We tend to think that the industries of ‘fast fashion’ and its half sibling ‘fast fashion jewelry’ are the main perpetrators raking environmental havoc. However, did you know that mining for just one 0.333-ounce gold ring creates about 20 tons(!) of mine waste? This shocking estimate made by Earthworks, certainly puts things in perspective: while fine jewelry production creates much less pollution than the ‘fast jewelry’ manufacturing does, there is still much room for improvement.
Buying vintage fine jewelry is the most sustainable way there is, when it comes to jewelry purchases. It resolves the three most environmentally harmful aspects of contemporary jewelry production.
Vintage Fine Jewelry Creates Zero Toxic Pollution
Industrial size jewelry mining – for precious metal or precious gemstones and diamonds – has a number of harmful impacts on our environment: from erosion of land and chemical leakage into water supplies, to dramatically changing air quality and loss of biodiversity. The extraction techniques sometimes include stripping the surface soil and using chemicals that can cause the formation of sinkholes, contamination of soil and alteration of a given region’s ecosystem.
Due to the use of open pit mining and cyanide heap leaching, this process produces a gray liquid sludge, containing cyanide and toxic heavy metals, that are often dumped into natural water bodies. To give you an example, the Lihir gold mine in Papua New Guinea releases 5 million tons of toxic waste into the Pacific Ocean every year.
Vintage jewelry means none of the extraction and mining techniques will be utilized. If you’re buying vintage fine jewelry, which as a rule of thumb is characterized by outstanding durability, you’re also increasing the lifespan of the gorgeous jewelry piece without creating any need for further pollution of air, soil and water.
Vintage Fine Jewelry: Zero Waste
Branded jewelry accounts for 20% of the overall jewelry market today, and its share has doubled in the last two decades. The continual drive of 'fast fashion' adds to the waste problem, and a whopping 120,000 fashion pieces are sent to landfills every hour, according to The Jewelry Industry In 2020 Report by McKinsey.
Fine jewelry stands the test of time and the materials used in fine jewelry are naturally designed to last. For example, precious gems, silver, gold and diamonds, which are virtually resistant to any imaginable damage, are timeless and the desire to own them hasn’t ceased since the beginning of human civilization. The quality of the materials and the craftsmanship of vintage and antique fine jewelry holds its value and there’s no compromise on the quality or beauty of the jewelry piece. These are items you will want to wear often and for years and years to come. This is to say, instead of buying an average of 20-30 fashion jewelry items every year and sending them to landfill at the end of the season, you’re getting a jewelry piece with character and authenticity that’s impossible to reproduce and that’s so aesthetically pleasing, you won’t get tired of the cherished vintage fine jewelry piece and you can always combine any jewelry from antiquity with a contemporary wardrobe.
Fast Consumption Encourages Consumerism, More Waste in Landfills
We buy more than triple what our parents did in terms of clothes, accessories and jewelry. However, we often hardly give these things much wear if any at all. Consider the fact that people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than in 2000, but they only kept the clothes for half (!) as long. Fashion and fashion jewelry companies went from offering two collections a year in 2000 to five ten years later, and up to 24 collections per year (Zara) in 2019.
Fast consumption further increases the amount of waste from manufacturing, the disposal of items that are not of high quality and have very low wearability, as well as getting bored with that fashion brand’s bracelet that won’t transition well into next season.
Vintage and antique jewelry will never go out of style because its historical value, outstanding workmanship and elegant aesthetics secure it a place in the world of fashion for decades to come, making for a good investment as well.