This week, Europe’s largest jewellery and watch trade fair opens its gates. But it’s not Baselworld where I found this passionate jeweller – who also comes from an ethical, conscious place.
IN THE SEARCH FOR FINE ECO JEWEL(LE)RY
Whenever I’d look up ecological jewellery – or jewelry for my US-based readers – I wouldn’t seem to really find it. Sure, there are amazing ethical, empowering projects like the beautiful Sky bracelets most of my North American readers will be acquainted with, or the Netherland-based brand seeme whose clean, hammered, heart-shaped pendants help create fair work environment for women in North Africa and also shield them from domestic violence. Those are beautiful concepts that I fully support.
However, when you look for fine jewellery – think real jewels with diamonds and coloured gemstones, intricate settings and so on – with ethical gold and gemstones… Nothing. Maybe those people are simply not web-savvy and shy? Maybe they don’t communicate it yet? Why? Don’t hide!
There is of course Brilliant Earth who create fantastic jewels with recycled gold and conflict-free Canadian diamonds, but they would only ship to the US, Canada, and Australia. *sad face* However, if you’re from one of those lucky countries, do have a look!
And so, the only one creator I was able to track down in the World Wide Web and whose artwork – mostly bespoke and one of a kind pieces – really caught my eye AND who would ship her jewellery to distant Europe is this beautiful lady from New York City.
Please meet: Tracy Matthews.
TRACY MATTHEWS INTERVIEW: WHY ECO LUXURY
I really fell in love with Tracy’s collection as well as with the showcased unique pieces.
They reminded me of everything I knew from the world of high class fine jewellery and far beyond. The intricate, alluring, clearly “not for everybody” designs seemed to come from a fantasy world. There were hammered wedding bands with emeralds and luxurious sapphire cocktal rings, diamond studs and necklaces of rare and awe-inspiring beauty.
Luckily for me, after just a few emails, a Skype interview was set up.
So let’s dive right in, so you can discover what eco jewellery is actually about and how yoga is more than a New Age fad. What? Hold on 🙂
Enjoy the read!
– Tracy, could you please share with us what exactly is eco about the Tracy Matthews collection?
– Primarily I work with a refiner who recycles gold and platinum, and I’ve been working in the recycled materials for a few years. My approach is to be as sustainable as possible. As for the diamonds, I work with Canadian diamonds or – we have strict regulations in the US – with diamonds that comply with the Kimberley process certification. Then of course mining takes such a huge tall on the environment, so to recycle and to re-use old, heirloom pieces of jewelry is another thing I offer.
So it’s about a few trusted resources and a lot of redesign.
– What I’m curious about: do people consciously search for eco jewelry/ jewellery when they find you?
– I think it’s a combination of things. A lot of my business is generated by referral. Also people who find me online look either for redesign or for one of a kind, bespoke pieces, and for engagement rings. Not to sound too New-Age-ey (laughs) but I’ve also been teaching yoga for about 12 years and practicing for about 17, and I do really believe in the inner connection between everyone and everything. So clients find me partially when looking for unique design, partially looking for eco luxury, and then discover what I can do for them and that the redesign works so beautifully.
– And how have you discovered the niche of eco luxury for yourself? Was it through your yoga practice, one thing lead to another?
– Yes, that and beyond. It’s a lifestyle for me, it’s about conscious choice. As a designer I had a wholesale line for years. I started using recycled precious metals as my production went bigger and broader. And I did a lot of different collections, but for example never did an engagement ring. Then a friend asked me to make one for them. And in the constant development both as a designer and a human being, I wanted not only to grow in my design process but also to consider my impact on the world. So I closed my wholesale line in 2009 and moved to this new direction. I knew I wanted to use as many as sustainable materials as possible, I wanted to help clients re-use and recycle precious pieces. Given how all in the world is tied in, I feel my lifestyle mirrors the lifestyle of my clients. We’re paying attention to the world and to ourselves, there’s the fitness thing, we’re aware, more open, and we make conscious life choices aware of the impact we make, good or bad.
– And isn’t it amazing the old teachers told us we’re connected, and today, with the Internet, we truly are connected? It’s beautiful how much easier it’s become to find like-minded people.
– Yes, it is. The ability to connect at such scale is fantastic!
I do have a global market – and for example last year I worked with clients from Switzerland, UK, and Singapore.
– Among the services you offer is heirloom redesign. That’s so specific, so beautifully executed, I can see why people love it. But how did this idea emerge?
– It started as a personal decision. My mother passed away early, as I was 22, and I inherited some gemstones from her.
They were something important to me, the last thing from her, but they weren’t really things I would like to wear, such as half of a diamond earring or something in a strange setting. And I redesigned those for myself, so I could wear them everyday. So this was what had started this completely new idea.
Then there was that one sapphire engagement ring made from a stone that the girl inherited from her mother, who passed away before the engagement. I knew I had to do that, it was so meaningful. It’s the most satisfying work ever, when clients receive the redesigned heirloom piece – this is beyond words to describe the emotion. So it had to become part of my design practice, just like with yoga: everything is about practice (laughs).
