How To Make Ethical Jewelry: The Complete Guide

How To Make Ethical Jewelry: The Complete Guide

Dennis Kamprad

Read Time:10 Minutes


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The pathway to a more sustainable jewelry industry requires many working toward the goal at every level of the supply chain and manufacturing process. And making ethical jewelry is getting easier to do as more continue to join the movement in responsible jewelry making. So we had to ask: How to make ethical jewelry?

The key to make ethical jewelry is to find an ethical sourcing partner for your raw materials – which you can do through directly contacting the Ethical Making Resource for your specific needs. The next step is to find out which jewelry-making style best suits your materials, tools, and skills.

We’ve got the complete guide for making ethical jewelry to help you on your quest for a more socially and environmentally responsible approach in fashion-accessory creation. Whether you’re looking to start a business or find a new hobby in this creative, versatile, enjoyable, and rewarding craftwork, this article has what you need to know to make that happen.

How Ethics & Sustainability Work Together To Make Jewelry

Sustainability in manufacturing generally refers to environmental impact, particularly with regards to materials. Ethics, on the other hand, refers to the fair and humane treatment of people (and animals) working throughout the supply chain.

When it comes to jewelry, ethics and sustainability are heavily intertwined. And it all starts with sourcing the fundamental materials. But this issue is complex, and it can be difficult to accurately trace materials to ensure they were sourced sustainably and ethically.

  • All too often, ethically-questionable methods are used to source fundamental materials. 
  • But be aware, much time is spent officially communicating that workers’ rights and safety standards are in place and upheld wherever possible – don’t get blinded by corporate marketing messages here.

Handmade Versus Mass-Production Jewelry

By considerable margins, the most ethical, sustainable, responsibly-made jewelry is handmade jewelry. And the odds are good that you are reading this article because you are interested in making handmade jewelry–whether for business or as a hobby–in a socially and environmentally responsible way.

As a handmade jewelry artisan, you tend to have an easier time operating sustainably and ethically, as typically there are fewer limitations, expectations, and demands on you than for those of larger businesses. Also smaller-sized and independent operations can also source from smaller and local businesses for stones and other materials. This, in turn, allows for a sustainable community cycle. 

Understand the Challenges in Making Responsible and Ethical Jewelry

When it comes to making jewelry–fine jewelry, most notably– the biggest impact on the environment comes from sourcing raw materials, such as metal, diamonds, and other precious stones, which is done via mining. And modern-day mining practices often contaminate soil, water, and air and cause physical disturbances to the landscape.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let me introduce you to the Ethical Making Resource.

The Ethical Making Resource provides you practical information to source your materials in a more ethical and also environmental-friendly way. They provide you with resources for guidance on where to find and how to purchase ethically sourced materials. At least if you contact them. 

So this should be your first step in making ethical jewelry: Contact the Ethical Making Resource directly, so that they can recommend you to a supplier based on your specific needs.

Some independent suppliers get really active within the responsible jewelry movement and go out to mining locations and personally witness operations to ensure their ethos lines up with the metals and stones they buy. It’s possible they even dig and mine for stones themselves! Such suppliers will present this information readily and openly share anything you want to know about their materials, so don’t be shy about asking whatever questions you may have.

Later in this article, we’ll also show you more helpful resources for making ethical jewelry in a responsible way.

Consider These Handmade Jewelry-Making Styles

Handmade jewelry is considerably more ethical and sustainable than mass-production jewelry, mostly due to the lack of heavy machinery being used. (Plus, handmade jewelry artisans, like yourself, typically work with recycled or sustainable materials, which they have taken the time to research.) 

There is no “standard look” or design; rather, each piece of handmade jewelry is distinctly unique, from simple and intricate designs, natural imperfections in materials, and variation of styles used to make it.

No matter your current jewelry-making talent, there are many techniques you can learn to create new or enhance existing jewelry designs and expand your inventory. Or, if you don’t actually know how to make handmade jewelry yet and are looking to learn, there is much to consider. 

Here are the various ways to make ethical, handmade jewelry sustainably using only simple tools and your own two hands.

Assembled Jewelry Making

Assembled or ‘hand-assembled’ jewelry is the simplest kind of handmade jewelry. It’s a wonderful way to create and sell personalized or otherwise unique jewelry at a reasonable price–for both you and your customer. Typically, hand-assembled jewelry makers use pre-made chains, charms, and other jewelry findings to make bracelets, earrings, and necklaces.

This technique is easily learned in a matter of days and an excellent starting point for beginners

Hand-Stamped Jewelry Making

Easily one of today’s most popular handmade jewelry styles, hand-stamped jewelry is a great method for making personalized, custom designs for your friends, family, and customers alike. It’s one of the easier techniques to learn, requiring only a few simple tools and some basic knowledge, and recommended for those who are still fairly new to jewelry making.

