Many of us are trying to change our buying behaviors, and where we can, we are now making more sustainable purchasing decisions.
That could be buying products that avoid plastic, are made from sustainable or renewable materials, or are from companies that prioritize ethical working conditions.
One industry that doesn’t have the best reputation for sustainability is fashion, with fast fashion being the main culprit – in particular, plastic fibers polluting the oceans, the associated wastewater, toxic dyes, and exploitation of underpaid workers.
But that doesn’t mean we should avoid wearing and buying jewelry; we just need to make considered changes to the way we purchase and use it.
Here are our tips to help you give unused and sentimental pieces of jewelry a new lease of life, and create sustainable heirlooms of your own!
8 Tips: Sustainable Heirlooms & Sentimental Jewelry
1: Vintage Repurposing for Eye-catching Gems
Perhaps you no longer wear a pair of treasured earrings because the backs are damaged, but they have eye-catching jewels (fake or real) that you don’t want to waste.
Or maybe your ‘costume’ rings no longer fit, but they have pretty jewels that deserve to be seen rather than hidden away in a dark drawer.
We can use our old bling for a multitude of repurposing projects to unleash our creative side; all we need are some basic jewelry-making tools like pliers, cutters, saws, files, and hammers.
This video by Melissa Dusenberry details what sustainable and ethical jewelry is all about:
There are multiple ways to repurpose the jewelry you love, to create sentimental pieces that will last for years and even become sustainable heirlooms for your family.
This could be anything from designing bejeweled art, creating sparkling embellishments for accessories, or making new handles for drawers. The only real limitations are our technical ability and creativity.
2: Saving Old Treasures
While we can spend our hobby time repurposing elements of our costume jewelry to create something different, it requires specialist equipment, and years of experience, to restore or repurpose used items into another fine piece of jewelry.
If you’re going to create sustainable heirlooms to last generations, the technical experience of a master jeweler is invaluable for repairing broken items and avoiding the loss of such pieces.
Jewelers can also help to make jewelry bigger or smaller, which is great if you have inherited a piece from a loved one but it doesn’t fit.
You can also hire the services of a jeweler to repurpose your old jewelry to make new pieces that are unique and combine vintage and contemporary styling.
This could be something as simple as taking the original gemstone and setting it into a new piece created from the original metal or taking several elements from various jewelry items and combining them into one cohesive piece.
3: Bespoke Jewelry for a Special Occasion
Weddings and engagements are a time for celebration and are commonly marked with sentimental jewelry pieces (that are often passed down and, over time, become sustainable heirlooms).
While our wedding rings are typically a simple band to show our commitment to our significant other, engagement rings are an opportunity to wear something extravagant.
This is also a great way to upcycle or repurpose a ring or piece of jewelry that you have inherited from a family member.
You can remodel and revitalize an old jewelry piece to avoid the need for more precious metals or jewels to be mined.
And, more importantly, you can wear an engagement ring that has greater significance as you carry around the memory of your relative as part of your celebration: jewelry pieces that are truly meaningful and valuable sustainable heirlooms.
4: Circularity in Jewelry
A circular economy approach is not something new to many people who are already making changes to their buying behavior in pursuit of a more sustainable lifestyle.
In a nutshell, the circular economy is an economic system based on reducing, reusing, upcycling, and repurposing with the goal of reducing the amount of waste that finds its way into landfill.
From responsibly sourcing materials, low-impact manufacturing, and packaging to considered use, disassembly, and circular design principles, circularity in the jewelry industry requires a holistic approach to reduce its environmental and social impact.
The sustainability gains from this circular approach include:
- Lower pollution of air, water, and soil
- Reduced water use
- Less waste production
- Reduced impacts on biodiversity
- Minimized chemical usage
5: Embellish What You Love to Create Unique Jewelry
We don’t have to remove something from an older piece of jewelry to give it a new lease of life; we can also embellish it to give it a transformation.
For example, this could be a boring pair of earrings that you add some simple tassels to using colored string to make your jewelry feel more bohemian.
Similarly, any tattered metallic jewelry that no longer looks its best can be tightly wrapped using vibrant fabric to create a new and eye-catching piece that is once again comfortable to wear.
