The words “one man’s trash,” mean far more today than they ever did before. In a world where increasing heatwaves and, as we’ve just experienced, intense flooding are a sobering reality, upcycling for sustainability is more than just a clever design hack. Local creatives are heeding the call and making jewellery from materials that have lived a very different life in the past.
Electronic waste in South Africa is seldom recycled. According to a 2019 report, only 12 percent is salvaged and reconditioned, and things aren’t much better globally. E-waste recycling can claim only a 20 percent rebirth. Fortunately, that’s where jewellery designers such as Ashley Heather, founder of AuTerra jewellery, take inspiration.
“I’d always discounted it as an option for myself because of the environmental and social issues associated with mining and precious metals.”
Ashley Heather, founder of AuTerra
Left: AuTerra Dawn Pendant in e-waste recycled gold. Right: Gold Twist Ring
South Africa’s well-deserved reputation for quality diamonds and fine jewellery means no end of exquisite pieces. The need for more conscious lifestyles, including ethical and eco-friendly pieces – and even recycled jewellery – shows that considered choices can be made.
“I stumbled into jewellery making quite by accident,” explains Heather, a passionate advocate for sustainability. “I’d always discounted it as an option for myself because of the environmental and social issues associated with mining and precious metals.” However, she made some remarkable discoveries that changed everything.
Having worked as a photographer, Heather knew that silver (used in photographic chemicals) was going to waste. That became her starting point, and she began to craft pieces in silver reclaimed from X-rays and used photographic chemicals. “As digital processes replaced more and more of the traditional darkroom methods, we began investigating other sustainable, single-sourced recycled metal options,” she explains. “Recycling e-waste came about as a result of a great deal of research accompanied by some very serendipitous connections.”
And it made eco-sense because, as the fastest growing municipal waste stream in the world, e-waste is an issue that desperately needs to be addressed. “Most e-waste contains both gold and silver, a jeweller’s dream, and so all the pieces started to fall into place.” And creating that artisan’s puzzle meant Heather could slot in her “dual passions of sustainability and crafting precious metals”.
Romancing the stone
South Africa is a country of entrepreneurs, and while conscious jewellery consumers concerned with ethically sourced stones may need to do some digging before making their responsible rock purchase, the goods are there.
“In order to consider a gemstone ethically sourced, one needs to look at labour, environment, traceability and transparency,” explains gemologist Gill Eerenstein, co-owner and head designer at Verus Fine Jewellery. “The most crucial factor is to know and trust the jeweller, as it is our responsibility to ensure that those four factors are adhered to.” In other words, do your research and check your creative’s record.
Heather struggled with the quandary that is jewellery versus sustainability. She’s seen first-hand what unchecked mining does to communities and their environments. And about to embark on a career in one of the most eco-burdened trades globally, she knew there had to be an answer to creating beautiful, recycled jewellery.
It’s the same with stones. Looking to raw or semi-polished gemstones for many of their pieces, Eerenstein speaks of not only their striking organic beauty, but also the opportunity to ensure there’s “no surplus waste with the usual polishing of stones”.
More to love
From silver earrings made from circuit boards to salt and pepper diamonds chosen for their natural splendour, conscious jewellery means sustainable style — and supporting small businesses. Computer scrap pieces aside, there’s a strong focus on jewellery that is resistant to damage caused by the chemicals in our water supply.
And its manufacture needn’t hurt the planet. Making jewellery from stainless steel (100 percent recyclable and green), ByCara designs accessories — from rings to bracelets and more — with a PVD coating. Environmentally friendly, non-hazardous waste is created, and the stainless steel isn’t less recyclable because it’s coated. But while you can shower with your layered chains, your pieces aren’t protected from a pool treated with chlorine or a salty sea dip, although we’re sure that’s coming.
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