It can be a bit daunting to know where to start your ethical fine jewelry search. With all the choices out there I have found there is a lot of misleading info when it comes to designer fine jewelry that is advertised as "ethical". This is the whole spark that inspired my ethical and quality jewelry design mission behind Valley Rose Studio, I was once a shopper and felt frustrated with the lack of info and choices for quality and ethical fine jewelry. A lot of times I invested in jewelry I thought was truly special only to be sorely disappointed when the gold wore off and the gemstones fell out. The gem hunt is especially more difficult if you are looking not only for a quality piece of jewelry but also an ethical, sustainable and conflict free one.
I gathered my expert knowledge and broke it down for you with this helpful how-to guide so you can now make sure you are making the right choice to get the most out of your new piece of fine jewelry.
Why do we want fine jewelry anyways? Fine jewelry is typically purchased to mark a special occasion in one’s life like an engagement, wedding, new career, anniversary, birthday or a new baby. Fine jewelry a lot of times has meaning and symbolism to the wearer like including a birthstone, or getting your initials engraved. Fine jewelry can also be an investment, just like buying stocks, it has a great resale value and can be a way to pass on your legacy to your family and loved ones. I also consider fine jewelry, to be generally sustainable when the pieces are truly made to last. Fine jewelry never goes back into the landfill and recycling and salvaging fine jewelry materials is common place in the industry. Which is why I love this medium so much!
Fine jewelry always tells a story, a family legacy, religion, symbol of a loved one, or a cherished moment in your life like the birth of a child, wedding or anniversary. One of the earliest purposes of jewelry was to symbolize spirituality and for that reason jewelry can be a comforting and powerful talisman to emulate your intentions or the values you hold dear. Whatever the purpose the meaning behind the piece will help guide your shopping journey and add symbolic meaning to your life.
Fairmined Gold is the leading industry sustainable and ethical gold choice. To be fairmined, the gold should be from responsible Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM). The gold we use is from Hoover & Strong and is backed by a rigorous 3rd party certification and audit system that ensures that small entrepreneurial mining communities meet world leading standards for responsible practices. Fairmined transforms mining into an active force for good, delivering social development and environmental protection, providing everyone with a source of gold they can be proud of. While recycling gold is still a sustainable and ethical option, it doesn't provide a solution for how the majority of the gold in the world is obtained. Buying fairmined gold helps to invest in the social, economic and environmentally sustainable development of miners, their families, workers and the community.
Although Recycling metal requires minimal environmental impact and is very easy process, it should be considered a neutral choice when it comes to ethical jewelry. Modern mining is taxing on natural resources, but recycling gold has shown to have had zero impact on the planet's destructive mining industry. Which is why in this moment in time gold that can claim be actively ethical is gold that is mined in a positive way like Fairmined gold mentioned above. It is important to recognize recycled metals for what they are and are not, we are no where near a circular economy for gold for the recycling to have a positive impact. Our attention needs to be focused on cleaning up the current mining crisis and when that is at the least destructive level, then recycling gold may have more positive impacts.
Fine jewelry is generally made from these precious metals:
The gold karat alloys vary in concentration of gold with 10K being the minimum standard for fine jewelry and 24K being pure gold. It is common practice for fine jewelry alloys to have a mix of other metals to make the perfect recipe for affordability, hue, tarnish resistance and durability. Jewelry is typically not made in pure silver or pure gold because those precious metals are very soft and will warp with regular wear. A little bit copper or other metal is needed to make precious metals practical for long term wear.
Plating is essentially a thin coat of gold bonded to a cheaper base metal like brass, nickel or sterling. The vermeil technique being the thickest form of plating and is defined as the thickest plating over sterling silver. All plating types will eventually wear off with regular wear. At Valley Rose, we stay away from making any jewelry that has a shortened lifespan from being made with plating techniques. There are environmental issues with planned obsolescence and using these types of processes in jewelry making. Instead we favor pieces that are built to last and handmade with solid gold or other precious metal.
Conflict free or ethical gemstones is a term that refers to gemstones that are obtained through the Kimberly Process, but does not mean they have any safe environmentally friendly mining and labor practices. The serious issues that plague the gem trade are: slavery, life threatening working conditions, financing civil wars, child labor, and environmental damage and conflict-free certifications do not even cover a fraction of the issues. The supply chain is very corrupt and often times a stone will transfer hands so many times that the origins and sources of the stones are unknown making conflict-free claims very hard to validate. This is especially true for the precious gemstones like diamonds, rubies, sapphires and garnet. So extra care and research needs to go into sourcing these stones. The demand and awareness for ethical gems will help to eradicate this devastating practice and ensure we know how our gemstones are being mined.
These cultured gemstones are chemically and almost visually the same as naturally created precious gemstones and offer a way smaller impact on the environment with no risk for human endangerment. Cultured gemstones also offer fewer flaws and way smaller carbon footprint than traditionally mined gems. Lab grown gemstones are made by mimicking the process of nature, but instead of taking over millions of years, they can grow a gemstones in a few months.
Natural gems can also be recycled or salvaged from vintage jewelry or of vintage stock from a closed jewelry estate. Vintage diamonds and other precious gemstones are a great ethical alternative when shopping for fine jewelry.
Precious gemstones are typically gems that have a high on MOHs hardness scale and can withstand centuries of wear and are also considered by experts to be very rare with incredible sparkle & clarity. Diamonds are the hardest gemstone and are 10 on the MOHs scale.
Semi-precious gems are typically not as rare or perceived as valuable as precious gemstones and are generally ethical and are easiest to source conflict free due to the lower demand. These gems vary in structure and hardness, and are typically not as strong as precious gemstones making them a little more delicate and generally not as suitable for long term regular wear when it comes to fine jewelry.
These days with all the independent designers out there you do not have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on fine jewelry. The pricing of jewelry can be determined by these factors:
Cost of Materials:
I’ve fallen prey to the allure of fast fashion and the latest trends or buying something that looks amazing on in an editorial spread but not so great on myself. The reality is that sometimes the impulse design choices are not practical for fine jewelry.
Some trendy styles like heavily weighted, pointy and sharp corners can be very problematic for wearing everyday. Try on the the pieces you are interested in and think about how they would interfere with putting on a sweater or putting your hand through your hair.
Sometimes the design of the piece is simply not practical nor is it built to last.
Some issues to look out for include:
Jewelry and body adornment is a fascinating practice that has been around for 75,000 years. Once human civilization was satisfied with basic needs like hunger and thirst, people had space to be creative and adorn their bodies with crafted sculptures to signify status, identity, or spirituality. Modern jewelry has much of the same purpose today as did our ancient ancestors and is constantly evolving and reflecting the current human culture. I hope you found my tips to searching for ethical fine jewelry helpful and would love to hear if you have any additions!
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Print and download this chart to find your ring size. Make sure you use exactly 8.5"x11" letter paper. You can use a string or a piece of paper and wrap around your finger or nuckle to measure the circumference and match to your size.
Follow this chart to see where the necklace will fall. All necklace sizes are described on the product pages. We suggest getting a piece of string and measuring necklace on your neck to ensure best fit.
To keep your jewels looking their best please keep these tips in mind to extend the life of your pieces.