Ethical Jewellery - Lisa Rothwell-Young

Lisa Rothwell-Young creates beautiful ethical and environmentally friendly jewellery. We caught up with her to learn much more about the industry and why it's so important to be thinking ethically when choosing engagement rings, wedding bands and any other kind of jewellery for your wedding day.

Thank you for taking the time to chat. Can you tell us a bit about what has inspired you to become a jeweller?

I actually trained in Building Heritage and Conservation, but I’d always been interested in the beautiful jewels you’d see Geoffrey Munn swooning over on antiques roadshow. I was like “they’re so small and so beautiful, how on earth do they do that…”. I’d made some enquiries for courses and one day a brochure dropped through the door…fast forward 14 years and here we are.

Why is it important for you to make ethical and vegan jewellery?

I’m vegan, originally for animals, but as my understanding has grown as to what a mess we’re making of the planet, for the environment too. I know as a vegan, what my concerns are, about what might be in something, so I make jewellery I’d feel happy about buying. As far as being ethical, I want to make sure that no one in my supply chain is being exploited, that my gemstones aren’t causing injury or death, that children aren’t down mines, that people are being fairly paid, that gold and gemstones aren’t funding wars or causing enormous environmental damage. I found out what was going on in the industry and I didn’t want to be part of it. The jewellery industry, like fashion, farming and many others, has a darker hidden side.

Can you explain what might make engagement rings and wedding bands non-ethical and non-vegan?

Many jewelers will use polishes that contain animal fat, tools that contain wool, leather or hair. Shellac, used for holding pieces of jewellery in place whilst setting stones, comes from beetles. Silk thread is used for pearls, then there’s the use of pearls and coral etc in jewellery.

Jewellery boxes will most likely contain animal glue.

On the ethics side, unless you know exactly where your gemstones and precious metals come from, you can’t be sure that the miners have been fairly treated and paid, that conditions are safe, that children don’t work in the mines, that mining isn’t destroying natural habitat or polluting watercourses, that mining isn’t funding wars etc.

I don’t want anyone to be exploited in the making of my jewellery, whether that’s people, animals or the environment.

Why else might vegan brides and grooms prefer to work with a vegan supplier like yourself?

I think it’s because you understand their concerns, being on the same wavelength. It’s a bit like eating in a vegan restaurant, you can relax and enjoy because you know they “get it”. I know there are some amazing omni eateries, where you can explain the vegan thing to them, where they’ll create good food, but then your soup comes with butter…and you start to wonder whether what you’re eating is actually vegan! That’s me anyway!

What materials do you prefer to use and where do you source these?

So, I use recycled or fairmined metal, traceable to mine coloured gems and natural traceable to mine diamonds, laboratory created diamonds or recycled antique diamonds.

Fairmined metal comes from countries such as Columbia, via an audited number of Fairmined licensed bullion suppliers. I have another bullion supplier who sells 100% recycled eco silver, gold and platinum. Recycled metal comes from post industrial sources, scrap jewellery etc and therefore isn’t traceable, but it does mean no new mining.

My coloured gemstones come from a handful of suppliers in the UK, USA and Australia. The majority of the stones I use originate from mines in Sri Lanka (sapphires) as well as Montana (for sapphires), Tanzania (for Rubies), Malawi (sapphires), Australia (for green and parti coloured sapphires, Zircon, opal and Chrysoprase). The coloured gemstones I use come from artisan or small scale mining operations. Particularly in Sri Lanka, the method of mining is less environmentally damaging. The miners may co-own their mines, or be employed on a fair wage, with a share of profits or gemstones. Often artisan miners are making a living in the only way they can. The sale of the Sri Lankan and Tanzanian stones also supports charitable work in the mining communities.

Traceable natural diamonds come from the Canadian diamond mines, the laboratory diamonds come from a diamond dealer in Antwerp, via China. I buy my recycled diamonds to order, usually at antiques auctions.

Can you tell us what Fairmined and Fairtrade means in the jewellery industry?

Fairmined and Fairtrade as it relates to the mining industry are very similar, both work with miners to get them a fair price for their metal and they work under fair terms and conditions. They also work to improve standards in the mines and support the community. You can find out more at and When it comes to stones, there is no specific standard, stones are describes as meeting the principles of Fairtrade. In the USA, the words “Fair Trade” are used.

