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Green Is The New Black

Five Things You Didn’t Know About the Jewellery Industry

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Scéona is a fine jewellery company doing things differently. Proving that high-end quality and design can also be sustainable, it’s turning a notoriously unethical industry on its head with its eco-friendly approach.

It’s no secret that the word ‘luxury’ is often code for ‘eco-disaster’. From designer dresses to hotel amenities, most things that boast opulence usually cost the earth – literally. Unfortunately, fine jewellery is no different, often involving processes that are harmful to people and the planet alike. But Singapore-based fine jewellery brand Scéona is refusing to accept that this is the only way.

The company was born out of a belief that people shouldn’t have to compromise between high-end quality and design, and sustainability. They create delicate, minimalist jewellery in a sustainable way and openly chart every step of their process for full transparency.

The main way Scéona honours the planet is by avoiding mining – a notoriously unethical, unsustainable industry. They’re committed to using lab-grown diamonds and 18kt recycled gold; so much so that they currently don’t design necklaces because they haven’t yet found a supplier who can guarantee that they’ll be made from 100% recycled gold. Scéona’s pieces also bust the common myth that lab-grown diamonds aren’t really like natural diamonds. Actually, they both have the same optical, physical, and chemical properties – and you can tell. Yup, lab-grown diamonds are as sparkly and tough as mined diamonds, period. Scéona has also ‘eco-fied’ other areas of the business, from packaging (sustainable) to carbon footprint (offset by partnering with a community tree-growing organisation). 

The first step to buying sustainable jewellery is understanding how most jewellery comes to be and the impact it has on the world around us. Here are five things about traditional industry practices you need to know before making your next fine jewellery purchase. And why we’re grateful Scéona is on the scene.

Mining is an air pollution nightmare

Burning coal and fossil fuels create electricity for gold and diamond mines, but it also creates smog, air pollution, and carbon dioxide. In fact, mining one carat of diamond produces on average 65kg of CO2, significantly higher than lab-grown diamonds (12kg). Alongside mining trucks emitting thick fumes, the equipment that digs gold-mine shafts produces airborne particles that contain dangerous metals and chemicals like mercury and Sulphur Oxide, which can be harmful to anyone exposed to them.

Recycled gold for all

As well as the environmental impact, there’s another strong argument against continuing to mass-mine gold: every year, more than 1,000 tons of gold are mined but not used. This is made even more confusing by the fact that gold (and silver) can be recycled from other jewellery and the things we tend to use and upgrade regularly, such as smartphones, computers, and cars. There are companies dedicated to extracting gold from e-waste (parts of working electronics) and supplying it to eco-conscious brands such as Scéona. Even better, recycled gold is just as valuable as new gold.

Mining is awash with human rights violations

Unfortunately, it’s probably no surprise that the mining industry fosters unethical practices: poor sanitation conditions, non-existent workers’ rights, and meagre wages. But perhaps it is a shock to hear that many miners, especially in under-developed countries, have been forced to work in illegal mines to survive economic and political strain, and are often violently mistreated – and in worst-case scenarios, killed – by the armed groups in control.

It’s bad news for water

It’s not just air that gets polluted in the life cycle of shiny new things; it’s water, too. Toxins from gold and diamond mining, such as cyanide, contaminate the water supply and the soil, and thus find their way into the food chain. Adding to that, the acid that is washed out of mines finds its way into streams and rivers, altering the water pH levels and consequently harming aquatic creatures. Some mining operations even illegally dump toxic byproducts in bays, affecting fishermen and swimmers as well as wildlife. If you need further proof that mining is a water disaster: mined diamonds consume 480 litres of water per carat, compared to the 70 litres needed by lab-grown diamonds.

Conflict-free doesn’t always mean conflict-free

Many diamonds have been certified as ‘conflict-free’ by the Kimberley Process – an anti-conflict diamond scheme that deems diamonds ‘clean’ if they aren’t financed by rebel armed forces. But having this certification doesn’t mean that the diamonds in question are truly conflict-free. Many of these mines still devastate local ecosystems, negatively impact native communities, and mistreat workers. Opting for lab-grown diamonds is the only way to guarantee that you’re buying 100% clean.

This article is brought to you in collaboration with Scéona.

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Sarah is a British-Chinese journalist. She has been writing for magazines, newspapers, and websites for the last nine years, first in London and as of 2016, in Hong Kong. As well as working in journalism, Sarah also runs her own editing business, proofreading for academics, small businesses, and NGOs. An avid fan of the planet, she’s eager to champion brands doing their bit and be a part of the bigger conservation conversation. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, consuming very British quantities of tea and (vegan) biscuits, and befriending the local dogs on the small island she calls home.