– Gold, silver, gemstones, all that sparkling beauty can have a really dirty pedigree – from environmental pollution to unethical working environment and a lot ugliness in between – why do you think has the industry not tackled this issue once and for all yet?
– I think everything starts with awareness. And there are already great – great! – US-based refiners ready to make changes or making changes, using no dirty chemicals, even in NY you can find local refiners who’d recycle gold.
So I think the reason is that there are so many old-school people on so many levels in the industry who think the old way is the only way, they don’t want to bother with building something new. But there are a few pioneers out there who are trying to change the industry, and my hope is that it continues evolving. And if you think of the problems in mining, it’s easy to see that mostly they’re based in so-called third world countries where even the infrastructure isn’t set up.
I do believe in an ongoing evolution though; I’ve read recently that today 2.7 billion people of 7 billion people in the world have Internet access, so we have more and growing connection, and more transparency.
– You also run the Flourish & Thrive Academy (such a brilliant name) which is a web-based business school for jewelers, can you tell me more about it? Is this about sharing some green knowledge, too?
– Well, it’s a different offering. My business partner Robin Kramer and I both are from wholesale background, my background is in design, and Robin’s is in sales. It’s really fun to mentor people, but it’s not about the eco approach, it’s about building jewelry business online. The students are different levels when they start; some are only just figuring out, about 50% are from the Etsy crowd seeking to establish their own brand, others are serious entrepreneurs who have a sustainable product already but want to leverage their business. Obviously, when I’m working with the designers, I’m forthcoming, I share my experience and my resources, but the students make their own choices.
“Having worked in the luxury industry for over a decade, I am well aware of one major problem many jewellers struggle with: rip-offs from China and India. And this is exactly where I think authentically green design has a huge chance of becoming an industry level-up: Go green, go ethical, go fair – and promote ethical creativity as the new luxury USP. Your thoughts?”
“I absolutely agree with it! I feel as though I’ve build my business on making better choices, choosing a lifestyle that is mine, that is right for me. I really feel we’re all conscious people who well understand that our choices, good or bad, matter. We’re here, we’re connected… I think you said is so well – it is an important USP.”
– And one more for the road 🙂 If I got it right from your bio, you’ve relatively new to doing business online. I’m the biggest technology fan ever, so I’m curious to hear: Comparing before and after, what major benefits do you see in selling through the Internet? What excites you about technology?
– So the thing I love most about it is… Well, I’ve been designing jewelry forever. With the Internet, I reinvented myself.
Before, 95% of my business was wholesale and the other 5% was direct to consumer or retail on my website. My website sales were a direct result of being fettered in the press or a special offer. Now, I knew that I wanted to connect with my clients online. I wanted the ability to be location independent and to reach people all over the world. So one of the things I love about the technology that it’s made that possible.
I am able to work remotely, more efficiently, the potential and the possibilities are so much richer. It’s wonderful to be able to work with people from all over the world, and on a much broader scale. I get to work with people from all those countries, discover new local design aesthetics without even meeting in person. That’s really cool, one of the most satisfying things. I must admit, I rather enjoyed wholesale… well, until I got a bit burned out.
We have a saying in the US, something’s in my “wheelhouse” – this is exactly where I am now. My design process is intuitive, I make a beautiful eco piece just for the client and I’m based in NY. Technology supports the ability we have as human beings to connect with someone we never met before. On the other hand it’s also allowed me to have a teaching program that attracts people from all over the world, not just the US – like Australia, Canada, Europe and India – who don’t have to come to NYC to learn from me; even my business partner is located in San Francisco. This evolution is exciting. It’s one of the things I teach my students: the world is your oyster.
– Tracy, thanks so much for the brilliant insights!
DETOX YOUR JEWEL(LE)RY CASE
Isn’t Tracy mind-blowing?
Beaming with such radiant, positive power, she totally reminded me of my friends Lyss from BLYSS Chocolate and Barb of The 7 Virtues, women of action and with such strong, uncompromising ethics. Makes me think of how deeply blessed I am meeting such wonderful human beings along the Quest… But back to ecological jewels, my dears 😉
So, to me, several things matter when choosing a piece of fine jewellery, in brief:
Aesthetics – is it beautiful, does it complement my personal style?
Ethics – has this been produced in a fair environment? Are the gemstones conflict-free?
Ecology – what about the toxic mining? Were the gemstones treated? What about those cultured pearls?
And remember, Adventurers, all of those are topics on their own. And as for detoxing fashion jewellery – where do you even begin with?
Right now, redesigning heirloom jewellery seems like the easiest option to obtain fine jewellery with a clean(er) pedigree: the metal is recycled, the stones are already there. However, it’s also about actually owning something worth the process and about finding a jeweller who you can trust and whose style you love.
Dear Adventurers, I hope you enjoyed meeting Tracy Matthews (and make sure to visit her website to see more sparkling beauty), and I hope to have sparked 😉 your interest in jewellery/jewelry issues because this topic is…
GOLD & GEMS: WHY CARE FOR FAIR MINED OR ECO?
(and more posts about “greener” fine jewellery)