Yes, jewellery, even some standard pieces of jewellery, are not vegan, and this is due to a multitude of things.
The main reason being that a lot of jewellery either contains animal products or they are used in the manufacturing process. Regardless of whether or not animals were harmed during the process, many do not wish to wear animal products as they do not want to exploit the animal for personal use. Another reason also includes the environmental impact behind using animals as well.
What makes some jewellery non vegan?
One main product that is used for jewellery making is beeswax – a natural wax produced by honeybees. It is the hexagonal comb that the bees use to store honey and what makes up the hive essentially.
The substance is mainly used for its versatility. Natural Beeswax is used because it is less oily and easier to clean than bleached wax products that can leave residue on the tools. The wax is used to lubricate tools for easy use, polish stones to for natural shine and to prolong the oxidisation of silver from shining up. Beeswax also prevents oxidised parts from discolouring the material, prevent tools from rusting, keeps threads from fraying when stringing beads, picking up small beads and stones and casting pieces. It also leaves a film on a metal surface to transfer designs.
So, beeswax holds many manufacturing uses. However, there is considerable debate about whether the wax is vegan or not. It is not only because many are uncomfortable using an animal by-product, but a lot of bees can also be harmed in the process. Some bees are not only exploited for their honey and beeswax, but a lot of queen bees have their wings cut off so they cannot leave her colony or are artificially inseminated to produce more worker bees. If a queen bee were to be moved to another colony (by beekeepers), the queen would travel with a ‘bodyguard’ of bees that may either die from transport or killed by the bees in the new colony. Some bees also have their wings and legs torn off because of ‘careless’ handling.
In some cases, beekeepers might smoke the bees to make them more docile when removing the wax or the honey. Also, the decline in the number of bees is having an impact on ecosystems as bees are what pollinate trees and plants. So with the number of bees under duress for their products is not going to help the environment. However, there are alternatives to the controversial substance like fairtrade soy wax or coconut oil for lubrication.
Some jewellers and artists choose to use found animals – animals that were found already dead like seashells from the beach. The found animals, in this case, would be insects like bees or butterflies, would be encased in resin to preserve them and made into jewellery. Some may consider using or wearing found animals as acceptable as the animal was not directly harmed/or died of natural causes. Still, many prefer not to use, or wear, found animals as it is an animal and do not want to limit an animal’s worth to an accessory.
Another found animal used is cuttlefish. The animal is used for cuttlefish casting, a technique used to make basic shapes or rings. As the name says, a large cuttlefish bone is cut in half vertically and then indented to any shape to be the mould. From here, molten metal or plastic is poured into the frame, which will set and will create the desired jewellery piece. The fish usually wash up on the shore and what is left is a white oval shape – the mould – and although the animal was not directly harmed many choose not to use animals in any way shape or form when making jewellery. An alternative to this ancient method can be tufa casting, a similar process where tufa stone is used in place of cuttlefish.
A lot of jewellery also contains leather (mainly for straps), which comes primarily from animals such as cows and pigs, with exotic animals such as crocodile and snakes being used as well. The animals are farmed and killed for their skin, making it non-vegan. Also, the process of making leather also has a substantial environmental impact as large amounts of land and water is needed, and the material is not biodegradable due to the chemicals used, which are not eco-friendly either. Instead of using traditional leather, many companies do use a vegan alternative made either from plastic/recyclable plastic, sustainable materials such as fruit waste (apple peels or pineapple leaves) and some plants like cacti.
Is silk vegan?
Another popular material in jewellery making is silk – either part of the beads or the band. Silk is considered non-vegan as the content is a fibre that is spun by silkworms. The worms form cocoons during their pupal stage before becoming moths and are when the silk is harvested. One reason why vegans do not wear silk is that the cocoons are put into boiling water for the material to be obtained, evidently killing the worms. Although some methods do not result in an animal’s death, such as letting the silkworm come out of their shell naturally, many do not want to exploit the animal. Also, according to the 2017 Pulse of Fashion Industry Report (sourced from Plant Based News), silk is found to be, after cow leather, the ‘second most polluting material for cradle-to-gate impact’ (from material extraction to reaching the consumer). Fortunately, there are vegan alternatives made from viscose, polymer, nylon, to milkweed seed pod fibres, silk-cotton tree, ceiba tree filaments and rayon.
Are Pearls Vegan?
A popular bead used in many necklaces, earrings and bracelets, the stone is produced by molluscs like oysters, clams and mussels, as a result of a defence mechanism against any invasive irritants or parasites. The oyster secretes layers of a crystalline substance called nacre, which coats the irritant and makes it harmless. Although some pearls are formed naturally – which is quite rare – the stone is instead harvested by a method called ‘culturing’. This method involves forcing an irritant into a live molluscs’ shell, by prying it open, to form the pearl. The oysters are also subjected to many stressors to have them produce more nacre. All of these methods can kill the creatures or are put under more duress to create more pearls. Once again, there are alternatives to the precious stone with synthetic beads that are widely available, and high-quality options can have a similar look and feel to the real thing.
An elephant necklace is a symbol of good luck and fortune. However, a lot of jewellery is made from either elephant leather or their hair. Although some ethical jewellery makers will collect the hair that naturally fell off the animal, most manufacturers will kill the animal or forcefully pluck the hairs out of the end of the tail. Earrings, bracelets, pins and pendants made out of ivory is quite popular due to the material’s smooth feel and comfort when wearing it. Elephants have always been poached or culled for their dung, skin, and their tusks being the most popular item as it contains the ivory. So, other than not wanting to exploit the animal, vegans fray from buying accessories made from them as well.
Some manufacturers may also incorporate bones, shells, corals, feathers, teeth, horns and fur into their accessories as well. All that can be derived from animals and are mainly used for aesthetic purposes – jewellery made out of these are called ‘natural jewellery’. There are plenty of alternatives where animals are not used. Some manufacturers do use animal fur or ashes for memorial purposes such as making a bracelet in memory of an animal that passed away.
Why Wear Vegan Jewellery?
As you can see, animals are used in many different ways in the jewellery making industry. Wearing jewellery made free from animals, that are made sustainably will not only help out the environment but will so save thousands of animals from being subjected to harm. The growing trend in veganism and the increasing concern for the environment is making people more aware of what they buy and use. And fortunately, many companies are either changing their ways or are starting-up that cater to the movement.