Sustainable Jewellery Brands are a Hidden Gem
An Interview with Lylie’s London
While more strongly associated with fast fashion, the trend of the shorter product life cycle has risen as a business model, which has led to more damaging supply chain practices in the jewellery industry as well. But, while the jewellery industry has gained a reputation for not being the most sustainable, it’s slowly making improvements to workers’ rights and the emphasis of the origins of precious stones and metals.
So how do we buy jewellery we can guarantee is not only high quality, but is also made ethically and sustainably?
We spoke with one brand that is carving out their own trend, and helping to answer this very question: Lylie’s. The London-based jewellery brand is run by Eliza ‘Lylie’ Walter, who trained as a goldsmith in London’s Hatton Garden. Eliza uses salvaged gold and silver for all her designs and aims to produce jewellery that is classic, versatile and worth investing in.
Eliza, you set up your jewellery brand in 2017 and studied your craft in London’s Hatton Garden. Do you have a specific piece of jewellery that inspired you to create your own designs and encouraged you to train as a goldsmith?
I’m not sure about a single piece of jewellery, but an exhibition at the Museum of London in 2013 resonated greatly with me. It was about the Cheapside Hoard. For anyone not familiar, it is a hoard of Elizabethan jewellery from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, discovered in 1912 by workmen excavating a cellar near Hatton Garden. To me, it was the perfect combination of history, craftsman’s skills and the mystery of the buried treasure.
Which of your jewellery designs is your favourite to make?
The bespoke pieces really get my creative juices going. I enjoy when clients want to rework unworn designs that they have sitting at the bottom of their jewellery box. I love the idea of taking something forgotten and restoring it to life. I use a process called ‘can casting,’ where the metal is cast in its own pot and design around what precious materials are already there. The ‘Barnacle Ring’ is an example which I have just finished. For a little over £1,000, Alison was able to recycle six pieces of jewellery she didn’t like into one ring that she will wear every day.
Making engagement rings is another favourite. I work with a network of incredibly talented craftspeople around Hatton Garden, Birmingham and the UK. I find it appealing that when creating an engagement ring, it will pass through six or seven specialist workshops (to be mounted, set, polished, etc.), in a symbiotic way, before it reaches the couple. To design and create something so symbolic and precious, is an honour.
When you started your brand did you always plan to be sustainable? Do you think of yourself as a sustainable brand?
Yes and yes! I have always been driven by a belief that products should be made with respect for the planet and the people who populate it.
Many of your jewellery designs are made from salvaged gold and silver - specifically e-waste. How did you become aware of these processes and what made you choose to focus upon e-waste?
In order to cast my design for a school project I worked with a local foundry run by Peter Crump. Peter explained to me that mobile phones’ circuit boards contain gold, platinum and silver, because of the metals’ properties of being inert and conductive. We have been working together ever since, and his foundry still casts all Lylie’s designs.
You also use precious stones in your designs which tend to be man-made, marine cultured or recycled. Consumer attitudes towards man-made stones tend to be mixed, especially about diamonds, and some cite man-made stones as not being as valuable as natural diamonds. Do you think these attitudes are changing?
My experience is that these attitudes are changing as consumers become more aware of the options and empowered to vote with their wallets. If you sat with a man-made and a newly-mined diamond (of the same cut, colour, clarity and carat) it would be impossible for you to differentiate between them. The price point is 45% less than newly mined stones! All the man-made diamonds I use are sourced from MadeStones in Antwerp. The recycled antique diamonds I use are from a family run diamond dealer in Hatton Garden, who sources from estate sales, scrap dealers and auctions.
To me, the beauty of a stone cannot be divorced from the source. There is no beauty in cruelty. Even so-called “fair-mined” stones cannot be 100% assured of source. Ultimately, there are too many negatives. Tons of earth and countless hours of hard labour are needed to bring gems from mine to market. In many instances, workers are bonded labour to mine owners and working conditions are intolerable and at the extreme end of human rights violations. For me personally, the obvious solution is to use either man-made or recycled antique stones.
Do you think it is harder for jewellery brands to market themselves as sustainable and if so why is that?
My answer would have been different last year, but sustainability seems to have become the current zeitgeist! As a small independent brand, I feel hugely lucky to be operating in the age of Instagram where like-minded customers from around the world can find me. I also make a concentrated effort to show the design process, workshop visits and finished bespoke designs on my Instagram stories so I am completely transparent with my customer.
What are your ambitions for the future of the brand?
The dream is to be the go-to jewellery brand for compassionate, conscious customers. I also hope that it becomes the norm for a customer, when considering a new purchase, to send the chosen brand all unworn/ unwanted/ broken pieces from their jewellery box, to be recycled in exchange for credit against the new piece.
Lastly, if you were a precious stone which one would you be?
I am transfixed by aquamarines. Our 2019 collection, Sea Treasures, was designed around oval aquamarines, unset from a client’s unwanted bracelet and 2mm diamonds, recycled from a 1920’s 14ct cigarette box by another client. When I look at an aquamarine, I see the depth of the sea and the glimmer of sun below the waves. According to folklore, sailors at sea kept aquamarine amulets close for protection against the waves’ terrors - which is another reason why I find aquamarines enticing.
Photography by Natalie Drenth