Let’s be honest here. What is the #1 most important, winner-takes-all priority for you on your big day?
Looking fabulous, of course!
Everyone knows that the Bride alone will outshine all of the bridesmaids, colorful flowers and gorgeous evening wear combined! Which means that next to finding the perfect gown, your mission critical is getting a set of stunning adornments to highlight your dress, personality and eco-lifestyle.
So where should you begin? How on earth do you find eco-friendly jewelry? And, once you do that, how do you make sure it’s the right style for you and your wedding dress? Let’s break it down…first the jewels, then your style
1. Fair Trade. One of the most understated aspects of conscious consumerism is the concept of Fair Trade. Sure, that’s great that Walmart is now carrying an organic clothing line. But if the t-shirts are $5 a piece, someone in a sweatshop somewhere is getting a raw deal. In your search for ethical jewelry, you must make it a priority to understand how the materials that were used in the jewelry came to be…or came to be put together. Companies that are paying higher living wages want you to know about it. Their pricing may be a bit higher (naturally, because they are paying people their true worth) and so they will make sure you know why. If a company has no literature or content regarding their Fair Trade policies, they are likely getting their jewelry or materials from underpaid, overworked factory labor. If it seems too cheap to be Fair Trade, it probably is. It doesn’t matter how “green” the materials are if someone’s quality of life is being negatively affected by it. The cost of this “dirty” jewelry cannot be measured in dollars and cents.
2. Green-washing. Just because a jeweler uses the words natural, organic, recycled, handmade or green somewhere in the description of the product does not automatically make the entire piece environmentally sound. Find out more. A truly eco-friendly jeweler will tell you where each and every single component came from; not just stamp the “green” label on the jewelry because it has one single Fair Trade gem among dozens of other conventional, not-so-green components. What type of material is it? Was it made according to Fair Trade standards? Is every single component in that piece of jewelry green and/or socially responsible?
3. Recycled metals. The jewelry should be made with as close to 100% recycled metals as possible. Metal mining is the leading toxic polluter in the United States and one of the top reasons our drinking water has been contaminated with mercury and heavy metals in various areas throughout the country. There is plenty of silver and gold already in circulation, including chains and findings, so we have no excuse not to reuse or recycle it. Look for, or ask about, the recycled content of each individual component that goes into that piece of jewelry, particularly with handcrafted jewelry, which involves a lot of little pieces. If the jeweler is truly doing their due diligence, you won’t have to ask...it will be listed in the product description on their website. Also, be sure to investigate the recycled content of any chains used. Silver and gold chain uses more metal than most other components that go into a piece of jewelry. Even if the chains are the only things about the jewelry that is recycled (or reclaimed), this is still a great start.
4. Natural, Untreated. To reduce land and water pollution from toxic chemicals and radiation, choose a jeweler that uses all natural, untreated gemstones and pearls. If they must be treated, such as in the case of freshwater black pearls, make sure they are done so organically. Most semi-precious and precious gemstones are treated with a variety of potentially harmful methods, such as irradiation and chemical enhancement; so it’s nice to find untreated alternatives when you can.
5. Sustainable, organic materials, such as tagua nut, coconut shell or acai berry, are breathtaking works of art when properly carved and polished. Use liberally. These natural elements are fully renewable each year and support the emergence of green businesses by artisans internationally. Again, make sure they are sourced under Fair Trade practices.
6. Vintage and Recycled. Look for jewelry with recycled glass and vintage or second-hand materials. Avoid pieces that use brand new crystal. Swarovski and knock-offs do not release their manufacturing processes to the public and, thus, there is no way to determine how safe or unsafe the materials and their chemical treatments really are...but it’s likely that they are not very eco friendly. The mass production of these beads may contribute to industrial pollution and because Swarovski and others do not have public sustainability statements as of this writing, how can we know what they are doing to minimize or offset the damage? Instead, opt for designs that incorporate vintage and second-hand crystals and materials. You can never go wrong with a chic new take on classic finds.
7. Green Business. It isn’t enough that the materials are eco-friendly; the company’s practices should be too. How are they greening their operations? Are they an advocate to their industry and customers, offering education and programs for green living and environmental reform? Do they offer recycling programs to their customers? Do they give back to environmental NGOs and non-profits? Look for jewelers that are a member of One Percent for the Planet, No Dirty Gold Pledge, Green America and other similar organizations. You can seek out jewelers that will refashion your old fashion accessories and fine jewelry, allowing you to reuse your materials in new pieces. You can also find jewelers that offset their carbon footprint.
