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  • Ellen Hunt

Jewelry and Ethics?

My parents owned a wholesale costume jewelry manufacturing business called Thunderbird Gems. When I was a teen I worked in the factory drilling beads, shipping orders, sweeping the floor. And traveling doing shows around the American West. I learned a lot about the business those summers, and a lot of those lessons I've used in my own business. When they closed there was a stash of gemstones that they had bought and never used. I wasn't surprised, the price point for their items didn't withstand the cost of gemstones, even poorly faceted ones like they bought. Maybe they had an idea for a better line of fine jewelry, or maybe they were an impulse buy, or maybe they thought they'd just resell them later. In the end, a lot of them came to me. Over the years I've set many of them. Lots of them have uneven girdles, fat bellies, or other characteristics that make them difficult to set. Over the years I've used many of them in my jewelry.

The idea of ethics and jewelry is a difficult one. We all know jewelry is a luxury, even costume jewelry. But like all art and fashion it gives us a sense of identity and meaning, which isn't a luxury but a necessity. The conditions that metals and gems are mined in is often harsh, some of the worst working conditions anywhere. Falling in love with beautiful things that have an origin that is barbaric clouds the beauty for me. So I remedy that by setting up my own ethical rules for my jewelry. I am using these old stones that came from Thunderbird, which are at least 20 years old. I'm going to call them vintage. I use repurposed stones like diamonds, that come from old jewelry and are as beautiful as if they were cut yesterday. My metals come from a local refiner, and I turn in

my metals to them too. I love lab grown gems, and since the prices are going up, I think lots of of people do too. They are beautiful, made from the same minerals as dirt mined gems, only grown in a lab. Like hydroponic lettuce, they are the same, but not the same.

During the pandemic, I have to say, I didn't find much inspiration. I'm a natural introvert, so it wasn't the staying home part that was difficult, but the endless daily sameness. You all know that. But since spring arrived, I decided to try to finish some projects I'd started, and start some I'd sketched but not begun work on. These earrings I started more than a year ago and just finished. To some extent, waiting wasn't a problem. They aren't for sale, just for me, and since I wasn't going anywhere I didn't need to wear them! The rubies are lab grown, the aquamarines are vintage from Thunderbird and the gold bezels are scrap from other projects. They are 14k white and yellow gold, although I don't think it's that visible because the stones are show flashy!

Let me know if I can make a pair for you, and if you have jewelry that you no longer wear and want to repurpose the stones and refine the metal, give me a call!


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