What is Ethical Gold Jewelry? Plus the Top Sustainable Gold Jewelry Brands

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If you are looking for gold pieces, you’ll love our list of eco-friendly and best sustainable jewelry brands. We’ve got you covered from one brand that uses recycled gold and sterling silver to another with sustainable and ethical metals.

Our list will help you make a conscious decision when buying your next piece of jewels by looking at topics such as recycled jewelry or conflict-free gold, to minimise contribution to unethical practices, unfair pay, and environmentally degrading production. By the end of the article, we will offer the top 4 jewelry brands that passed our sustainable brand criteria. We hope they inspire you to get your next gold ring or gold bangle!

But first, let’s dig into what makes sustainable jewelry!

photo of gold mining
Unsplash – Ingo Doerrie

The Issues with Gold in Your Accessories

Just like in fashion, jewelry is an industry where a lack of supply chain transparency can mean conflict support, exploitation, child labor, slave labor, unsafe work practices, and subcontracting. That’s why it is important to know which jewelry companies you’re buying from and their values.

That’s why, when looking at ethical brands, it’s extremely important to consider if they share information about where the metals are mined (if new) and where the products and materials are smelted, refined, cut, and polished. It’s also important to look for certifications or other compliances to ensure workers’ safety and fair treatment.

Gold is obtained through large-scale mining (LSM) and artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM). LSM is the purview of big mining companies. It relies on heavy equipment and technology and, hence, a lean workforce structure. It successfully contributes to 80% of the world’s gold output. On the other hand, ASGM is labour-intensive, employs about 15-20 million miners, and produces about 20% of newly mined gold production. It provides a living for 100 million people, most of whom live in isolated and rural areas with few other options for employment.

Each sourcing method poses different threats to society and the environment. For example, in Ethiopia, LSM contributes to water shortages, soil erosion, infrastructure damage, ecosystem destruction, deforestation and air pollution. In Ghana, it contributed to a displacement of 30,000 people in the 1990s.

The ASGM is posed with slightly different problems, such as sector informality, which affects work security and regulation over wages and other interventions, such as safety, training, and work conditions. Most small-scale miners make extremely little money; some only sell gold worth of $1 per transaction. Occupational hazards for miners also include mercury poisoning and silicosis from dust exposure. These hazards affect the entire community, including the wives and children of miners.

After understanding an overview of the ethical issues around gold, we customers must support brands that invest in the mining communities. Fair wages, working conditions, and transparency, among others, are things we look for in our research.

gold and conflict free jewelry
Unsplash – MUILLU

What is Conflict-Free Jewelry?

One issue that’s unique to jewelry industry is whether the sourcing of precious metals and gemstones is fueling conflict or civil wars abroad. Gold itself is classified as one of four conflict minerals (tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold, or 3TG). Therefore, many governments, such as the European Union and the USA, heavily regulate its sourcing.

To help enforce this, the OECD released a non-binding Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas, which covers all minerals, including gold. The World Gold Council releases a Conflict-Free Gold Standard® based on these guidelines to help companies ensure that their gold doesn’t partake in conflicts.

You may be wondering how conflicts can be associated with gold. One such example would be if the gold comes from a militia-controlled mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). From the DRC it may be smuggled into Uganda and subsequently sold to companies abroad. The money flowing back to the militias gives them power, and those militias are often committing human rights atrocities like rape and murder in the regions where they operate.

For these reasons, it’s important to know that certain materials like diamonds and gold don’t come from these regions and don’t fuel conflicts abroad. In simple terms, they can trace where the raw materials came from, and they’re verified not to be one of these conflict zones.

photo of gold blocks
Unsplash – Jingming Pan

Why Shop Sustainable and Ethical Jewelry?

When it comes to ethical jewelry, there are many environmental and sociopolitical concerns to consider, which can be completely different from the sustainable fashion topics, given the value of precious metals and gemstones in the market. As we already mentioned, things to consider are its contribution to conflict, the environmental impact of mining, its effect on worker’s health, occupational hazards, depletion of biodiversity, and carbon footprint.

With climate change on the horizon, every business needs to consider how to reduce and improve its impact on the planet. Companies have various options to reduce their impact by using recycled materials over new metals, lab-grown diamonds and sustainably sourced gemstones, or metals from responsible small-scale miners, which typically have a lower environmental impact (if they don’t use mercury!)