Hand-stamped jewelry is created using a hammer to stamp impressions onto metal blanks. Such jewelry findings are made from various metals, from more affordable options such as aluminum and copper to the more expensive blanks made of gold and silver. Stamps are also made into letters, animals, people, and other themed shapes. Such versatility allows you to provide jewelry at a wide range of price-points and trend-sophistications. 

You may excel in this technique to the point you consider working with more valuable metals. In that case, you’ll need to take a disciplined, thorough approach when researching suppliers to ensure you’re obtaining materials that were sourced ethically and sustainably. 

Engraved Jewelry Making                                           

In the similar-but-different version of hand-stamped jewelry, engraving allows designers to create more elaborate artwork in their jewelry. However, this technique also takes advanced skills and, in some cases, special equipment. To hand-engrave a piece, jewelers create a hand-drawn design on the piece and then use very sharp specialty-engraving tools to cut them out. This is something that takes time and practice to do well.

Another option you could consider is laser engraving, though it can be a steep investment to obtain the quality tools and technology available for this jewelry making method. 

Laser engraving utilizes light beams reflected through mirrors to make designs onto a chosen piece of metal. Software programs are available that allow you to upload or create personalized designs for engraving. And the machine is useful for producing multiple pieces with the same or similar designs much more quickly than with traditional engraving tools. 

Of course, one could argue this makes laser engraving a form of mass-production jewelry that is not as eco-friendly (based on the energy required to run computers and engraving machines). Even so, this is considerably more sustainable than machines and methods used by some of the larger jewelry manufacturers, making it still an ethical and sustainable option for a smaller-sized artisan jewelry maker such as yourself.

However, this advanced technology for jewelry making can cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars to invest in, so you’ll want to be confident in your hand-engraving (and computer) abilities and passionate about embracing this method before getting started. 

Wire-Wrapped Jewelry Making

It’s easy to spot handmade wire-wrapped jewelry because it uses a great deal of wire! Many artisans will use this technique to create charms or pendants with beads and stones. In its elementary form, coils of wrapped-wire are made to create a decorative frame. One can attach ornamental elements to the frame, as well, with this basic skill. 

But advanced and experienced wire-wrapped jewelry makers can produce surprisingly intricate and exquisite designs with rather labor-intensive techniques. Wires of various gauges or thicknesses are used depending on the look they are trying to create, and makers must understand characteristics for several wire options. Indeed, this jewelry-making method requires quite a bit of time and practice to build this skill.

Enameled Jewelry Making

This technique is a wonderful way to place pops of color onto metal jewelry pieces. Enameling involves fusing glass powder to metals to form a permanent bond. Various tools and equipment can be available for enameling, the most popular of which are soldering torches. Torch-firing is the most popular technique, generally considered simpler and more affordable than others for making enameled jewelry.

Kilns are also used for enameling, as some techniques require the jewelry to be heated more gently than would a soldering torch. Other methods of making enameled jewelry support a wide range of design creativity and open up enameling as an option for various designers regardless of budget, talent, or style preference. 

Beaded Jewelry Making

Depending on which type of beads are used (and on preference and skill level), you can create the most basic and simple or the most complex and elaborate jewelry designs. Beads come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and materials, and some even stamped with numbers or letters to create personalized jewelry that really makes a statement. 

There are copper beads, crystal beads, gemstone beads, beads made of copper, silver, wood, and clay, and some of the most delicate and intricate beads are made from glass. It requires some practice (and patience) to work with some of the teeny-tiny beads, but experienced makers can come to produce incredible designs that are larger and more detailed. 

Fabricated Jewelry Making

This type of jewelry uses metalsmithing techniques and general bench-jeweler skills to create a wide range of jewelry, from conventional gemstone rings to uniquely-creative art jewelry. Jewelers must learn to operate a metal saw for cutting basic piece shapes or cut sophisticated details in the design. Soldering is often used for attaching various components, which can be as simple as bonding two pieces or as complex as making dozens of solder joints.

Fabrication is another jewelry-making technique that requires you to dedicate a good amount of time to learn. Generally, it is recommended that you take studio classes at vocational schools or community art centers to gain access to the information and knowledge you should have to execute the skills involved properly. 

Still, once you understand a few fundamental concepts, you’ll be able to manipulate metal in several ways and offer more selection in your designs. But aspiring fabricated jewelry makers, be warned: this is how many rough, grungy hands in the artisan jewelers community are made.

