It is not too difficult to find old jewelry components that are suitable for being repurposed into new pieces. Your mother’s jewelry box, thrift stores, antique stores — it’s everywhere, really. The trick is in the designing. It takes practice to do it well and have collected components find a home in a new piece. Peiyu Tan, who seems to specialize in repurposed Nepalese jewelry, has done a wonderful job doing just that.
Some years ago, I began to avoid cosmetics with paraben ingredients. I had read about how paraben, which is used as preservative, was an endocrine disruptor and how traces of it can be found in sea life from run-off. It just sounded like bad news to me. (I will bring this back to jewelry, I promise.) So, after years of struggling to avoid it, imagine my relief when the paraben issue caught fire and I could purchase familiar brands in the drugstore with labels that now boasted they were “paraben-free.” But, I found that, if you looked closer, you would often find that other harmful chemicals were put in the place of paraben – those chemicals had just not earned their buzz-word status yet and, therefore, they could escape a consumer’s attention.
I think that the tale of paraben is a cautionary one. When we only have the time or the inclination to educate ourselves about a portion of a problem, we create a marketing trend rather than a solution.
As conscientious consumers, jewelry, poses a number of problems. There is the question of the toll that it can take on the earth — the mining of metal and gems; the chemicals used in production. There is the highly publicized problem of gems as the currency of war. One might also wonder about the labor practices of the mining industries or in the mass production of jewelry. What are we supporting with what we wear on our bodies; become emotionally attached to; give as gifts; and pass on to our children? No one really likes to think about it but, often, we make a statement of tacit approval with the money in our wallets.
As I think I’ve made clear so far, I find jewelry to be an endlessly fascinating art form. It is sculpture and rhythm and color and balance. Jewelry is a storyteller. Each well-loved piece takes on a life of it’s own and, as it’s temporary custodian (because it will likely outlive you), you get to share it’s story and add to it. Not having it in one’s life is not an option. So, what to do about buying it with one’s conscience intact?
There are many “green” jewelry and ethical jewelry options out there these days. Right here in San Francisco, we have Brilliant Earth, a jewelry store founded by Beth Gerstein and Eric Grossberg to address some of the very problems with jewelry I have cited while still creating valuable pieces of fine jewelry. Brilliant Earth has a trusted reputation and has a done a great deal to educate consumers about how to make conscious choices in jewelry purchasing.
On the other hand, I think the idea of green and ethical jewelry is slowly catching on and, perhaps, there in lies the danger — “the paraben effect.” People begin to look for a buzz word that has holds no real standard and then inadvertently perpetuate the problem or create a new one.
While I have no solution to well-meaning consumers being taken in by less well-meaning marketing tactics, I can offer a few suggestions: Know the person attached to the two-hands that make your jewelry. Buy vintage and antique. When appropriate, recycle your metal and gems and have custom pieces made. In a way, all those suggestions are the same. While you might not be able to know everything about the potential pitfalls of jewelry buying, build relationships with jewelers and dealers you trust and avoid uneducated impulse buys. Buy for love and sleep soundly at night.
If one is a jewelry enthusiast like I am, you may have had the experience of cruising the internet for something that captures your attention — something that you have never seen before. One day, back in 2001, I was on such a search and found this piece:
To this day, I have never seen anything like it. It wasn’t expensive as the stones are glass and there isn’t much weight to it. But, it is an antique from the 1800s with white and yellow gold and the stones are nicely flush-set. I wear it more days than not and, for as long as I have had it, I still find myself puzzling over it’s design. It’s sort of in the shape of a signet ring but not really. If the stones were arranged vertically, that would be more expected — but, no, not here. It’s small, delicate and light but the bold, unusual design makes it seem bigger somehow.
Beyond the enjoyment that this ring has given me over the years, the experience of buying it, also gave me one of my favorite places on the internet to drool over gorgeous antique gems — Adin. The real brick-and-mortar Adin is in Belgium and I dream of going there someday. But, in the meantime, I can entertain myself for hours with the stunning website that has hundreds of antique pieces that, for my eye, appear to be fairly priced. There is also an incredible range in price in their merchandise. This piece, at least, also came with a certificate of authenticity.
While I am talking up Adin, allow me to share a nice story that happened to occur in the worst of circumstances and that has given this ring meaning beyond a frivolous internet purchase. I purchased my ring online a few days before that fateful day in September 2001. I had been communicating back and forth with a customer service representative about the re-sizing of the ring due to the different sizing scales between America and Europe. Then, the world changed. I was no where near harm’s way but the Adin customer service rep was thoughtful enough to send me a brief email to say that she hoped that my loved ones and I were all safe. I was really struck by the kindness of that — especially, since everything seemed so unhinged.
I don’t know if Adin sent out such an email to all their American customers or if it was simply a personal message from a kind person. But, it doesn’t matter to me either way. When I look at this ring, it reminds me of connections among strangers and how the world is so small, really, and how much small kindnesses can mean and how they endure. It reminds to behave accordingly.