Top ad area, 970 x 250 (could be anything though)

Something old something new

Ming Liu
April 15, 2024
6 min

X-ray film, surgical equipment, gaming consoles and circuit moth­erboards: not materials that scream luxury, and yet exactly what you can increasingly expect to see in the lat­est new jewellery pieces.Thanks to a pioneering set of young brands, salvaging gold from electronics waste – that’s e-waste for short – is increasingly part of the jewellery conversation.


“People used to be so much less considerate with what they were consuming and what was happen­ing to waste –particularly e-waste,” recalls Eliza Walter, founder of the London-based brand Lylie. “It‘s a problem that people choose to ignore, (because) it’s uncomfortable to think about what happens to their technology at the end of its life.” Back in 2017, Walter founded the brand with the com­mitment to use exclusively e-waste and salvaged gold in her jewellery designs. The designer recalls a dis­turbing statistic: mining one tonne of ore from the earth yields30g of gold, whereas mining that same amount of e-waste yields 300g. It’s facts like these that made such a business approach a no-brainer for Walter.


Today, e-mining is a thriving area of sustainable design. Gold and other metals are being extracted from the likes of laptops, mobile phones and home appliances, sup­plying gold and silver to new jewel­lers like Lylie as well as houses like Courbet, a jewellery brand located on Place Vendôme in Paris: the spiritual home of high jewellery.

Atelier © Courbet


Planting Courbet’s flag right in high jewellery’s traditional cen­tre was important, says co-founder Marie-Ann Wachtmeister. Courbet is named after the disruptive, rebel artist Gustave Courbet who played a pivotal role in Place Vendôme’s history, and when Wachtmeister launched the brand in 2018, “the lux­ury segment did not care about sus­tainability – or at least was not able to take the leap at that point in time. We needed to transform the indus­try – from above, from the heart –and the high-end luxury segment was the best way.” The brand’s bestselling collections include Pont Des Arts (named after the famous Parisian bridge),which is designed around a gold padlock set with a lab-grown diamond.Alternatively, there’s Let’s Commit, a chic, mini­malist collection of charm-like jew­els set on a satin cord, wherein 15 per cent of each sale is donated to six different causes.


As committed as these young brands are, all agree that relia­ble sourcing remains the biggest challenge. It is imperative for their teams to be diligent, ensuring that sourced gold is 100per cent from e-waste, and not mixed with other metals or even new ones. Sarah Müllertz is the founder and designer of the Danish jeweller Kinraden, which sources repurposed metal from healthcare and technology equipment, supplied by a special­ist Munich firm. An architect who quit her high-flying job to focus on Kinraden, Müllertz says she was sur­prised at how behind the jewellery industry was in terms of sustain­ability compared to the construc­tion sector.And while jewellery, like architecture, is a craft rooted in cre­ating new things, she describes how she “still needed to find an angle where I could honestly look myself in the mirror to do what I love, yet at the same time contribute to a future that will be gentler.” Unsurprisingly, Kinraden’s designs are beautifully architectural and sculptural, such as the Stilos collection that recalls ancient Grecian pillars.

Atelier © Kinraden


Beyond Kinraden, the medical industry has proved to be a rich source of recycled metals across the industry.It’s even where Royal Mint, Britain’s oldest maker, is now sourc­ing silver for its 886 diffusion line. Launched last year using e-waste gold, 886 now sources traceable silver from recy­cled X-ray films, which will eventually adorn discreet and minimalist bestsellers from cuffs to signet rings and button pendants.


Newcomer Oushaba –derived from the Arabic word for ‘alloy’ – takes a refreshingly literal twist to the trend. The debut collection, titled Connection Salvaged, makes everyday electronics that we see and use – think charging cables, USB sticks, plugs and mobile phone circuit boards – the centrepiece in statement-making jewels.What’s more, they’re crafted in the finest gold (22 or 18 carat recycled gold)or silver, and adorned with sus­tainably sourced diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds (the lat­ter especially pops on the likes of the Ascent circuitboard necklace). Using traditional lost-wax tech­niques, the jewels are all hand­crafted in a workshop in Sicily that’s been in the same family for three generations. Such an intrigu­ing mashup of high-tech kit meets time-honoured jewellery savoir-faire serves up especially fun and unique pieces that are, without doubt, this summer’s conversation starters.


“What is luxury and what is waste?” asks Oushaba cofounder Gillian Carr. “The luxury industry needs a rethink about what’s con­sidered luxury today. It’s still a lot to do with rarity and scarcity. Our pieces are made-to-order in Italy, with recycled elements that are unique. So there’s certainly a luxury element, even if it would tradition­ally be considered waste.”


© Oushaba

“I've always been interested in finding materials and finding pre­ciousness that might have been overlooked,” says Ruth Tomlinson, the jeweller and self-proclaimed “treasure hunter” who is also driv­ing this rethink. E-waste is not her medium, but rather found materi­als: anything from holly leaves to human hair and what Tomlinson calls “reject stones” that other jewellers would discard for being imperfect. Whether found on the shores of theThames, or the beaches of Kauai, she loves “spontaneous finds” most of all. The establish­ment has taken note: in 2022, the V&A Museum acquired her TimeCapsule ring, which is fashioned from individual frag­ments found from theThames (Tomlinson has a mudlarking licence, naturally), including glass beads believed to date back to Roman times. The V&A’s curator praised the design for being “laden with references to past craftsmen and vanished worlds. They tell of history, the debris of centuries and London’s tidal hinterland with its ever-present ebb and flow.”


Thanks to e-waste, jewellery is having a conversation around sus­tainability that is long overdue. Lylie’s nature-themed, organic forms embody the brand’s spirit while adhering to desirable trends: like the diamond studded WhirlwindStorm Ring that’s an ephemeral, sculp­tural take on the stacking trend. The brand initially made its name with e-waste as well as lab-grown or recy­cled antique diamonds (“We don’t go near a freshly mined diamond,” says Walter). But it recently launched Gold Exchange, a programme that invites clients to send in jewellery they no longer wear in exchange for a credit note to spend with the brand. The gold is then either recast or refined for future Lylie pieces, and the programme has proved so popu­lar that Walter says today all its gold is sourced from the programme. (Further proof of customer enthusi­asm: clients are happy to weigh their jewels on kitchen scales themselves before posting their gold in).


“We’re really getting people to reconsider and value what they have, and choose whether to give them a second life,” says Walter of the programme, which offers yet another option for jewellery lovers who want to reduce the environmental impact of their collection. Here’s hop­ing for more such options to come.