Alumni Focus: Eco = Lux Jewelry Design



Paradigm shift: how systems thinking shifted a designer’s vision

Creating a sustainable luxury jewelry brand involves a bit more than just using reclaimed or recycled metals and following the Kimberly Process for your gemstone supply chain. It requires a paradigm shift to one’s attitude by using holistic systems thinking at the beginning of the design process to ensure a responsible end of life or extremely long life for sustainable products, even lux jewelry.

“Real luxury is knowing the jewelry you are wearing is as ethical as it is beautiful. Creating a metamorphosis of change, East Fourth Street honors our environment by using recycled metal, conflict free diamonds and responsibly mined stones. This process of creation offers jewelry that is sustainable and original—not to mention stunning.” — Susan Crow, CEO East Fourth Street

At East Fourth Street our supply chains are a major concern. Metal and gemstone extraction has a tremendously high footprint. The mining industry is one of the worst environmentally and it is wrought with human abuse. This means it’s critical to understand life cycles and qualify the back story of your materials. Digging deeper and getting to the true source can be tiresome because the jewelry industry is not very transparent. But things are slowly changing and the more sustainable designers work together for change, the faster change happens.

By using recycled, reclaimed metals, lab-created or vintage diamonds or gemstones, and designing in a closed loop system, East Fourth Street creates beauty with a conscious, jewelry that is a statement of our customer’s commitment to a socially and environmentally responsible lifestyle. It gives people an opportunity to feel good about their jewelry whether it is their wedding rings or the pair of cute earrings that they love to wear.

Utilizing closed loop system thinking at the very beginning of our design process insures that our jewelry will have a very long life cycle with a responsible end of life. It helps us eliminate waste, not just in the recycling of our scrap metal, but also in the studio. Traditional metal smiths use toxic chemicals and processes that also attribute to the high environmental impact associated with jewelry. Plated jewelry that is readily-available for purchase in stores might contain lead or cadmium. The environmental impact of the process of plating metal is high because it uses chemicals and acids that are extremely poisonous. The effect of the Torch Cuff (see image above), we created the patina with heat rather than toxic chemicals.

Long Design

To insure as low of an impact as possible, different design strategies are integrated into our jewelry design process such as Design for Disassembly (DfD), Reuse and Repair, Zero Waste, and Long Design to name a few. DfD means that East Fourth Street doesn’t use gold filled or plated metal unless it is reclaimed from old discarded jewelry. We don’t combine different metals together unless they can be easily separated and we use cold connections as much as possible. Absolutely no chemical based patinas, cleaners or glue are used along with the recycling of all scrap, paper, and materials help us towards our zero waste goal.

The Reuse and Repair strategy guides us in designing our jewelry so that it is repairable to insure a long life. This strategy piggybacks on DfD so that the parts can be disassembled for reuse or recycle. East Fourth Streets favorite strategy for luxury jewelry is Long Design because it integrates high quality recycled or reused material with timeless design to produce a repairable heirloom quality piece that insures an extremely long lifetime.

The design and style as well as the materials determine the success of a brand of jewelry. Trend and fashion The global world of fashion is coming under high scrutiny because of the environmental hazards associated with manufacturing. Because of this, we have pledged to utilize our knowledge of sustainable design by getting involved with the fashion industry to help others understand how they can change for the better. Designing jewelry with a holistic closed loop system and taking ownership of our supply chain and waste insures that our jewelry will be enjoyed for a long time with a minimal footprint and a very environmentally healthy end of life.

All images courtesy of @SusanCrow

Image 1: AGATE + GLASS NECKLACE (recycled sterling and glass circle, reclaimed velvet and metal bead, and vintage agate from antique collection).

Image 2: FLAME TORCH CUFF (reclaimed copper (scrap from sculpture) and heat induced patina (no patina chemicals)).

Image 3: FLAT RINGS ALICE (recycled 14K gold)

Susan Crow

Jewelry designer Susan Crow is the creative mind behind the brand, East Fourth Street. Once referred to by Huffington Post as the “woman with a passion for sustainable jewels for the conscientious person,” Susan’s work is a marriage of design and socially responsible ethics.

Clean lines, organic shapes created in 18kt gold for a client seeking minimalist elegance without complexity, characterize her work. East Fourth Street was recently included in the leading B2B Italian Fashion Trend magazine Collezioni Accessori’s Eco-Feature because Susan is devoted to responsible jewelry supply chains, design practices and was one of the first designers to bring Fairmined gold to U.S. jewelry buyers in 2013.

She sources diamonds from certified reclaimed diamond suppliers, colored gemstones from suppliers that have established programs that support the mining and cutting communities that mine and produce them, and using Fairmined metals that return profits back to artisanal mining communities ensuring that their gold is mercury-free. Her studio strives for zero waste, low energy, and responsible chemical use.