Today it seems as though every other company, irrespective of industry, is shouting from the rooftops about their carbon neutral operation and recycled packaging.

So would it be possible for a jewellery business to succeed in the modern world without incorporating sustainable business practices? Cristina Osés Gutiérrez, graduate of London art school Central St Martins which offers a jewellery design course, asks that very question…

When I started researching for my MA dissertation, I was surprised at the radically different approaches companies take to both making their operation sustainable and informing customers of their efforts in this quarter. Up and down the supply chain it varies dramatically.

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Although a lot of work is being done, it is clear that opacity is the traditional way of working in the jewellery sector. To change this will take time and effort.

Our society is fast-changing and the jewellery sector has a golden opportunity to update itself.

With the extended use of social media, the flow of information and the direct communication between consumers and jewellers and retailers has increased exponentially – especially this last year with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tools are out there, but the way they are used depends on each brand decisions.

There are no clear definitions for those concepts, and this is a big issue. To find out what words like ‘sustainable’ or ‘ethical’ or even ‘recycled’ really mean for any given brand, we need to rely on their will to explain it.

Some companies will give context and will explain it thoroughly. Others, maybe most, won’t.

According to my research, consumers would feel more comfortable knowing the provenance of the pieces (79%).

This high number becomes more relevant if you consider that most of them (68%) have never heard about sustainable jewellery at all.

Also, according the National Association of Jewellers (NAJ) research from last year, one in 10 consumers who have purchased jewellery in the past five years say that they have previously had a negative experience whilst making a purchase.

With all of this combined, my outcome is that something needs to change soon.

The recent controversy about the supposed sustainability of lab-grown diamonds is a good example.

Some people will present LGDs as the ‘sustainable’ or ‘ethical’ alternative to mined diamonds.

Cristina Osés Gutiérrez

Please notice here how we all identify automatically ‘sustainable’ as a positive. Words are powerful selling tools!

But the fact is that mined diamonds are not unsustainable by default. Equally, LGDs are not sustainable by default.

The lack of definitions, the overuse of those terms and the ignorance of most consumers make the whole issue of sustainability a double-edged sword.

Our society, focused on profit and loss accounts, is quite efficient at vacuuming the meaning of concepts and leaving only pretty empty shells to be used at will by marketers.

It is tempting to push the same products with a new face. This way of business can be deeply misleading for consumers causing even more confusion in the whole sector.

To avoid it, we need to fill those words with meaning and explain what we do as a company to our customer.

It is indeed hard to find a consistent supply of certain raw materials. There are indeed alternative materials to the traditional ones. But all these need to be explained plainly to the consumers so they can make informed decisions.

I believe that informed consumers can organically become engaged consumers.

What was acceptable only a few years ago is not anymore.

Reputation can’t be only a facade. It needs to be backed by facts, actions and data.

Let’s work together so that this does not happen to this burgeoning sector. It would be a shame to kill the dream just at the start.