Designer’s Diary: My Journey to ‘Sustainable’ Jewelry

IndependentsOct 08, 2019

Designer’s Diary: My Journey to ‘Sustainable’ Jewelry

Vittoria d’Aste-Surcouf provides a CliffsNotes version of the work she did to ensure she was using “sustainable” and “ethically sourced” elements in her pieces.

A custom fine jewelry designer, Vittoria d’Aste-Surcouf, has a diverse background in art history, events and public relations, jewelry fabrication, sales and fine jewelry rendering. She can be reached at

Most of us today are trying to find ways to design and fabricate our collections with our eyes on responsibility and ethics, yet the amount of information available on these topics can be overwhelming.

In today’s column, I’m going to share the wealth of knowledge I’ve acquired on my own journey toward producing “sustainable” jewelry. I chronicled my findings and created a CliffsNotes version of my journey, a blueprint of sorts, so we can all work in unison towards creating jewelry that not only looks good but “does good” as well.

There to guide me at the beginning of my journey were Jennifer Dawes, of Jennifer Dawes Design, and Toby Pomeroy, of Toby Pomeroy Design Studio, two heavyweights in the field.

Mr. Pomeroy offered an eye-opening account of why his Mercury-Free Mining Challenge is so important for the lives of artisanal gold miners, and Ms. Dawes sagely advised starting with some soul-searching to identify which topics are important to you. This will be your starting point.

“Everybody is going to have their own personal journey on their way to responsibility and ethics within their field,” she said, “but you are going to have different things that resonate with you, what’s important to you.”

For example, is transparency of the journey from mine to market of utmost importance to you, or are you satisfied to stay in the “recycled” realm of gemstones and precious metals?

Power in Numbers
If you read my last column you know I am a great proponent of community. There is power in numbers, and an excellent place to join with fellow like-minded jewelers is Ethical Metalsmiths.

Geared toward designers and small businesses, the group is an amazing place to start as they are an open, encouraging activist community of small to mid-sized jewelry businesses.

You are encouraged to join even if your sole contribution towards sustainability is merely that of interest.

Along with the many perks they offer, Ethical Metalsmiths is getting ready to launch an online index of vetted—through an interview and self-assessment process—natural colored gemstone suppliers and will expand from there to include other types of vendors as well as designers and retailers.

The page is up and can be viewed at The names of the first vetted suppliers will be added soon.

I was fortunate to also speak with Jared Holstein of Perpetuum Jewels who, with the help of his colleagues, has

compiled a set of definitions for terms such as “ethical,” “recycled,” “Fairmined” and Fairtrade” called the Jewelry Glossary Project.

This project was launched to increase transparency throughout the jewelry supply chain. It does so by building consensus on the definitions of key terms and creates accountability for those using them.

I was surprised to learn the terms we are familiar with seeing or using are not exactly what they seem. For example, there is a big difference between writing fair trade (two words) and writing Fairtrade (one word). Who knew? I certainly did not.

The definitions are important for you to know because, while you are seeking out vendors, it is important to know who is using these terms properly. Words associated with sustainability can be thrown around loosely; being able to comb through the list to find vendors that are truly committed to the cause is vital.

Also, if you really want to get ambitious and further your knowledge on sustainability in the industry you can attend the Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference, coming up later this month. There, international leaders bring initiatives, data, ideas, products, plans, as well as opportunities to get involved and to network.
RELATED CONTENT: Here’s What’s on Tap for Chicago Responsibility Conf. 2019
Precious Metals
On my journey to becoming a “sustainable” jewelry designer, I compiled a select list of vendors for metals and gemstones, which I mention in detail below. I would like to add, however, that this list does not represent the only vendors in the jewelry industry working with sustainable materials.

Let’s start by looking at precious metals.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a difference between recycled metal, certified recycled metal and metal that is being mined by artisanal miners.

It is important to know that not all refineries are third-party certified to sell recycled gold. In order to truly be certified, a third-party auditor, like SCS Global Services, must come in and conduct audits of the business over a certain period of time.

