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The world’s your oyster when choosing pearls. And now these eternal gemstones have made a comeback. And we say “there is always a more eco-conscious way”, so here we help you discover the treasures of the ocean and show you how to fancy sustainable pearl jewelry instead!
We’ve all heard about the negative environmental and social impact of fast fashion. The apparel sector creates far more emissions than the airline industry and many people, women and children especially, work in dangerous conditions for low wages to create clothes that are designed to fall apart so that you have to keep buying more. But what about accessories? In keeping with slow fashion principles, you want to pick ethical options for your gemstones and pearls as well. As with clothing, there are many different steps in creating a piece of jewelry.
This can make it hard to track them all, but this also means there are many ways for you to have a positive impact. Read on to learn about different ways to choose sustainable pearl jewelry.
Until the last century, pearls were incredibly rare. A pearl only appeared in about one out of ten thousand oysters. For a long time, pearls were reserved for royalty, but the practice of culturing changed that and pearls became accessible to the general public. Cultured pearls are just like natural pearls — except they’re a lot more affordable, whether talking about pieces like classic pearl necklaces or leather pearl jewelry.
Pearls are the only gem grown by a living organism. Unlike other gemstones that must be mined out of the earth, pearls are grown in water. Also unlike gemstone mining, which is known to damage the environment, pearls are far more eco-conscious. While there is currently no certification for cultured pearls, some jewelers are beginning to offer traceable pearls, meaning every part of the supply chain is transparent and trackable.
Pearl oysters grow best in clean water, making it in every pearl farmer’s interest to care for their oysters by implementing eco-friendly practices. Even better, oyster farms can actually improve local ecosystems. Oysters filter nitrogen and heavy metals from the water, and studies are currently underway to explore the possibilities of using oysters as a bio-solution to clean up polluted water. This is the only way to ensure sustainable pearl jewelry at the end of this process.
Another way pearl farmers are instituting sustainable practices is by reducing carbon emissions. Mikimoto has had a zero-waste emission policy for the past decade, and the family-run Kamoke Pearl has grown Tahitian pearls in eco-conscious ways for generations. Kamoke has also implemented a system to clean the oysters organically and banned high-power hoses that were having an impact on the ecosystem. Some designers and retailers such as Ana Luisa are also opting to go carbon-neutral via recyclable packaging and environmental initiatives such as planting trees and other carbon offsets.
Still, other businesses are addressing the humanitarian angle of production. Inspired by change-making women, The Pearl Source created the Power Pearls collection and is donating a portion of the proceeds to the not-for-profit organization Dress for Success which empowers women around the world to take charge of their economic wellbeing. Women-owned Catbird is another business that donates to a variety of causes including Doctors Without Borders, War Child, and many local charities, schools, and organizations.
Reclaim & Reuse
Pearls themselves may be eco-friendly, but there is still more that goes into making jewelry. Most gems require some sort of setting, and that usually means using metals. Many poisonous substances are used for metal ore extraction, including arsenic, cyanide, and mercury. Worse, these toxic materials are often dumped into the surrounding waterways, harming local human and animal populations. Metal extraction can also significantly impact air quality as well as create noise pollution which further disturbs the local habitat. The good news here is that precious metals can last forever. Eco-conscious jewelry makers such as Washed Ashore are upcycling and using recycled precious metals for their findings.
As the saying goes, ‘They just don’t make things like they used to.’ Second-hand or vintage pearl jewelry is yet another sustainable alternative to buying new and can result in your owning some truly unique pieces at budget-friendly prices. Raiding your mom’s or grandma’s jewelry box is also a possibility — just be sure to ask first!
If we all take a moment to think before clicking ‘buy now,’ we can make smarter, more eco-friendly choices. Even small steps can have a big impact when we all work together.