8. Your Dress. OK, now to YOU. You’ve located some genuinely eco-friendly jewelry, now how do you pick the right style for you? The style and neckline of your dress will absolutely determine the structure of your jewelry. Is your gown strapless? Does it have beading in the bodice? Is the neckline a halter, sweetheart, off the shoulder or other? Follow these tips to match your gown with your accessories:
Beading - Avoid competing with any bodice beading or detail. Plain pearls are a natural choice if your dress has a lot of artwork. If your dress is over-active, you may want to skip the necklace and opt instead for a classic set of pearl studs and coordinating bracelet.
V Neck – V-drop, lariat, pendant. Dangle earrings are a delicate touch.
Scoop – Don’t hold back…just about anything will go with this shape, especially the classic princess and choker.
Square – Stick with princess and choker necklaces. Multiple strands will help tone down the angles.
Strapless Straight – Watch the length on this one, no more than 18”. Multi-strand chokers are the sexiest pick for any bold, strapless classic. This neckline gives you a lot of flexibility, though.
Strapless Sweetheart – This heart-shape beauty offers quite a bit of flexibility, but if you really want to knock ‘em dead, opt for a Y-drop or pendant to draw maximum attention to your feminine neckline.
Halter – This one is a bit tricky. Necklaces can sometimes pull away from the halter style, so be selective. If the cut is low on the chest, go with a multi-strand princess or a pendant or Y-drop. If the cut is high, skip the necklace and focus on a show-stopping bracelet instead.
Bateau or Jewel – Super long rope or opera length necklaces look fabulous with this neckline. If you’re going for a chic, 1920s feel, opt for an extra long multi-strand pearl necklace. If not, then skip the necklace and try some bold earrings or bracelets.
Queen Anne – You don’t want to compete with this stunning collar, so save the necklace. A flattering set of Victorian-style earrings will take this look from high class to untouchable.
Asymmetrical – Don’t make your guests think. A necklace will only confuse them. Go with short, symmetrical earrings and a multi-strand pearl bracelet…or even two…to fully accessorize for a fashion-forward finish. One bracelet on each wrist will balance you out from head to toe and take your complete look up a notch.
Photo Credit: DH Gate
9. Your Budget. Every bride is on a budget of some kind. Let’s first establish the benefits of investing in quality eco-friendly jewelry and then discuss your options for wallet-sensitive fashion. Green jewelry has three main benefits:
- Good for the environment
- Good for people
- Lasts a lifetime (unless its refashioned using old costume jewelry)
By choosing to invest in eco-friendly jewelry, you are a making a powerful statement about the importance of metals recycling, environmentally responsible mining and ethical labor practices. Jewelers will never be motivated to reform if consumers don’t pressure them with their dollars.
That said, let’s talk about quality. If you invest in heirloom-quality bridal jewelry, you can wear the piece again and again and even pass it down to loved ones in the future; which means that it will pay for itself very quickly. Keep this in mind when you are deciding whether to allocate that budget line of $200 toward your perfect eco-chic look or the cheap, plastic, land-filling favors Aunt Milly insists you buy.
Photo Credit: Seattle Bride Magazine
Regardless of your current budget, you do have options. If your jeweler is in tune to your needs, they will offer you custom design, in which you can clearly state your requirements in style and taste, while also working directly with them to create a set that fits into your budget. The fastest way to both your goals, eco-friendly and affordable, is open communication with the jeweler. Let them know what you want and how much you can spend and they will tell you whether it can be done. With Fair Trade practices, no green provider will ever be able to compete with big box, mass manufacturers who use penny-on-the-dollar overseas labor and turn that savings into rock-bottom product pricing. However, they often have resources that a big box would never dream to use and could get pretty creative when putting your pieces together. If you’re truly counting every penny, this is the best route to go.
If you still find that eco-friendly jewelry is out of your range at this time, consider your local resale shop. You never know what unique finds may be lurking around the corner.
10. Your Bridesmaids. Don’t let all your green efforts go to the wayside when its time to shift focus to your sidekicks extraordinaire. Whomever you’ve chosen to share the limelight with resides in your top-tier VIP list, and they are shelling out a lot of time, effort and dough to make sure this is one of the greatest moments of your life. One of the most touching ways you can show them a little love is with a close-to- your-heart gift that will last a lifetime. Quality, eco-friendly jewelry will not only be a treasure they can enjoy for decades to come, it will also carry with it a sentiment about your values that they will never forget.
Photo Credit: Bridesmaid
As you might with your own jewelry, ask your jeweler about custom designed sets for your bridesmaids. You may find that, on top of being able to work within a set budget, ordering multiple pieces affords you a bulk discount. You never know until you ask.
Katherine DalPra is principal and lead designer for Green Diva, an eco-friendly jeweler using 100% recycled metals, sustainable elements, vintage materials and Fair Trade gems. Green Diva specializes in custom bridal jewelry for your themed wedding: vintage, destination, cultural, classic, nature-inspired, custom and more.
Read more by Katherine DalPra: An Interview with the Green Diva