One of my suppliers categorises it’s stones in the following way:

Level 1 Complete Fair Trade. We can trace the gemstones back to the mine where we have significant impact on the mining itself.

Level 2 Protocols to the Producer. We can trace these gems back to the rough broker, who has an agreement with us that he can guarantee the material in question comes from the same locations. He understands and supports our Fair Trade principles and will communicate those principles to the mine operations.

Level 3 Country/Export Onward. Known traceable country of origin, legally exported knowing they are not financing any civil wars, and cut only in gemstone workshops that meet our employment and health standards. **Level 3 is the same as the Kimberly Process except we also know and track country of origin and who cut them.

Level 4 Factory Forward. These gemstones meet our employment and health standards regarding cutting, and we know country of origin, but not the details of how they were exported.

Level 5 Cannot be Considered Fair Trade. We do not cut these gems, therefore, we cannot follow their journey from mine to market in a significant manner to ensure that they fall into the Fair Trade categories.

Wherever my stones come from, I ensure they all meet level 1 or 2.

Can you explain what ‘Blood Diamonds’ are and how you ensure you don’t use them?

The Kimberly process was developed to make sure the production and sale proceeds from diamonds did not support civil wars in Africa. In addition, the process was written to assure all diamonds were legally exported and not smuggled. However many in the industry feel that the standards don’t go far enough. The only way you can guarantee standards is to ensure traceability back to the mine. In order to do this, I use diamonds from the Canadian mines. Stones over 0.3ct are laser inscribed and supplied with a certificate of authenticity to aid traceability. Melee, smaller stones, are still available from these mines, but due to cost implications are not inscribed. Laboratory created stones are also traceable, and many prefer them due to the fact that they are not mined. Whilst the Canadian mines operate under some of the strictest standards in the world, they are huge mines and just the size of them must create some environmental destruction.

Tell us what you mean by ‘remodelling’ jewellery?

Remodelling of jewellery can be as simple as converting a single earring into a pendant, or reusing the diamonds and gemstones from an old ring in a new one, or reusing all of the metal and diamonds to create an entirely new piece of bespoke jewellery.

There’s a FAQ section on my website.

Do you have any recommendations for Brides and Grooms wanting bespoke jewellery, to help them in the design process?

Find a jeweller whose work you like, have a chat with them and see how you get along. Have a budget in mind and a preferred metal/stones. Words such as ethical and environmentally friendly mean different things to different people, be prepared to ask lots of questions of whoever you work with. For instance traceable could mean to the mine, to the cutter, to the country, or just to the dealer. I believe you need traceability to the mine, in order to be sure that the stones are ethical. If people are vague, won’t or can’t give you a straight answer, then that probably tells you all you need to know.

I like to create jewellery that has meaning to the people involved, so will ask you lots of questions to tease out some inspiration for a design. An idea of your budget is helpful so that as a designer I’m not suggesting things that are over what you have to spend. Once we have some ideas, I’ll come up with a few sketches and we take it from there. You can find out more here. I also have a selection of engagement rings here.

What about packaging of your products, is that also something to consider when choosing ethical and vegan jewellery?

I think so. As a vegan, I wanted my boxes to be free of animal glue/animal products. Traditional jewellery packaging contains many different layers of boards, papers, glue, wood, metal, foam and fabrics. They never use recycled board and the fabrics and foams are often from petrochemical sources. The many different layers, lamination and printing make them impossible to recycle. My cardboard jewellery packaging has been chosen following extensive research (I spoke to LOTS of packaging companies). As far as I am aware, it is the only 100% recycled, 100% recyclable jewellery packaging currently available that does not contain animal glues. It is made in the UK too.

I also work with master furniture maker Daniel Lacey, to offer beautiful wooden boxes to my bespoke customers on all orders over £1500. These beautiful wooden boxes are made from offcuts of furniture quality UK grown timber, they use no animal glue and aren’t treated, so would compost away should you want them to (but they’re gorgeous so no one ever would!).

Thank you Lisa for taking the time to inform us about the jewellery industry and what we should be considering when choosing a jeweller. It's really alarming to consider all of the unethical and damaging practices that exist, so as a consumer being informed is vital to help us make the right choices. Not only that but your jewellery is simply beautiful, so I will end this post with several images of your creations. You can also find out lots more about the ethical and environmental implications of your chosen jewellery at Lisa's website.