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Why sustainability is the jewellery industry’s next frontier

12 : 06 : 2017 Luxury : Jewellery : Sustainability
Manifattura Bulgari by Open Project, Piedmont Manifattura Bulgari by Open Project, Piedmont

Brands cannot hide from the scrutiny of digitally native consumers and tomorrow’s luxury consumers who want to know everything about a product or company before they make a purchase.

Kathryn Bishop, senior writer, The Future Laboratory

In luxury sectors such as fashion, food and fragrance, major businesses are making sustainable, future-facing changes from the inside out, especially in regards to transparency – materials and ingredients and their origins are listed, along with the product’s place of manufacture. In jewellery? Not so much.

Traditionally, the charm of craftsmanship and the storied exclusivity of jewellery brands was enough to attract luxury consumers in their droves. However, jewellery stalwarts, long dependent on footfall in locations such as Bond Street or Place Vendôme, can no longer rely on their heritage and the allegiance of ageing patrons. Such expectations are outmoded and increasingly challenged by the consumer demand for brands to take a Whole-system Thinking approach that champions openness, ethics and sustainable practices.

And it’s no surprise. Brands cannot hide from the scrutiny of digitally native consumers and tomorrow’s luxury consumers who want to know everything about a product or company before they make a purchase. According to Label Insight, 94% of consumers are likely to be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency.

In light of this, future-fit jewellery labels need to actively pursue and implement sustainable practices to satisfy these demands and attract new luxury consumers.

But it’s also about sharing the values of tomorrow’s younger consumers – those with an estimated £34bn ($44bn, €39bn) in spending power. Some 91% of Millennials say they would switch brands to one associated with a positive cause, while 60% of members of Generation Z – the youngest of today’s luxury consumers – expect brands to take a stand on causes they believe in.

In the UK, award-winning ethical jeweller Cred Jewellery reports that a growing number of its Millennial customers are actively looking for Peruvian and African Fairtrade gold and Canadian-mined diamonds, which are conflict-free and benefit local miners and their communities.

‘We have seen clear growth in conscientious consumers actively seeking out jewellery that offers traceability,’ says Cred Jewellery managing director Alan Frampton, who oversees the wider wholesale of Fairtrade gold in the UK and internationally. ‘Despite higher gold prices following the Brexit announcement, in Fairtrade gold terms we have sold more in the UK for use in jewellery in H1 of 2017 than in all of 2016, and we expect this growth to continue.’

Promisingly, major luxury jewellers such as Tiffany & Co, Bulgari and Chopard – those with the power to raise consumer awareness around sustainability in jewellery – are moving to fulfil and communicate their sustainability initiatives. While some fear that this is a form of corporate greenwashing, there is a hope that these brands represent the beginning of a major change in attitude for the jewellery industry.

Kering-owned Chopard is taking the lead in luxury jewellery with its advancements in its sustainable practices. First, its involvement in Livia Firth’s Green Carpet Challenge, which outfits celebrities on the red carpet in conflict-free Fairmined gold. More recently, Chopard launched a collaborative collection with singer Rihanna that features Fairmined gold, positioning the brand in front of a new, globally aware audience.

Beyond gold and supply chains, future sustainability in jewellery is being driven by laboratory-grown diamonds. With the exact same chemical composition and properties as real diamonds, laboratory-grown diamonds have just 1% of the environmental impact of mined diamonds – at least 200 tonnes of earth has to be mined and sifted to find 1 carat of diamonds – and more accessible price points.

Leading the charge is Diamond Foundry, a San Francisco-based start-up that has turned its hand to diamond growth with the tagline ‘Real Diamonds. Evolved’. The company promotes its diamonds as the sustainable choice, with statements such as ‘zero questions around origin, zero carbon footprint’. And to capture the attention of Millennial shoppers, it has partnered with a series of cult US designers to create collections featuring its diamonds, winning it a spot in Barneys New York – one of the first major retailers to endorse laboratory-grown diamonds.

With tens of thousands of organisations, retailers and brands, and a value in 2016 of £244bn ($310bn, €276bn), the global jewellery industry is forecast to grow by 5% each year through to 2020. Yet only 850 companies have promised to advance responsible jewellery practices as certified members of the Responsible Jewellery Council, and only 400 were registered to use Fairtrade gold in 2015. When it comes to future sustainable practices in jewellery, brands should emulate the work of early adopters, driving sustainability and transparency from mine to market.

For more on the brands, trends and innovators that will transform the luxury landscape in 2017, buy a ticket to The Future Laboratory’s forthcoming UK Luxury Futures Forum 2017 or contact us to organise a consultation.