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Sustainable, ethical and unique: What to look for when buying handmade jewellery

February 28, 2023 3 min read

Picture of handmade Brave Edith Precious Pendant on Jewellery bench peg

These days everyone is conscious of making better choices and being less wasteful. And one way we can be more mindful with our fashion choices is through the choice of handmade jewellery. Sometimes the term handmade is used loosely, so here are a few tips on how to ensure you are choosing quality handmade jewellery.

1. Is the jewellery hallmarked as made from recyclable precious metals?

Handmade items are often made by individual artists or small businesses who are working with limited resources, so recycling is our natural preference. This is particularly the case for jewellers working with expensive precious metals and gems. In contrast, jewellery that is bonded with large amounts of brass, such as gold-filled jewellery, is often mass produced and is harder to repair and recycle. Although hallmarks don’t guarantee that your item isn’t mass produced, it will help you understand whether you are buying something that is easily recyclable and therefore more sustainable. You can read more about hallmarks here.

2. Does the price reflect the time it would take to make it by hand?

Bear in mind that time is money, so handmade jewellery does come at a premium. There is a lot involved in designing and making jewellery including checking weights and balance at the design stage through to carving and/or saw-piercing, soldering, sanding, stone-setting and polishing at the “production” stage. If you find a handmade piece of jewellery made from silver or gold that is super cheap, then it is possible that the components have been mass produced and then assembled by hand, or alternatively, the person who made it isn’t make a living wage from it.

3. How intricate or unique is the design?

Handmade jewellery is also beautiful for so many aesthetic reasons. Firstly, when you hand-make jewellery, you can create intricate designs that can’t be easily replicated at scale. Such pieces usually take a lot of time and patience, but these are the pieces that stand out and can be kept forever. But even simple designs can be clever and ground-breaking plus the inevitable little imperfections of handmade jewellery create a certain “je ne sais quois” that you can’t find in machine made jewellery. If you’ve seen the same (or very similar) design across multiple brands, chances are it is mass-produced in a large factory offshore that may or may not follow global standards for good industry practice. That said, combining some technology with handmade is often sensible. For example, most fine necklace chains are machine made and even jewellery made from hand carved wax (using the ancient method of lost wax casting) is now cast using high tech machines. It also allows for artists to save some time in a world where time and resources are limited.

4. Is the brand transparent about how its jewellery is made?

Is the founder a trained jeweller or employ trained jewellers? These days many fashion brands and fashion entrepreneurs offer seasonal jewellery in addition to their clothing lines. As the jewellery is designed to be only seasonal, many brands simply import mass-produced designs and there is usually little explanation about the jewellery. Sadly, it is this type of jewellery that is most likely to go to waste as fashions change. In contrast, brands and artisans that create handmade jewellery put a lot of time and thought into their designs and are proud to explain how their jewellery is made, what the jewellery is made of and where it is made. Click to read more about our story, or our materials and our process .

A sidenote on contemporary jewellery using found items and non-precious metals such as copper: There are some wonderful handmade contemporary jewellery pieces that use less traditional materials such as recycled plastic or upcycled objects. These are usually one-off pieces, consciously crafted and beautifully handmade. In this case, sustainability is often at the core of the artisan’s philosophy and they will be more than delighted to tell you about their practice!

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