These gems really treasure our environment

In Ireland, a cohort of exceptionally talented women are leading the way in the production of sustainable jewellery, crafting beautiful pieces with the minimum impact on our planet, says Paul McLauchlan

What is the most important thing when it comes to buying jewellery. Is it sentimentality? Is it its timelessness? Undoubtedly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder but, nowadays, customers have other questions, ones that simply didn’t exist five years ago. Is it sustainable? Is it ethically sourced? Those are today’s questions.

In Ireland, the market for sustainable jewellery is strengthened by a cohort of exceptionally talented women at its core.

The sustainable wave is reaching all areas of society. In fashion, there is a notable difference in the way businesses operate. The emphasis is on ethical sourcing and manufacturing, working towards a cleaner and more sustainable future where supply chains are as transparent as can be.

But, of course, with this comes the greenwashing. What is ethical to one might not be to another. Sustainability could appear differently in my mind than yours. How conscious is conscious?

In Vanity Fair’s annual jewellery supplement which accompanies the August issue, the editorial team reached the conclusion that, ‘“sustainability” is the wrong word for the

jewellery industry.’ They credited the mining of natural, finite resources and the consequences of energy inefficiency as the primary stipulations.

While definitions are up for debate, the women at the forefront of the jewellery industry in Ireland have more than a few things in common but the likeness that sticks out is mindfulness.

“It’s a learning curve for everyone to understand what we can do to help the environment and every act matters,” said Helena Malone, goldsmith.

Maria Dorai-Raj is a Cork-based goldsmith who creates eclectic and modern fine jewellery with a sleek femininity with the environment in mind. Her designs are informed by the beauty and art of nature. Her jewellery is made entirely by hand in her studio, using precious metals and a melange of traditional and modern jewellery-making techniques.

Maria Dorai-Raj
Maria Dorai-Raj

Her locally-made jewellery is stocked in retailers across Ireland by buyers who support the sustainable element of Irish craft.

“As an individual, I am concerned with leaving the lightest of footprints on our beautiful and fragile planet,” Dorai-Raj told the Irish Examiner. “With this in mind, I source my materials from suppliers who are committed to sustainable environmental practices, such as conserving energy and recycling materials. I use eco-silver which is an environmentally friendly and 100% recycled product.”

For Helena Malone, a devotion to ethical craft came naturally after spending a decade in the corporate world of global business. A chance trip to an arts centre in Australia sparked her joy for making, and a career change. The rest is history.

“Having worked in a corporate setting, when I changed career to become a goldsmith I decided, as a personal principle, to work to the best of my ability with the best raw materials I could get at a given time from sources that were considerate and responsible,” says Malone, who works in a studio Wicklow St in Dublin.

Her latest collection, entitled PURE, debuted at Brown Thomas’ 9th annual CREATE showcase which takes place in the Dublin flagship shop during the summer months. Featuring minimal clean lines and texture, the pieces are enriched with Madagascan sapphires and granulation in 18ct gold. Her work is designed to last beyond the temporal world of seasons.

“As a small artisan maker I can make immediate changes — I will continue to attend conferences and speak to experts in the field for advice,” says Malone.

These gems really treasure our environment

“There is no choice. Everyone has seen the news, watched documentaries, and viewed the statistics. I ask myself, ‘what legacy do you want to leave? Did you care enough?’ ‘My ethos is to be environmentally conscious where possible and the use of responsibly-sourced raw materials. To develop a sustainable business I have integrated the use of recycled metals in the last few years.”

Sustainable jewellery is more than just ethically-sourced gemstones, it

encompasses every part of one’s business. Beyond the jewellery itself, countless areas have to be accounted for.

With this in mind, Malone uses recycled packaging, implements a no-plastic policy in her workshop, and shifted to more environmentally cleaning methods and processes. While she adds, “of course, I’m open to help and information to get better,” it’s clear to see that she’s on the right path.

“I’m choosing to build a more environmentally friendly practice with openness and sustainability in mind. Even if it’s not high up on the customer’s list of importance, it comes with the jewellery I make,” said Malone.

E-commerce juggernaut Net-a-Porter brought jewellery to the online world in 2018. From Cartier to de Grisogono, much of what’s on offer boasts an eye-watering price tag but fine jewellery is timeless and that in itself is a sustainable gesture. It serves as a lesson in smart-spending — the jewellery’s equivalent to wardrobe wellness.

These gems really treasure our environment

“Last year we launched our Fine Jewellery and Watches suite, which now consists of over 80 brands. The most expensive item ever sold was a $180k bespoke diamond ring through our personal shopping team,” said Elizabeth von der Goltz, global buying director at Net-a-Porter. “For our customer who has it all, it’s now about customisation. She wants that special bespoke piece just for her and we are becoming the ultimate destination for her to do this.”

“I enjoy pop-ups and fairs as they allow me to meet new clients in person. It’s always exciting to realise their ideas, creating unique, bespoke pieces for them,” Maria Dorai-Raj said.

Customisation and a bespoke service are at the heart of Ann Chapman’s business. She founded Stonechat Jewellers in 2012 at the Westbury Mall in Dublin. They handcraft contemporary jewellery in their in-house workshop, primarily working with customers who come into the shop with their old jewellery that has sentimental and actual value. The process involves melting down old jewellery to reuse old gold and reset old diamonds and coloured gemstones to create a new piece.

Ann Chapman
Ann Chapman

“Customers love making the most of an old piece of jewellery that they may have inherited or that is quite dated. The ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of remodelled jewellery are incredible — it’s amazing what can be achieved," said Chapman.

Stonechat also sells a specially curated range of jewellery from Irish and European makers, as well as designs made in their Dublin-based workshop. Her practice encompasses a more romantic idea of the adage, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Chapman works with a team of six highly-trained goldsmiths and jewellery professionals to execute her vision. “A few heads are better than one, and we all work very well as a team.” Chapman said: “I talk through designs and ideas with customers and then we remodel their jewellery into a beautiful new piece of contemporary jewellery which captures all the heritage and emotion of their original, unused jewellery.”

Malone concurs that recycling jewellery is a viable option for consumers. “Ever since I started my business, I have encouraged customers to recycle by melting old jewellery or using old stones, adding or reworking an existing heirloom to their taste. Everyone walks away happy.” In essence, waste not, want not.

These gems really treasure our environment

“By existing, we use resources and we are responsible for minding them with the future in mind whilst also trying to live a meaningful, fulfilling life,” said Malone.

Beauty comes at a cost and sometimes a positive environmental impact is compromised. However, a move towards a cleaner, greener practice, as proved possible by Ireland’s premier jewellers, is the only way forward.

From reworking old jewellery and rendering it anew, to sustainably sourced gemstones and in-house production, the future for sustainable jewellery is bright. Fully transparent supply chains and 100% sustainability are future possibilities but, right now, all designers can do is their best.

Chapman concludes: “We are responsible for ourselves now as well as the future of the planet and generations to come. I’m not saying that beautifully designed and handcrafted jewellery will save the world, but it does bring great enjoyment and happiness and it is important to make it in as ethical and sustainable as possible.’

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