When it comes to accessories made of precious metals, most people default to platinum, gold, silver or copper. But not all that glitters is just gold. Eco-sustainable accessories might be more precious than the mainstream. Imagine wearing striking one-of-a-kind jewels made of retrieved materials from vintage heirlooms sold at a garage sale, scrap metal from de-activated landmines and discarded electronics parts. Not only are they great conversation pieces – for each finished piece has a story worth telling – but they also raise your style cred instantly.
Here are some amazing pieces from innovative designers to add to your collection, whether you have a penchant for chunky bracelets, delicate necklaces, heavy rings or simple stud earrings.
Recycled and handmade
Saught is an old English word that means a covenant for peace and reconciliation. And that is exactly what is at the heart of the message that Saught wants to convey in every piece of jewellery it creates. The Singapore-based social advocacy enterprise creates accessories made of scrap metal from de-activated landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs) in Cambodia to support sustainability in post-conflict countries.
Every piece has an historic narrative about a war-savaged nation and is designed in collaboration with international award-winning designers and emerging designers alike. Saught believes in the power of remembering stories behind its jewellery line. Each is handcrafted one at a time with plenty of heart, and all the jewelries contain redeemed artillery shells recovered in Cambodia by international and Cambodian de-mining organizations. And yes, Saught accessories are safe to wear. The metal used has been safely neutralized (all the gunpowder has been removed).
Some of the more interesting pieces are the Egg on Peace ring by award-winning designer Yuki Mitsuyasu featuring a real quail egg shell mounted atop a faceted ring, designed to build empathy by understanding the fears and restrictions that one would feel living in a landmine-affected area. Once the eggshell is broken or removed, the ring reveals a cross-shaped screw like an anti-landmine sign, the design inspired by an anti-personnel landmine.
Saught creates employment opportunities in developing countries like war-savaged Cambodia to break the poverty cycle and help ensure that communities of artisans and their families have better lives. This means that they can work in a safe environment worry-free, with insurance, housing allowances, fair pay, and skills training opportunities. Saught believes that by supporting income generation opportunities and by creating a lasting market for artisanal skills, it can help lift a generation out of poverty.
Moreover, Saught allows its consumers to be involved in the campaign for social change. Customers are not just buying a recycled metal bracelet, ring or trinket. They are learning about conflict-ravaged regions and helping employ those who have lost everything as a result of getting caught in the crossfire.
Reclaimed silver from circuit-board metal
South African designer Ashley Heather specialises in jewelry made from silver salvaged from discarded electronic products.
It takes 245kg of fossil fuels, 22kgs of chemicals, and 1500 litres of water to manufacture one desktop computer. Ultimately, 80-85 per cent of all electronic products are discarded in landfills or incinerators releasing toxins into the air and soil. Circuit boards rely on silver and gold for their excellent electrical conductivity. In the USA alone, cell phones containing US$60 million worth of gold and silver are dumped every year.
Heather works with a large metal refinery, which she claims is the only facility of its kind in Africa that extracts the metals found in unwanted electronic circuit boards and produces high-quality silver. The refining process begins by dismantling the waste electronics by hand. The components are then separated for recycling and the circuit boards are shredded before being fed into the furnace. All of the metals, including high quantities of copper, are collected as sludge. The precious metals are separated and purified, then melted again in the final stage. The silver obtained at the end of the refining process is of a higher purity than mined silver.
Says Heather: “Mined silver is usually 99.99 per cent pure. By the end of our refining process, it’s 99.999 per cent pure.”
The metal is mixed with a small amount of copper to create sterling silver, which can then be handcrafted into jewelry using traditional silversmithing techniques. Her simple designs include cufflinks with rectangular concrete insets, a necklace with stalk-like pendants and rings in various geometric shapes. Heather plans to extend her range to include items made from gold reclaimed in a similar way.
LeAnn Larson loves recycling, vintage silverware and jewelry but most of all, working with her hands. In 2010, she combined all her interests and started Bent Spoon Jewelry, producing one-of-a-kind keepsake jewelry from vintage silverware. Larson gets her materials from thrift stores, by trading with likeminded individuals and by attending estate sales.
Intricate patterns and the occasional monogram on spoons, knives and forks are some of the details worked into Larson’s ornate jewelry. There is silverware from the 1930s, 1950s, or the early years of Art Nouveau, hailing from collections with names like Noblesse, Michelangelo by Oneida, Avalon and more. For those of us who never gave a spoon a second glance, it’s exciting to learn that simple cutlery could carry such history.
“Everything around us has a story to tell and I take pride in giving my materials a second life as a piece of art,” says Larson. “In particular the reused silverware jewelry inspires me to reflect on the materials’ past life. Once at a flea market, I found an old spoon with lots of visible wear on one side of its bowl and I couldn’t help wondering who owned that spoon and how many homemade meals they must have eaten with it. Moments like that remind me how awe inspiring the circular flow of energy is our universe. I hope to express this flow in all of my work.”
Besides bracelets, there are rings, and some clever bell-shaped pendants (made from hefty handles of knives), cufflinks from antique brooches and coins repurposed into earrings. Larson also provides engraving services on all the pieces she creates to make for a truly unique keepsake.
This article first appeared on Channel News Asia.