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From Chest To Earth: Can Eco-friendly Strategies Help In Sustainable Jewellery Preservation?

Is sustainability the road ahead for the realm of jewellery? Ornament makers and wearers alike are walking the eco-friendly route and tapping ways to save the environment from harmful effects and embrace zero waste. Whether this will help reduce the carbon footprint or not, only time will tell. Let’s check out their jewellery cases and find out more…

As the global warming and climate change threats continue to loom large, sustainability in every sector seems the only way forward. To make our future more eco-friendly and survivable, it is important to bear in mind what food we eat, what clothes people wear and what accessories they carry. This rings true for jewellery in particular, which is an integral part of a woman’s treasured casket in the closet. Putting on environmentally-friendly ornaments at weddings and social galas with the gifting season being in full bloom now makes the wearer a little more eco-conscious in her approach. Attuned to the buzzword of ‘sustainability’, jewellery connoisseurs from eight to 80 are presently sold on the idea of collecting green jewellery and flaunting the prized assets.

Why Green Jewellery?

Jewellery produced without negatively impacting humans, animals or the planet is sustainable. It involves ethical sourcing practices and non-toxic production methods. “Metals that are recycled need not be mined from the ores that induce air pollution and water contamination. Sustainable materials like responsibly sourced gemstones and metals with minimal impact on the environment are often dug up from mines that adhere to strict environmental standards. Gold, platinum and palladium when melted down to be reused can be classified as eco-friendly metals,” states a metallurgist. Sustainable jewellery is vegan (not harming any animals during the production process or should be cruelty-free towards animals unlike extracting bird’s feathers, elephants’ ivory tusks, deer horns, horse hooves and bird’s claws), plastic-free, toxin-free and leads to zero waste. It is made from repurposed precious metals and encourages fair-trade practices.

Market Dynamics

Jewellery manufacturers to explore the sustainable jewellery market size and analyse how it can essentially reduce the ecological footprint with the materials being ethically sourced to craft a jewellery piece. Several data points need to be considered while assessing the market value of eco-friendly jewellery, such as the global and domestic growth rates of the jewellery industry, what part of the market pie-chart is captured by sustainable jewellery, does this economically benefits stakeholders, vendors and other participants in the industry and so on. Per Statista, the lion’s share of the global jewellery market revenue generated in 2022 was attributed to three countries: China was the largest, followed closely by India and the United States. The price of the jewellery market is expected to increase from about 270 billion US dollars (recorded in 2022) to 330 billion US dollars by 2026. According to Technavio one of the leading market research company with global coverage — the jewellery market in India is estimated to grow by USD 21.54 billion between 2022 and 2027, seeing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.54 per cent during the forecast period.

“In 2023, the worldwide jewellery market reached a value of USD 353.26 billion, with projections indicating a CAGR of 4.7 per cent from 2024 to 2030,” informs Parth Rastogi, founder of the sustainable jewellery house Jewelariaa. “This anticipated growth arises from factors like rising disposable incomes and the introduction of innovative jewellery designs by several ornament makers, which are poised to fuel consumer demand for a green product line. You see, people are increasingly drawn to ethical practices, reflecting a visible shift in the paradigm,” he further elaborates.

“Undoubtedly, sustainable jewellery is growing steadily in the international jewellery market and this is specified with exact and updated figures by volumes of research reports, market operators and industry analyses,” shares Mamta Binani, president of the Asian-African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Eastern India) and the president of MSME Development Forum, West Bengal.

As per the FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) website, the Gems and Jewellery sector plays an instrumental role in the Indian economy, contributing around 6-7 per cent of the country’s GDP. It also employs more than 2.5 million workers and as one of the fastest-growing sectors, it is extremely export-oriented and labour-intensive.

Carbon Neutral

It is important to know to what extent sustainable jewellery can lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Experts say that sustainable jewellery emerges as an eco-conscious solution, playing a vital role in curbing harmful GHG emissions. It aligns with the concept of carbon offsetting to traditionally respect and preserve the environment. “On average, the production of 1 carat of mined diamond emits approximately 65kg of carbon dioxide (CO2), whereas 1 carat of lab-grown diamond generates only 12 kg, representing a reduction of about 5.5 times in CO2 release,” differentiates Rastogi. Didn’t we know that diamonds are a girl’s best friend? So, next time, whenever you gift your lady a diamond, make sure it’s a lab-created dazzling one.