Sustainable heirlooms do not have to be made of highly valuable materials like gold and diamonds. Any piece that is made to last and can be handed down is just as meaningful, if not more so, because it was made by you.
6: Donate, Sell, and Buy Used Jewelry
Consumerism is a dangerous cycle that quickly gets its hooks into you, and it’s hard to break free from.
But, rather than buying items only to throw them away once you’ve grown tired of them, there is another way to avoid adding to the throwaway attitude of many – buying and selling used fashion.
Whether you have one or several pieces of jewelry that you no longer wear, you can donate these or consider selling them via online marketplaces to allow someone else to enjoy them.
With so many people trying to buy more conscientiously, the rise of used and vintage websites or apps has been significant in recent years.
Dedicated vintage fashion sites like Vinted or Depop allow their online communities (in the US, UK, EU, and beyond) to buy and sell a wide range of fashion items, from clothes and jewelry to beauty products and even pet care items.
There are also classic online marketplaces such as eBay and Gumtree that allow you to buy and sell used jewelry items, helping to avoid them ending up in a landfill.
7: Shopping for Jewelry as a Conscious Consumer
Conscious consumerism is on the rise in the jewelry sector, with businesses and consumers doing their bit to live more sustainably, helping to combat the effects of climate change.
While it may always be nice to buy new shiny things and luxury jewelry, one of the major ways society has changed in recent years has been with a shared desire to shop more carefully, consciously, which equates to choosing sustainable options.
Nowadays, it’s cool to be eco-friendly, and there remains a sizeable shift in how consumers decide to improve their way of living and shopping while also protecting the planet.
Within the jewelry and accessory industries, for example, many brands have substantially stepped up their commitment to producing items with recycled materials and environmentally-sourced gems, decorative stones, and metals.
Everything we buy now comes with a sustainable affinity attached to it, and whether you like it or not, we’ve all been doing our part.
Companies are putting sustainability at the front and center of their business philosophies, implementing specialist programs to encourage their customers to choose antique or pre-owned items.
This way of thinking has been embraced by consumers who care more about the welfare of people making jewelry, changing the way they think, act, and make decisions about purchasing luxury jewelry and goods.
In a collective way, consumers are choosing to shop for luxury items more sustainably by deciding not to throw away a broken watch, for instance, and to have it repaired and refurbished instead.
Watches handed down make great sustainable heirlooms for men, if they’re not keen on wearing rings or other decorative jewelry pieces.
8: Sustainable Heirlooms – Avoiding Further Waste
Whether we embellish, repair, upcycle, or repurpose, our treasured old jewelry doesn’t have to be shoved into a box to be forgotten about or discarded once we are done with it.
We can help give it a second chance for future generations by creating something new or passing it on to someone else who will get to wear it with the same love and pride that we once did.
About the Author
Annie Button is a freelance writer who has written for various online and print publications specializing in lifestyle, business, branding, and career development.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is meant by a circular economy?
A circular economy is an economic system aimed at reducing waste and continual resource use through strategies like recycling, product longevity, sharing over ownership, and turning waste into resources. By imitating natural systems where nothing is wasted, it fosters sustainability and reduces the environmental impact. Read the full guide for more.
Is upcycling jewelry expensive?
The cost of upcycling jewelry varies widely depending on the materials you use and the complexity of the design. It can be economical when using existing materials and doing it yourself. However, if you're hiring a professional or using precious materials, it can be more expensive. More importantly, though, upcycling jewelry is sustainable and an eco-conscious creative approach to jewelry making, which, in essence, is far more valuable! Read the full guide for more on upcycling jewelry.
How can I be more sustainable with my jewelry?
To become more sustainable with your jewelry, consider purchasing from brands that prioritize ethical sourcing and sustainable practices, such as using recycled metals and conflict-free gems. For more sustainable jewelry, buy from ethical, eco-conscious brands, prioritizing quality over quantity to ensure longevity. Maintain pieces well to extend their lifespan, and when no longer needed, opt to sell, donate, or recycle them. Consider sustainable materials like wood, glass, or recycled plastics as alternatives to traditional metals and gems. Read the full guide to learn more about sustainable jewelry and sustainable heirloom pieces.
References & Useful Resources
Kernowcraft: Basic Tools For Jewellery-Making Beginners
National Jeweler: What to Know About Consumers in 2023