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Sustainability. The new frontier in the jewellery industry

by Becky Dow on

The story behind the things we buy has never been so important, with people rightfully demanding transparency and better sustainability practices from established stalwarts and new brands alike. But what about jewellery specifically? Beyond the outcry over conflict stone sourcing that Blood Diamond provoked in the 2000s, the sector is lagging significantly

Supply chains in the jewellery industry can be long and complex, and transparency requires a level of control and involvement brands haven’t adopted in the past. The jewellery industry (particularly the fine jewellery industry), has crafted a facade of glamour and opulence to hide nasty truths about supply chain child labour, the lack of traceability, and poor health and safety practices. Consumer confidence has been shaken with the exposure of conflict minerals and dirty gold. It wasn’t until the 1990s, when NGOs began to question the diamond trade, opaque supply chains, and the associated impact on child labour, that trusted brands began to lose credibility. 

Motley x SustainabilityWe believe in doing good business. We want Motley to be a positive force across our supply chain, from our craftsmen, designers, and customers to our own team at Motley HQ. We take this responsibility seriously.

At Motley, sustainability is built into our model; who we are, how we think and what we do. Motley was founded on the basis that good quality and exceptionally designed jewellery wasn’t accessible at all. This leaves most consumers with few alternatives to buying low quality jewellery, that often comes through a questionable supply chain and doesn’t last very long. 

We’ve done things a bit differently- here’s how. 

Better design lasts longer

Make it well, use high quality raw material and it will stand the test of time. You get out what you put in. Good, lasting product is a mixture of quality materials, expert craftsmanship and the design component itself.

The Production Process

Our specialist craftsmen work in sterling silver and gold vermeil to make each Motley x Designer collection. By working in sterling silver we ensure a high quality, hypoallergenic base metal, which is more affordable than working in gold. For gold pieces, we plate using a technique called ‘vermeil’, where the base sterling silver is plated with gold (we use 18 karat gold) to a thickness of 2 to 3 microns.  It’s the purity of the gold and the thickness to which it’s plated (much thicker than commercial ‘flash plating’) that makes our jewellery durable and long lasting. A bonus is that silver can be easily reworked and reshaped, so no silver goes to waste in the production of our jewellery. Any excess is simply recycled and used in the next production run. 

Not all plates and metals are equal

There are various plating techniques, and they produce very different results. What’s known as ‘flash plating’ fades quickly so jewellery ages quickly, and worse still can lead to infection as the base metal is often low quality and not hypoallergenic. The knock-on effect? Consumers buy more often, and because they buy replacement jewellery more frequently they’re less likely to invest in quality pieces long term. 

Nothing if not transparent

Honesty is really important to us, so when mistakes happen we make sure to fix up. Take ‘Operation 2 Micron’. It came to light that a batch of product had not been plated to vermeil thickness. So we reached out to potentially affected customers and re-plated their pieces free of charge. We want you to wear your Motleys to death and to do that they need to be looking as great five years down the line as they do on their first day with you, so we don’t cut corners. 

Knowing our makers is crucial, which is why we’re in direct and constant communication with them. We choose our artisans based on their expertise, as opposed to using one for all our designs. Jewellery-making done well is a much more complicated process than one might expect. It often requires specialists for each stage of production, from casting the mould for the design, to the enamel work and setting the stones. That’s matching artisans to the collections that speak to their specialities is so important. 

Waste not, want not

We produce each designer collection in limited runs to avoid excess and waste. This not only adds to our sustainable practice, but to the beauty of the Motley model too. You won’t find huge swathes of people wearing the same design as you. Pieces as unique as you are, you might say...

Hats off to sustainability champion and jewellery maven Sian Evans in her collection for Motley. The disc pendant of the Pendulum Necklace and Earrings is made from the cut out metal of the Bubble Earrings. Now, that’s intelligent design.

We put designers back on top

You may not have heard of our designers before- they’ve not had a way to sell their designs through an accessible model, because one didn’t exist. That’s because the industry simply isn’t set up to bring great design to most consumers. For example, our pieces are Vermeil-plated with a sterling silver base, which cannot be ordered in the small quantities independent designers produce. So they simply can’t afford to produce at scale in silver, instead making solid gold pieces for the luxury market. 

The Motley crew of designers

Just some of our Motley crew of designers. From left to right, top to bottom: Alessandro Petrolati, Christopher Thompson Royds, Alice Cicolini, Charlotte Garnett and Sian Evans

Other talented designers work for big name brands but must create anonymously and for commissions as low as 1%. They cannot exercise their creativity freely and must work to the aesthetics and specific briefs they are set. Genuine collaboration is what sets us apart. We think designers are at their best when they have creative freedom, without prohibitive costs or pricing structures. Through the Motley model, we create incentives for designers to enter the middle market. So far we’ve collaborated with 10 fine jewellery designers; each one an expert in their own right. They have sign-off at every stage of the creative prototyping process, and they trust in the centuries-old techniques our makers use to bring their vision to life. Ultimately, the trust that designers have in the model we have built, and the team who built it is the greatest seal of approval we could ask for. 

“My work is all about collaboration...and with Motley I just knew when I met them that they were people I wanted to collaborate with. This is the beginning of what will be an enormously important and exciting journey for the British jewellery industry.” - Alice Cicolini, Motley designer


The work the Motley model enables is entirely unique, often a product of personal experience or memory (like Christopher Thompson Royds collection), or designed to spotlight an important social cause (such as Charlotte Garnett’s collection, intrinsically linked to wellbeing). 

Packaging Mission

If you’re already a customer, you’ll have seen our bright and bold packaging. Our outer box is made from FSC-certified materials and is 100% recyclable. However, our inner pink foam - which looks great - isn’t recyclable. We’ve searched far and wide to find recyclable foam, and got many rejections along the way. After an extensive (and exhaustive) search, we think we’ve sussed it. Without giving too much away, it involves recycled bottles... watch this space in May 2020. In the meantime, we strongly encourage you to reuse the pink foam to store your jewellery in.   

Test, learn and be honest. 

The benefit of building a brand from scratch means that we bring ethics and sustainability into everything we do from the word go. We don’t have to do away with outdated or questionable practices embedded in a culture or supply chain, the way industry stalwarts do. Motley was founded so that making and buying Jewellery is a better experience for consumers and creators alike, and we’ve made sure that applies across the board. There’s always room for improvement, and we’ll continue to work on getting our packaging up to scratch and start telling you all about our artisans. Watch this space, because we’re nowhere near done…

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