Records show that jewellery emissions primarily emanate from the mining and processing of metals and gemstones. These processes discharge greenhouse gases, consume energy and generate waste. Additionally, the production, transportation and packaging of jewellery result in carbon emissions, affecting the environment throughout its supply chain. “One way to find sustainable jewellery is to choose brands that are climate compatible. Brands with a climate-neutral certification are proven to have already measured, reduced and compensated for all the emissions that occurred right from the stages of creating to delivering their products and services to their end users,” notes ornament designer Ojasvita Ajay Mahenddru of Ornamas Jewellery label.

Metal Matter

Scientific studies confirm that a slew of precious or non-precious metals could be melted down to be repurposed. Gold, platinum and palladium can be liquefied to be reused as eco-friendly metals. Precious metals, namely gold, silver and platinum, while non-precious metals like aluminium, copper, zinc, brass, bronze and pewter are widely used in India.

“When it comes to metals, traditional craftsmanship sides with recycling practices. Metals with their beauty can be repurposed, honouring the timeless nature of jewellery. Non-precious metals can indeed be melted down and recycled for various uses. For instance, steel, aluminium, copper and iron are commonly reused metals and repurposing these helps conserve resources and reduce waste,” explains Rastogi.

He admits the fact that gold, platinum and palladium in particular can be thawed for reuse, thus contributing to eco-friendly practices in metal recycling. “These precious metals retain their purity and value even in a molten state, making them ideal for various applications. By recirculating these metals, we may minimise the need for hitting new mining zones and decrease the environmental impact associated with metal extraction,” he highlights.

Material Magic

Environmentally friendly jewellery allays the adverse impact on the workers who produce it. This type of accessories usually has high durability and is made with top-quality materials. In a nutshell, its production puts quality over quantity. Ethically-derived gemstones are free from any environmental conflict and excessive exploitation of natural resources. Plus, alternative materials like lab-grown diamonds and plant-based plastics are emerging as innovative solutions to counter the carbon footprint.

It is also significant to investigate which precious stones and metals belong to the non-renewable bracket. Gold, silver, platinum, diamonds, rubies, emeralds and turquoise are dubbed depletive and non-renewable.

Certain biodegradable materials can be used in making green or eco-friendly jewellery. “Wood, bamboo, recycled paper, organic fibres and specific types of biodegradable plastics can be incorporated into making green ornaments,” lists Binani.

Pure plant leather, such as those derived from flowers, cacti, and vegetables gives a tanned effect besides vegetable dyes; natural fabrics like cotton, silk fabric, rose fabric, lotus silk and available fabrics with no unnatural weaves of rayon/nylon, bamboo, hemp as well as other plant-based materials or naturally-sourced materials can be classified as eco-friendly mediums. “Glass, if used aesthetically by a design expert can be converted into wearable jewellery. Other materials, namely bio-plastics, coconut coir, lyocell and pinatas can also be integrated into jewellery crafting depending on the style of the collection,” volunteers Mahenddru.

Funky Junk

Many junk jewellery pieces are made from rehashed leftovers of old and worn ornaments and amusing knickknacks at home. Jewellery freaks think that these could be useful as upcycled jewellery and added to the circular economy, eventually. Jewellery makers are returning to their roots by using natural materials that boast a very low carbon footprint and promise not to end up in a landfill when exhausted! Accessories like rehashed metals, trinkets, and junk jewellery reproduced from used articles also add to the circular economy. “Upcycled jewellery embraces the customary belief of reinventing. It’s not just about fashion; it’s about carrying forward the essence of creativity through generations,” perceives Rastogi. Creative jewellery by solopreneurs, DIY artists and new or seasoned entrepreneurs is extremely beneficial to the economy.

“Many such initiators and investors who might afford to provide a livelihood for indigent artisans or infuse funds to build a village not only to sell the jewellery but also to teach the next generation how to design products from minimal or accessible raw materials can certainly make a world of a difference to boost the sustainable jewellery market. Such a welfare project will not only aid and encourage the new progeny but also motivate the rustics and the women workforce at the grassroots to handcraft wonderful specimens and artefacts to earn a living. There are a multitude of NGOs that are involved in similar noble endeavours to patronise their creative efforts,” reports Mahenddru.

Binani concedes that “enhanced jewellery troves can drive the circular economy as it shrinks waste and promotes sustainability by giving a new lease of life to the existing materials.”

Jewellery for Style & Statement

Sustainable jewellery could form a considerable segment of costume jewellery or synthetic/artificial jewellery as well as statement pieces, which is vital to the new-age fashion industry. “Statement pieces and sustainable jewellery form a dynamic duo, echoing the age-old notion of adornments necessarily making a statement, not just in terms of aesthetics but as a value too,” inputs Rastogi.