In conclusion, when it comes to buying gold items, you can be sure that your money is going towards a positive social and environmental impact. With the right research, consumers can rest assured that their contribution does not support environmental degradation, conflict, and poor working conditions, and even better, could help make the world a better place.

Why Shop Sustainable and Ethical Gold Jewelry
Unsplash – Martin de Arriba

The Relevance of Recycled Gold in Sustainability

The use of recycled gold can be a promising option. This precious metal has a much lower environmental impact than traditional mining methods and can be used to create stunning pieces unique in terms of their story. It exists from industrial production or dentistry; discarded or recycled old pieces of jewelry.

Also, don’t forget that gold has been used as a form of money, so we cannot treat gold like other commodities. For example, inflation and a declining currency would equal rising gold prices. This is why gold and its constant refining are significant to our society.

Unfortunately, sourcing recycled gemstones and metals induces debates among customers, businesses, and sustainability practitioners. There are positives and negatives to this practice. As recycling gold has been a common practice over the millennia, it is not considered a sustainability innovation. 

Indeed, it is much less impactful than new gold, but it has not been proven to stop new gold from being mined. Due to a lack of openness regarding its origin, illegally mined or conflict gold can simply be added to the “recycled gold” supply and “disappear” into the mainstream. 

However, there is still hope and options. For example, SCS Global certification for jewelry helps to verify the source of recycled metals and weed out conflict minerals, careless e-waste processors, companies that get materials via dishonest or not ethical production methods, money laundering, corruption, and terrorism financing. Alternatively, the LBMA suggests enhancing due diligence on recycled gold to ensure it is not obtained in areas with a high risk of conflict or human rights abuse.

So many awesome ethical and sustainable brands today make amazing pieces with this type of metal. These companies often prioritize sourcing their metals sustainably using minimal-impact practices or recycling them themselves. We highly recommend checking out Brilliant Earth below for unique creations made from recycled gold. After all, they’re one of the trendsetters in this space who continually push boundaries.

Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold: Other Sustainable Options

When it comes to ethical gold mined by the ASM communities, we must never forget the Fairtrade and Fairmined gold. A little bit of history, the Fairmined Standard’s first version was created in 2009 in collaboration with Fairtrade, but in the end, 2013 marked the conclusion of this collaboration.

Fairtrade and Fairmined are quite similar in principle: they purchase traceable gold from ASM communities that respect safe working practices and create a fair trade gold market with additional premiums for a certain amount of gold mined and sold. These premiums will be reinvested in the communities to improve health, education, and safe working practices.

Fairtrade certification aims to remove all conflict minerals from the gold market, preventing the gold trade from escalating violence in mining communities. In addition, Fairtrade gives miners the ability to unite in opposition to discrimination by helping ASM cooperatives obtain legal standing for their operations.

Similarly, the Fairmined programme verifies ethical gold with the Fairmined label. To ensure that the gold is traceable, it is mined using the best mining techniques to protect the environment so that customers can help the ASM groups grow. The Alliance for Responsible Mining, a global non-profit dedicated to promoting the growth of ASM communities across the globe, developed the Fairmined standard and seal in 2004.

photo of sustainable gold jewelry
Unsplash – Mariano Rivas

Discovering the Top Brands for Ethical & Sustainable Gold Jewelry

Ethical and sustainable jewelry has people captivated by the combination of gorgeous craftsmanship with responsible production procedures. While choosing a brand committed to sustainability can be hard, it shouldn’t be. 

We research every brand for transparency, fair labor, and sustainable manufacturing. Most brands fail our criteria, so only the best brands pass and meet our holistic standard for leadership in both people and the planet.

To learn even more about the 4 brands we selected, and to see their full brand rating, click the link on their overall rating below (Certified, Silver, Gold).

1. Brilliant Earth: Beyond Conflict-Free Jewelry

If you’re looking for fine jewelry and ethical jewelry with the highest gold content, Brilliant Earth is your brand. As a brand that excels in transparency, they offer a great selection of engagement jewelry, wedding jewelry, fine jewelry, and everyday luxury pieces.

Brilliant Earth pieces are made with beyond conflict-free diamonds. It means they are stepping up their game by not heavily relying on the Kimberley Process, which restricts the definition of conflict diamonds to rough diamonds used to fund conflicts between states, and addressing other unethical issues in its supply chain such as human rights abuse, environmental degradation, and unsafe and irresponsible labour practices.

