Running out of hangers after an impromptu gracing of the high street evokes a guilt-provoking, sobering realisation of excess. Quite conversely, making room for the cool and calculated petite velvet box decorating the vanity instills a sentiment of delicacy. The footprint behind what the box beholds — less elegant.
The sustainable solution to that which gleams and glitters proves contentious as the industry and consumer must seemingly forfeit the luxury of one of a kind jewels in consolation of a less intensive, lab-developed process. Whether jewel enthusiasts on either end of the selling and buying spectrum are willing to adopt the next best alternative, and who and what that sacrifices along the way, is luxury fashion’s next concern.
Excavating the true impact of the luxury jewelry marketplace looms front of mind as McKinsey’s State of Fashion Report 2021 estimates 51% of consumers plan to splurge in the coming months as the pandemic subsides.
Despite a dip in wholesale during Covid-19, retail in the fine jewelry sector conversely doubled in the likes of California and London. Consumers ‘compensating’ themselves amid lost holidays and WFH gravitated towards the finer things within reach. As newlyweds cut down on guest lists, catering, and floral arrangements in line with government guidelines, budgets redirected to the jewels that would outlive the tales of a lockdown wedding.
Amid plunges in ready-to-wear associated with closed shop floors and nowhere to go, market predictions for compounded annual growth in the fine jewelry sector of 8-12% through 2025 shocked the industry. Evenmore, the Gen-Z demographic increasingly reflect an interest in donning internationally recognisable items, argues President and CEO of Cartier. As travel resumes and borders open, millennials particularly excuse celebration- and selfie-worthy occasions. The iconic robin egg blue box with a white satin bow or the red leather bound, gold garnished enviable beholders of jewels fulfill the media-enthused generation hitting the peaks of their careers. Such sought after, iconic luxuries propel a 20-30% increase in market share for branded fine jewelry alone over the next five years.
Though all that glitters is not gold, the saying goes. The intensive excavation process fulfilling international demand threatens the very preciousness of gems. On one hand, the Amazon and Africa rely heavily upon the industry to support over 100 million miners and their families. On the other, their income-dependent access to resources manifests an ecological dead end. Mining a single carat of diamond requires an averaged 65 kg of CO2 and 480 litres of water. The strain upon resources together with air pollution and smog from burning fossil fuels for electricity proceeds to handicap local economies. The waste associated with post-pandemic trends proves not so #cottagecore exceeds what America sends to the landfill 1.5 times over annually.
Where is the crystal clear solution to the sourcing dilemma one asks? While company’s may be held accountable for allowing industry standards to go unchecked, the consumer’s sentiment must also be challenged.
Despite a lack in industry-wide unanimity, at the turn of 2021, the EU agreed to impose the Conflict Minerals Regulation and the Certification Standard for Sustainable Diamonds. DeBeers became the first jewelry atelier to utilise blockchain to trace diamond supply. Tiffany and Co. sets to publish the sourcing of diamonds above .18 carats, as they explore a recycled gold based collection. Bvlgari pledges to eliminate all plastic in its products by the end of the year.
Though brands halt in hesitation before proceeding in Pandora’s footsteps: the only major atelier to completely convert dependence upon lab-grown diamonds as of May this year.
A consumer may thoughtlessly opt for fair-trade organic, second-hand, or rental, but there lies a gap between what technology can provide and the beauty in unique, one of a kind precious stones that induce sentimental connections. From the Hope Diamond to a women’s dreamed about, coveted engagement ring, jewels are worshipped for their naturally-derived, singular beauty.
Though lab-grown diamonds carry identical molecular structure to those mined, stones are largely appreciated for their one of a kind cut that differentiates them from one of an equal carat value. Wearing an engagement ring that tells a story and glistens just a tad differently than the next diamond over is the beauty of natural stones. Sought in nature, precious gems allude to an heir of mysterious, profound incidence that a lab cannot reproduce.
Moreover, unlike shifts in textile manufacturing and production that require new skills to operate in the same factories, lab-grown procurement removes the mining-dependent middle-man. If the technological solution subtracts those dependent upon the mining economy, where are the likes of developing nations in the Amazon and Africa left?
While something borrowed and something blue fits the trend of circularity, the emblematic leaders of the industry must secure a wider solution to meet the burgeoning demand.
Recycled and lab-grown sources of supply set a precedent of resource consciousness, though a sustainable future in fine jewelry retail must take into account the wellbeing of the mining community, allowing both ends of the supply chain to capitalise upon unprecedented growth.
“Excavating the impact behind our Diamond Industry”
Isabel Froemming is a contributing fashion sustainability writer, model, and activist based in London. Her research focuses on transparent supply chains and gender equity in Indonesia. Isabel ran communications for Copenhagen Fashion Week for SS21 and prior to that acted as an editorial associate at sustainable e-tailer Rêve en Vert.