All that glitters: what is slow jewellery?

Slow jewellery earrings on a blue background

All that glitters: what is slow jewellery?

At Good Maker Tales, we talk a lot about the sustainable fashion sector and the vital changes needed to make fashion greener and fairer. But, when it comes to the accessories industry, its need for change doesn’t always receive the same attention.

So, to shine some light on the sector for glittering necklaces and chic earrings, we’re delving into the question of what is slow jewellery. And, we’re exploring why we need an ethical jewellery industry.

The global jewellery industry is expected to reach over US$480 billion by 2025. However, studies in the USA have found metal mining, a core component of the conventional jewellery sector, to be a major contributor to toxic pollution.

The slow jewellery industry may not have all the answers. However, much like the slow fashion movement, it does promote and practice a far more ethical approach. From looking after workers to choosing sustainable materials, this is how the slow jewellery sector differentiates itself from the fast jewellery industry we have grown accustomed to.

We also have a round up of the UK’s best ethical jewellery brands to get you started.

What is slow jewellery?

The jewellery industry is a complex sector. So we’re taking a look a the slow and fast jewellery sectors to understand what sets slow jewellery apart.

1. Built to last

Slow jewellery: Much like the sustainable fashion industry, the slow jewellery sector focuses on product longevity. This means making pieces that are high quality and built to last.

While these pieces may initially come with a higher price tag, they are created to outlive their cheap, lower quality counterparts. This can mean that slow jewellery makers can also create pieces that can have an overall lower cost per wear in the long run.

Fast jewellery: Fast jewellery products, on the other hand, are bought, worn a few times, thrown away and replaced for the cycle to start again, representing a deeply unsustainable mindset.

Slow jewellery arranged on a stone
Photo by luisana galicia on Unsplash

2. Sustainable materials

Slow jewellery: There are a wide range of materials used in the jewellery industry. Slow and sustainable jewellery makers make a conscious choice to use materials that have a lighter environmental impact. This means using recycled materials, such as recycled gems and precious metals. It can also mean using ethically sourced gems and innovative materials such as lab grown diamonds.

Fast jewellery: The fast jewellery industry doesn’t take this mindful approach. It notoriously uses gemstones and metals that are unethically mined, causing major issues for both humans rights and environmental sustainability. Cheaper jewellery is also often made from plastic, which comes with its own host of environmental issues. Issues such as microplastic pollution and toxic production processes.

See our article to find out what you can do about the microplastic problem.

3. Timeless designs and considered purchases 

Slow jewellery: A core component of the slow jewellery industry is the creation of timeless designs. These are fashion pieces that are made to transcend cheap seasonal fads and become treasured pieces. The often higher price point and classic design help to make slow jewellery pieces considered purchases. These purchases are designed to be bought thoughtfully, kept for a long time, and valued.

Fast jewellery: Fast jewellery collections follow changing fads and the latest fashion trend. They are designed to be trendy today and out of fashion tomorrow.

This idea supports the unsustainable business model that much of the fashion world is built on. A model where profits rely on undervalued impulse purchases and the rapid turnover of products.

Girl wearing slow jewellery
Photo by Segal Jewelry on Unsplash

4. Small batches 

Across industries, mass production has been cited as a source of unsustainable manufacturing and waste. The problem is, in a fast fashion consumer world, mass production is a profitable method of manufacturing.

Slow jewellery:  Slow jewellery makes beautiful jewellery pieces in a more careful and sustainable way. It uses limited production runs or often makes bespoke one of a kind pieces instead of mass produced style.

This approach provides consumers with special and unique pieces and helps to cut down production waste. It also cuts down on waste levels generated from unsold stock.

Fast jewellery: As with the fast fashion industry, brands in the unsustainable jewellery market often produce new collections frequently as trends change, fuelling rapid overconsumption. 

In the fashion industry too, on-demand clothing production is beginning to be seen as one solution to the overproduction problem.

5. Recyclable

Slow jewellery: Many items in the slow jewellery movement incorporate recycled elements. Similarly, as they are often made of higher-quality materials, these pieces are more likely to be recyclable or sellable on second-hand markets when they are no longer needed. Gold can be melted and turned into new styles and gemstones can be reused.

Fast jewellery: There are some options out there for recycling fast jewellery styles. However, cheap and unsustainable jewellery often have poorer craftsmanship and are lower quality. As a result these pieces are likely to wind up in an un-recyclable condition by the time you have worn them out. 

Similarly, it is unlikely that your cheap and disposable jewellery styles contain recycled elements.

Handmaking of slow jewellery
Photo by eleonora on Unsplash

6. Fair supply chains

Slow jewellery: Part of the slow jewellery philosophy is looking after workers and ensuring ethical supply chains. Many slow jewellery brands are small businesses and practice handmade production.

Even for those that are larger, truly ethical jewellery makers encompass supply chains where workers are treated fairly. This means workers are paid living wages, don’t suffer discrimination or harassment, have safe working conditions and practices such as child labour are strictly banned.

Many ethical styles also celebrate traditional jewellery making techniques. This helps to support artisans and keep alive these meaningful practices.

Fast jewellery: While it may not be talked about as often as the conventional fashion sector, the conventional jewellery industry has had some major ethical blunders. Dangerous conditions, illegal activities, conflict and pollution have all become commonplace factors of the conventional jewellery trade.

As well as creating a horrendously unethical situation for workers and communities around the world, chemicals in cheap jewellery have been found to be putting wearers at risk as well. Disturbingly, one report found risks from cancer causing compounds in cheap jewellery styles being marketed to children.

For more about fair supply chains see our articles on child labour free brands and brands that pay a living wage.

7. Fair and realistic pricing

Fast jewellery: In a cash strapped world, what drives many of us to turn to fast jewellery options is their alluring low price tag. However, these low price points can only be achieved through unfair supply chains where workers are underpaid (or not paid at all), and products are made with low quality materials.

Slow jewellery: The prices of ethical jewellery realistically reflect what goes into making jewellery. They reflect fair wages for workers and high quality materials. These products don’t cost more because brands are greedy, but because it often costs more to make an ethical product. For more on this see our article about why sustainable fashion is more expensive.

Girl wearing slow jewellery
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

A shiny future

From their very first collections, slow and ethical jewellery companies design stunning styles with thought. Unlike fast jewellery brands, an ethical jewellery designer considers everything from the impact of raw materials to carbon emissions to the conditions that workers face along the supply chain.

While the jewellery industry as a whole still has some work to do, ethical brands are showing that the future can be as bright as the latest jewellery styles.

See our guide to the best ethical jewellery brands in the UK to get started on your slow jewellery journey!

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