Mahenddru recalls that “the said market started picking up in the last 12 years in India. When I entered the domain in 2012, the craze for statement jewellery was still at a nascent stage.” Celebrities endorsing designer jewellery act as social influencers for the audience and over some time, women have openly opted for statement jewellery as the pocket pinch is minimal on the purchasers. “The colour options, customisation, design curation — all are possible in a jiffy for us designers,” she chips in.

“With more and more consumers demanding ethically sourced options, the realm of sustainable jewellery is made a key component of the new-age fashion landscape,” observes Binani.

Price Pressure

Does sustainable jewellery have the capacity to lower the price points, which are usually on the higher side for jewellery carved out of yellow and white metal and other expensive precious stones?

“Of course. The buying power of women who are fond of jewellery has gradually increased with economic independence and they can now happily purchase without burning a hole in their pockets,” observes a jewellery retailer. Sustainable jewellery can offer a price band with a widely varying range depending on the materials used and the craftsmanship involved. “While some jewellery may be priced akin to the traditional ones made from precious metals and stones, there are other options for more affordably rated sustainable creations fashioned out of recycled materials, upcycled elements or alternative constituents like wood, glass or organic fibres. Overall, sustainable jewellery can offer a variety of price points to cater to diverse consumer preferences and fit into all budgets,” imparts Binani. Rastogi fathoms that “the price points of sustainable jewellery affiliate with traditional wisdom, wherein preciousness isn’t solely defined by the price tag on display but the artistry and meaning hidden behind each piece.”

Export Potential

It is often speculated that India can create a competitive export market for sustainable jewellery shortly, given its wealth of natural resources and the right use of technology with zero impact on biodiversity.

“Our country has the potential to float a viable export market for sustainable jewellery shortly by leveraging its natural assets, traditional skills and workmanship, and technological advancements,” opines Binani.

By focusing on sustainable methods, responsible sourcing of materials and innovative designing, Indian jewellery makers can differentiate themselves with their distinguishing presence amid teeming global traders.

Underlining the zero impact on biodiversity and the unique aspects of environmentally preferred jewellery, industry watchers believe that eco-friendly ornaments can easily lure international customers who value sustainability. “With flawless strategies and investments to boot, India can certainly position itself as a major player in the export arena of sustainable jewellery,” she further assures.

The export market is dealing in billions right now. “It’s doing super well and in the Indian context, the country is already posing a tough challenge to China as labour is cheap here. Jaipur, Orissa, Mumbai, Bengal and Gujarat are the happening jewellery hubs,” avers Mahenddru.

Envisioning India as a haven for shipping eco-friendly jewellery to foreign shores resonates with our conventional culture of nurturing nature. “It is about showcasing and conserving our rich heritage, artistic dexterity and technical know-how on the global stage,” wraps up Rastogi.

FICCI’s online updates read: “Based on its potential for growth and value addition, the Government of India has declared the Gems and Jewellery sector as a focus area for export promotion. The government recently undertook various measures to promote investments, and upgrade technology and skills to promote ‘Brand India’ in the international market.”

Self-Reliance Agenda

Is it possible that the inclusion of local jewellery craftsmen and MSME (Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises dealing in jewellery) can lend an added impetus to the Make-In-India initiative that is built on the Atmanirbhar slogan?

“Patronising and campaigning for traditional craftsmanship, supporting local economies, and showcasing India’s ethnic culture and artisanship can provide that extra fillip to small-time jewellery traders,” insists Binani.

Welcoming Womenpreneurs

Zooming in on the status of women entrepreneurs in district towns and rural regions, it is often found that they start crafting and selling eco-friendly jewellery on a small scale, sometimes from their home premises, with loans borrowed from nationalized banks or government grants. Could such businesses aid the cottage industry?

“Women entrepreneurs or aged matriarchs of the house in the suburbs or on the outskirts can indeed commence their fledgling businesses from domesticity with the much-needed initial backing from government incentives and funds obtained from financial institutions. These low-profile ventures could not only provide a sustainable means of living but may also bolster the growth of the cottage industry,” comments Binani.

Climate Crusaders

The current Annual Budget of 2024 pays much attention to womenpreneurs by dispensing them skill training and offering tax relaxation. It is to be seen whether this will now stimulate them to do their bit in saving the environment and energy by fashioning green creations like handcrafted sustainable jewellery.

“The focus on lady entrepreneurs in the current-year budget with skill-oriented programmes and tax relief can spur them to create eco-friendly jewellery and galvanise environmental conservation efforts. This sponsorship and assistance will inspire more women to bet on sustainable businesses,” predicts Binani.

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