In terms of their metals, Brilliant Earth makes their fine jewellery mostly from recycled and re-refined gold. Their precious metals come from certified refiners who have passed audits to ensure they meet the standards of organisations like the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) and the Responsible Minerals Initiative. Currently, 98% of the fine gold jewellery and 97% of the fine silver jewellery they provide are manufactured from recycled silver and gold.

In addition, Brilliant Earth also has a small collection coming from a group of artisanal small-scale miners (ASM) certified by Fairmined. This certification ensures the miners adhere to safe practices, reduce or eliminate pollution, and join the formal sector. It also helps build impactful communities by providing markets so that they may earn fair wages and improved working conditions.

Tungsten and tantalum, other conflict metals, are also a part of Brilliant Earth products. They ensure that their tungsten originates responsibly sourced from mining areas not identified as non-conflict areas and is manufactured by refiners that adhere to the Responsible Mineral Initiative’s Responsible Minerals Assurance Process (RMAP), which also base their sourcing criteria using the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas.

Brilliant Earth also states they only use tantalum from conflict-free mines and production facilities, even though more details on how this is achieved need elaborating.

Here’s a few of our favorite Brilliant Earth pieces.

Rating: Certified

ethical gold jewelry brand brilliant earth
Brilliant Earth – Hidden Celtic Knot 6 mm
brilliant earth bracelet
Brilliant Earth – Dezi Herringbone Bracelet (top)

2. Astor & Orion: Small Business Jewelry

Astor & Orion is a great brand for affordable, sustainable jewelry. Much of their gold items are 18k gold dipped or plated over recycled metals. They are focusing on enhancing the circularity of their products by not using any set stones, making it easier to reclaim the metal and return it to the resource loop. To support this, they have a program to take back any worn or unwanted jewelry, recycle it, and offer store credit.

This brand also puts a high priority on the manufacturing processes. Astor & Orion aims to address the issues around environmental protection and worker safety through continuous monitoring and improvement of relevant metrics. 

Here’s a few of our favorite Astor & Orion pieces. Gold earrings, anyone?

Rating: Certified

sustainable gold jewelry brand astor and orion
Astor & Orion – Crescent Hoops Gold
astor and orion gold necklace
Astor & Orion – Good Luck Charm Necklace Gold

3. Soko: Artisan Made Ethical Gold Jewelry

The jewelry made by Soko is handmade by artisans in Kenya. Their gold jewelry is made with 24k gold plated brass. What this means in practice is you get beautiful quality jewelry at a more affordable price. Most of the brass is recycled and purchased from local markets, and they are making the most use of it.

With Kenya at heart, Soko emphasises its contribution to the people through a robust artisan economy, multigenerational ingenuity, deep cultural roots, and technical skills possessed by the locals. Soko aims to provide these talented artisans access to a wider market to enable them to support their families financially.

Soko is also a certified B Corporation; they recycle 100% of the water used in production, and their artisans can earn up to five times the average pay annually. What’s not to love?

Here’s a few of our favorite Soko gold pieces.

Rating: Silver

fair gold brand Soko
Soko – Twisted Dash Ring
soko gold necklace
Soko – Delicate Ellips Collar Necklace

4. Ten Thousand Villages – Affordable Fair Trade Jewelry

Now, if you’re looking for real gold and silver jewelry or accessories with a certain amount of gold content, this isn’t the brand for you. Ten Thousand Villages doesn’t sell jewelry exclusively but rather promotes artisanal handcrafts such as gifts, accessories, and home goods, in addition to jewelry collection. However, with incredibly affordable jewelry made with materials such as gold-colored brass, Ten Thousand Villages is worth mentioning.

Their jewelry supports Fair Trade for artisans worldwide, supporting good pay for handmade craftsmanship. It’s the perfect place to shop for affordable and ethical gifts that come with incredible stories of impact. This brand is amazing for those looking for unique items from around the world and supporting them through fair pay and market expansion!

Here’s a few of our favorite pieces.

Rating: Certified

ten thousand villages jewelry
Ten Thousand Villages – Tall Triangle Earrings (gold-plated)
fair trade jewelry
Ten Thousand Villages – Horn Sand Dollar Pendant Necklace

Where to Find More Sustainable Brands

Check out our brand guide (link in the main menu) for over 100 researched and certified sustainable brands. We’ve got clothing, shoes, and accessory brands.

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