Manmade vs. natural materials in our jewellery – the environmental and social impact

Hello, I hope July is going well for your so far. I can’t believe we’re already over half way through 2019; I swear time is moving faster, or we just need to slow down. So this week’s blog is sort of a follow up on one of my recent posts where I explained why I only use genuine gemstones in my jewellery. It’s also been prompted by an article I posted in our exclusive Liri Ambassadors Facebook group which looked at the growing popularity of laboratory grown diamonds, where one of our readers said it could be an environmentally sensitive way of using ‘natural’ materials in our jewellery. Well, today I’m going to delve a little deeper into the pros and cons of using manmade vs. natural materials in our jewellery, this time focussing on the environmental and social consequences, rather than the beauty of the gemstones. A word of caution, it’s a bit heavier than the usual topic, but I think it’s good to write something a bit more thought-provoking at times…..

Fast fashion vs. more considered purchasing

We can’t deny that many societies have almost become addicted to shopping and expecting to see new clothes and jewellery in the shops every few months. Even if we didn’t already feel this way, the fact there’s always something ‘newer’ and more up to date to be bought could push many of us to join this fast paced treadmill and begin to feel we always need to be ‘on-trend’. With regards to jewellery, ever-changing, fast fashions have been made possible by the fact ‘fashion’ jewellery is largely made from man-made materials. Plastic jewellery, with the addition of glass has now become a staple. It’s also sold at relatively cheap prices therefore we can alter our look every week. 

The effect of this mass consumption and every changing fashion is that we end up throwing away so much jewellery. Why keep something that was fashionable even just last month, when we can now buy an up to date jewellery design at a cheap price? The result is that jewellery ends up in landfill and because it’s often plastic, it doesn’t decompose. We’re bombarded with images of the effects of plastic polluting our seas, well, the disposal of plastic jewellery is not really helping this situation. 

The effect on our mindset – respecting and caring for your jewellery purchases

To ensure individuals are well trained in the art of hyper consumerism, products must be sold relatively cheaply. If new and shiny things are within the budget of the majority of people, it’s easier to maintain a consumerist society. The effect of a never-ending supply of new jewellery at a low price has a clear impact on our mentality and attitude towards what we purchase – if it’s cheap and I can get a newer version pretty soon, why should I value what the jewellery I’ve bought? The attitude becomes not to look after and preserve what we’ve bought, rather to get the most wear out of it before that fashion changes, which is no problem because it’s so cheap to buy…it’s a vicious circle.

I’ve been guilty of this myself, but I know that when I invest a little bit more in a piece of jewellery (or anything for that matter), I value it a lot more. It has cost me more to buy, it has been made from higher quality materials, it is a limited edition piece, rather than a mass produced piece of plastic churned out by a factory. Yes, I’ve bought it because it’s pretty but due to the other factors, I have a completely different attitude towards it – it cost me more, so I respect it and look after it. My intention is also to wear it for a long time, so I’m not looking to cast it aside as soon as fashion changes. 

Gemstone jewellery is rarely mass produced, is largely of higher quality, and costs more to buy. It’s more of a considered purchase rather than something we regularly consume just to discard a few months later. I feel slowing down our consumption by buying jewellery of natural materials and at a higher price, is crucial for slowing down our spending habits and to restore our respect for what we buy. 

The rape of the land 

‘But, gemstones are natural materials taken from the earth, we shouldn’t be taking it for our own adornment’ I hear you say. Yes, gems are natural but I believe that the environmental impact of responsible and slow purchasing of natural materials is much smaller than the mass consumption of easily discarded plastic and non-degradable materials. 

Delving into the mining processes of gemstones is much too lengthy for now. Yes, there are some unethical practices (usually low pay for miners), but that is something that us humans can put right, which will strengthen the case for natural gemstones even more. If we’re talking about the ethics of any practices, I don’t believe the gemstone world should be singled out. Every industry should be governed by an ethical code of conduct.  

Consider current discussions surrounding our purchasing of other items, nowhere are we arguing in favour of more manmade materials. When we buy furniture, we prefer wood over plastic (again, it’s an investment and will last years). Many societies are looking to ban the overuse of plastic packaging (we just throw it out anyway). When we buy clothes, we regard natural materials such as cotton and silk as higher quality, better investments, worthy of more respect…the list goes on. 

Many societies are questioning our overdependence on consumption as a past time, and the consumption of man-made, environmentally damaging products, in particular. Jewellery – its purchase and the materials it’s made from, are not immune from this debate. If we’re to stem the amount we buy and throw away, we need to focus on buying high quality products that, yes, cost more, but which in turn, last longer. In turn, we will buy less and the effect on the environment will decrease. So if we bought items made from natural materials we would, in fact be consuming much less, and not, in fact, leaving our earth a barren wasteland. It’s the environmental degradation caused by the mass disposal of manmade products that is, in fact, causing more of that situation.

To clear our consciences even more when using natural materials, we have long planted forests that are replanted once tress have been cut, and now we are seeing the increasing popularity of laboratory grown diamonds, which, are real diamonds grown quickly in a lab under the same circumstances that led to the creation of diamonds within the earth over billions of years. This is an interesting development but I don’t believe the gemstone industry is such that this practice needs to be more widespread. The main aim of lab grown diamonds is to make them more affordable, which brings us back to our earlier discussion around price and the perception of value, respect for the product etc. etc.

Wow…that was pretty heavy this week, no? I could go on and on as this is a huge discussion but I firmly believe that the benefits of using natural gemstones in our jewellery are significant, not only on our mindsets towards consumerism and the products we buy, but also towards the environment and our impact on it. It may seem counterintuitive to buy natural to minimise the environmental impact, but in fact, it slows down our consumption, which can only be a good thing for the environment and society.

If you’ve liked this week’s blog, be sure to share it far and wide. If you’d like to hear more from Liri, follow us on Facebook and Instagram, or join our Facebook Group ‘Liri Ambassadors’.

Share this post: