source for Precious Metals accreditation.

Tips for finding ethical and sustainable jewellery

Handmade Bracelets

On top of looking out for the aforementioned indicators, here are some quick fire tips for shoppers on finding ethical and sustainable gemstones and accessories:

  • Check for an ethical accreditation such as Fair Trade, Eco-Cert or Carbon Reduction. These labels are a good indication that the company has a focus on sustainability.
  • Shop for diamonds with a high carbon reduction percentage. The higher the percentage, the less carbon emitted in the production of the diamond
  • Buy recycled gold or shop for pieces made from Fair Trade gold.
  • Avoid buying jewellery made from organic materials with exhaustible quantities or that require a long time to regenerate, e.g. animal leather, tortoiseshell, amber, pearls and coral.
  • Be aware of greenwashing. 'Ethical' is an umbrella term, so look for specific claims and detailed traceability chains to suss out brands with real credibility.

    How Vipop guarantees ethical jewellery

    It’s an encouraging step that brands are trying to do more to push sustainability in their marketing. However, more than self-satisfied customers who don’t go beyond checking for green buzzwords like ‘organic’ and ‘ethically sourced’, we need more consumers who aren’t willing to sacrifice social and environmental injustices to keep up with the trends. As Vipop’s co-founder Fabiana Gonzalez says, there is no completely sustainable brand – there is only progressing and aiming for 100% by, for instance, offsetting carbon emissions by using certain eco-conscious logistics providers. 

    Vipop’s sustainable fashion designers are discovered at local fashion fairs, go through a strict screening process where sustainability claims are verified in-person or through video call, and collections delivered in small batches to ensure low product waste and carbon emissions from shipping.


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