Third-Party Certified Recycled Precious Metal Suppliers
Hoover & Strong, Stuller and Umicore are SCS Global Services-certified for certain product lines within their collections. When placing orders for recycled metals, it is very important to clarify that the items you are purchasing are indeed the ones that are SCS compliant.

Hoover & Strong: the product line name is “Harmony.” You can purchase: casting grain, mill products, mountings, findings, and gold, silver, platinum and palladium bullion.

Stuller: the product line name is “Refined Karats.” You can purchase: all precious metal-items that are produced in-house. Not all their findings are produced in-house, so it’s important to clarify this.

Umicore: the product line name is “Butterfly.” You can purchase: gold casting grain, sheet, wire and findings.

If you’ve decided supporting artisanal miners is a priority, then start with the following companies that have obtained third-party certification.

Third-Party Certified Artisanal Precious Metal Suppliers
Hoover & Strong: the product line names are “Harmony Fairmined,” “Harmony Fairtrade” and “Harmony Fair Congo Gold,” and you can purchase casting grain, sheet, wire and tubing.

If you need more information on which artisanal mining source you wish to support, you can read the comparison chart to help you choose which option best fits your needs.

If you need to have your casting outsourced, you can rely on the following companies to apply due diligence in only using recycled gold in their casting process. Both Hoover & Strong and Stuller will cast your pieces in recycled gold, silver, platinum and palladium.

Natural Diamonds and Colored Gemstones
I am going to break this section into two parts: post-consumer recycled natural diamonds and gemstones (think gemstones pulled out of an estate ring) and mine-to-market colored gemstones.

The suppliers that specialize in mine-to-market gemstones actually visit the mines, dealing directly with artisanal miners. They do this to ensure the provenance of the gemstones as well as give back to the artisanal mining community by donating safer mining equipment and ensuring there is clean water, vocational training facilities, better schools for the miners’ children and much more.

Vendors Supplying Post-Consumer Recycled Natural Diamonds and Gemstones
Perpetuum Jewels: The company is SCS Global-certified as a responsible source for 100 percent post-consumer recycled gemstones and operate in full transparency of their inventory’s origins.

Vendors Supplying Mine-to-Market Colored Gemstones
Anza Gems: Founder Monica Stephenson sources her loose gemstones directly from the mines in East Africa, specializing in garnet, tourmaline, sapphire, spinel, aquamarine and others. Currently, 10 percent of sales go back into mining communities where the gems are sourced. This is done primarily through education and other initiatives to improve lives there.

Perpetuum Jewels: Along with their post-consumer recycled diamonds and colored gems, the company also supplies mine-to-market gemstones and have developed wonderful partnerships with mines located in the United States.

Roger Dery Gem Design: Mr. Dery is a gem cutter with decades of experience who travels directly to the mines in East Africa to procure his rough. He has made a long-term commitment to invest in the miners and their families by providing for their basic needs and supporting education and vocational training.

Leave It to the Pros
The above lists were a DIY effort on my part; however, you can always hire Levin Sources to guide you through the process.

For smaller jewelers, Levin offers a hand-holding approach, demystifying the process of becoming a credible ethical jeweler.

This includes anything from creating tailor-made policies, preparing you for certification to comply with Farimined, Fairtrade, the CRAFT Code or the Responsible Jewelry Council standards or developing a customer storytelling strategy.

This helps jewelers develop the knowledge to properly back up and communicate their responsible sourcing practices and values.

In closing, I’d like to extend gratitude to Toby Pomeroy, Jennifer Dawes and Jared Holstein for their knowledge, insights and thoughtful advice on this column.

Any comments are welcome below.

A custom fine jewelry designer, Vittoria d'Aste-Surcouf, has a diverse background in art history, events and public relations, jewelry fabrication, sales and fine jewelry rendering. She currently serves as CEO of her own jewelry company, VAS Bijoux. She also designs part-time for Gleim the Jeweler. She can be reached at
Brecken Branstratoris the senior editor, gemstones at National Jeweler, covering sourcing, pricing and other developments in the colored stone sector.

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