Making Larger Amounts of Jewelry

But suppose you’re interested in making larger amounts of jewelry in shorter lengths of time. In that case, there are ways to do so that can be sustainable and ethical so long as you do your due diligence to research sources and keep yourself informed. This includes utilizing resources and associating yourself with groups that are concerned with responsible jewelry making.

Helpful Resources for Making Ethical Jewelry Responsibly

Whether you’re looking to start your own business in handmade jewelry design and manufacturing or make ethical jewelry as a hobby–creating fun pieces for your family, friends, and yourself from time to time–you will need to spend time resourcing materials, tools, and best practices. The good news is that there are several resources available to assist you with this task.

Listed below are various organizations dedicated to providing resources, education, certification, updates in research, and general support to jewelry makers worldwide concerned about their social and environmental impact. They call help you find ethical material suppliers, provide sustainability certification for your business, or connect you with individuals and groups who are taking action towards a more responsible jewelry industry. 

Jewelry Industry Summit 

Jewelry Industry Summit is a not for profit organization that works to unite the jewelry industry to encourage and bring about meaningful activities that are solution-driven and continue the advancement of sustainable and responsible sourcing. Summits provide unique opportunities to participate in sustainability initiatives and information about responsible jewelry sourcing strategies and resource tools.

Chicago Responsible Jewellery Conference

The Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference was recently founded in 2017 by jewelry designer Susan Wheeler and connects people worldwide to discuss supply chain transparency and ways to make the industry more beneficial to everyone involved at every level of jewelry making. Its mission is to engage the industry in discussion, planning, and action to improve and advance the responsible jewelry movement.

National Association of Jewellers

The National Association of Jewellers represents over 2,000 companies operating in every facet of the jewelry industry, and every member must abide by a code of integrity, professionalism, and honesty. The association provides education, insight, and advice to support, nurture, and enable businesses to be more successful by staying a step ahead in the industry. 

Ethical Metalsmiths

The Ethical Metalsmiths is a community for responsible jewelry that envision a jewelry industry that makes beautiful products free from human and environmental burdens. They are made up of jewelers, suppliers, designers, and caring buyers committed to practices that are responsible and environmentally-sound throughout the industry. The group strives to connect and educate in the hopes to inspire action in responsible jewelry practices.

Responsible Jewellery Council

The Responsible Jewellery Council is the world’s leading organization that sets standards for the entire watch and jewelry industry. It offers two certification programs for members, and all standards are in line with UN Sustainability goals.

Fair Luxury

Fair Luxury is made up of “change-makers” who have a vision for a sustainable and responsible future for the jewelry industry. They recognize that commitment to responsible business is a detailed challenge, so it offers informative stories from industry professionals to inspire progress toward a more sustainable future. The collaboration is also responsible for the “I made your jewelry” campaign to raise awareness about transparency in the industry. 

Alliance for Responsible Mining 

The Alliance for Responsible Mining is a global initiative created with the goal of transforming small-scale and artisanal mining in Asia, Africa, and Latin America into an activity that is more socially and environmentally responsible. They create voluntary marketing and production standards and support the formation of responsible supply chains. 

Kimberley Process 

The Kimberley Process focuses particularly on reducing the stream of rough diamonds used for funding war against governments. Admittedly, this is a limited resource with a limited scope, as this is but one of many issues surrounding conflict diamonds. Nonetheless, it is helpful, informative, and worth taking the time to look at.

The Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) 

The Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance mission is to protect the environment and the people directly affected by mining. This is accomplished by certifying environmental and social performance at global mine sites using international responsible mining standards.

CIBJO – The World Jewellery Confederation 

The World Jewellery Confederation or in French, Confédération Internationale de la Bijouterie, Joaillerie, Orfèvrerie des Diamants, Perles et Pierres (CIBJO) is the oldest international organization dedicated to the jewelry trade. It represents the interests of organizations, companies, and individuals that earn a livelihood via precious metals, gemstones, and jewelry. 

The purpose of CIBJO is to promote international cooperation and encourage harmonization in the industry.

Fairtrade Gold

Fairtrade Gold is an organization working to make a difference in the lives of miners and their communities, as well as the environment. You can take their educational course and become an ambassador for Fairtrade Gold so that you can speak to customers confidently about your positive impact.

It’s good for anyone anywhere in the supply chain, but there is a focus on the retail sector—a valuable resource for everyone studying jewelry design and manufacturing.

Final Thoughts

While there is a lot that goes into making ethical jewelry, it’s becoming easier to do as more jewelers and organizations are stepping up to address the jewelry industry’s issues. By taking the time to educate yourself in sustainable practices–from mining to manufacturing–and diligently researching your sources, you, too, can make a positive impact in the movement toward a more sustainable, ethical, and overall responsible future in jewelry making. 

Stay impactful,

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