For Sustainable Shoppers, Vintage Jewelry Offers Options Aplenty


Sustainability is a major concern among consumers, but it’s also a huge gray area. With greenwashing practices running rampant among many companies, understanding the most responsible ways to shop can be really confusing. One “expert” says this, another says the opposite, and shoppers are left scratching their heads.

Take recycled metals, for example. While it sounds like the right way to go—and no one is saying it isn’t—a panel at the Initiatives in Art and Culture’s July Gold & Diamond Conference agreed that the term recycled gold oversells a product’s true environmental effect.

“In the consumer mind, recycled signifies ‘green’ or something that avoids extraction,” said Sabrina Karib, founder of the Precious Metals Impact Forum. “Recycled gold does not reduce mining. In terms of volume, it doesn’t change anything.”

That’s not to say purchasing items labeled as recycled gold is a bad thing, but more transparency around where the gold was recycled from is needed (for more details on this panel, read my colleague Rob Bates’ summary of the event here).

So yes, customers have a lot of choices and challenges when it comes to making responsible purchases. But one many experts agree is a surefire way to practice low-impact consumption? Vintage jewelry.

Lang Antiques Victorian engagement ring
Victorian engagement ring in 10k rosy-yellow gold with 3.11 ct. European-cut diamond, $50,000; Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry

“In today’s world of jewelry manufacturing, the buzz is the story around sustainability, and mine-to-market traceability. Questions like: Is the synthetic diamond manufacturing plant powered by solar? Is the metal sustainably sourced? Do artisanal miners have jobs that can be tracked to market? All of these are important standards for our industry, however a huge challenge to trace and validate,” says Suzanne Martinez, co-owner of Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry in San Francisco. “In the antique and estate jewelry world, we don’t have this dilemma, as the jewelry is recycled and inherently eco-friendly, which is one of the allures of attaining it for one’s collection. Each unique piece tells its own rich and multilayered story: when and where was it made, by and for whom, and with what materials. True treasures to learn about, hunt for, and be enjoyed for generations to come.”

Jewels by Grace antique locket
Antique locket pendant in 18k and 14k gold with old mine–cut diamonds, $4,900; Jewels by Grace

Grace Lavarro, founder of the Los Angeles–based retailer Jewels by Grace, echoes that sentiment. “Vintage and antique jewels, to me, are the ultimate in upcycling and green choices. Not only is there very little to little carbon footprint on the planet, but you get to wear pieces of history on your person. In the case of engagement rings and bands, our clients get to wear jewels which have seen and been part of several love stories.”

Mindi Mond moonstone chandelier earrings
Reconceived collection chandelier earrings in 18k white gold with 13 cts. t.w. moonstones and 10.5 cts. t.w. diamonds, price on request; Mindi Mond

For many, vintage jewelry offers a satisfaction that only comes from the thrill of the hunt. And even for the most fashion-forward jewelry wearers, you can see from these examples that vintage and antique jewelry can be just as much in vogue as some of the newest pieces on the market. For the ultimate in sustainability, many agree that vintage is where it’s at.

Top: Victorian snake necklace with aquamarine, price on request; Ashley Zhang

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By: Brittany Siminitz

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