On a macro level (in a nutshell) it is the transparent and responsible sourcing practices in the jewelry supply chain and the use of sustainable materials.
It has a minimal impact on the environment, is not involved with conflict, and gives back to workers by way of fair wages and safe working environments.
On a micro level though, what a sustainable jewelry industry looks like is kind of like sustainable fashion... overwhelmingly complicated and more than a little convoluted.
They share lots of elements, like supply chain concerns and overconsumption. However, the jewelry supply chain adds yet another complexity—mining.
This presents additional concerns for environmental and social welfare.
Precious metals can be recycled. Silver and gold can be easily melted and reformed into a new piece of jewelry. They don’t lose their qualities—which is great from both an environmental and financial standpoint.
While it’s more difficult (and generally not as profitable), gemstones can also be recycled. However, for it to be sustainable, this generally can only happen on a small artisanal scale.
Recycled jewelry is better for the environment because it doesn’t require mining. It doesn’t require the use of cyanide solvents to separate it. It isn’t associated with environmental damaging.
It also gives a second life to that antique brooch or damaged necklace. It allows us to see precious metals as exactly that: precious. It gives gold and silver the chance to shine again and teaches us that we shouldn’t be so cavalier in our treatment of these materials.