“Ethical jewellery is jewellery made with precious metals and gems sourced from ethical mines,” says Zoe Pook, a Sydney-based classically trained jewellery designer who works only with ethical materials. “Ethical mines are those that pay their miners a fair wage, treat them with respect and provide them with fair working practices.”
Ensuring that her designs are both ethical and environmentally friendly is a key factor in her approach to design. In fact, Zoe is one of a select few jewellers world-wide who works closely with the ethical Oro Verde (“Green Gold”) company, a Colombian-based company committed to fair-trade approaches. “The land is owned and managed by the artisanal miners, who are in fact he ancestral owners of the area.”
When it comes to gemstones, Zoe exercises similar caution, sourcing her gems only through fair trade dealers. She is particularly careful when it comes to diamonds, sourcing them only from Australia, Canada and Botswana. “These countries have safe working practices and stringent environment controls on the mines.”
Zoe’s approach to ethical, sustainable jewellery is reflected in the nature of her designs, which tend to be quite organic in nature. “I learn towards asymmetry and fluid lines,” says Zoe, who often incorporates coloured stones and unusual shapes and lines into her designs. Of course, Zoe is always happy to tailor her work to a client’s preferences.
“Often clients will come with some kind of idea, a picture or a sketch of something that they like, or a particular flower, theme or colour that they would like the design to be based on,” says Zoe. “We will then sit down and do some sketches, talk about suitability of stones and durability of design until we have something that they love.” Interestingly, many of these are based on natural elements such as flowers or rough-cut stones.
For example, one especially memorable commission incorporated “a rough yellow diamond, lots of small round brilliant cut diamonds, and ethical white gold and recycled yellow gold.” The yellow gold was taken from rings that had sentimental value to the client, and was melted down for use in the new ring. Though the design itself was simple, Zoe believes that the inclusion of a variety of elements–”luxury, recycling, bling and a one-off diamond”–made it stand out.
Zoe recommends that couples interested in working with her on a commission spend some time thinking about designs, researching online and viewing other rings and jewellery pieces to get an idea of what they like. “An engagement or wedding ring is one that you’ll be wearing for a long, long time, so choose a style that will survive years of wear and changes in terms of what’s fashionable.”
Considering the colour of the metal and gems to be used is another factor, and Zoe notes that there are many alternatives for those who don’t want a white diamond. “Consider pink, yellow or cognac,” she says.
Though Zoe has a number of both modern and traditional goldsmithing techniques to call upon, she acknowledges that the materials involved–metal and gemstones–will in large part dictate the final design. “I will often melt down the gold to re-form it into the desired shape, then create the ring and the settings,” she says. She may do this using old-fashioned techniques or techniques such as laser-cutting and computer-aided design for highly intricate designs. The manufacturing process typically takes four to six weeks for most rings.
But Zoe loves that hand-made jewellery has its own personality, a “special mark” that makes it unique. “A hand-made ring is just that,” she says. “It’s not machine-made or machine-perfect, which I think is part of the beauty. Hand-made is the new luxury!”
And finally, is there a specific design that Zoe is particularly interested in attempting? “My own engagement ring,” she says with a laugh. “Watch this space!”
Contact Zoe Pook
Your turn: are/were ethical and environmental issues a factor in choosing your rings?