At the end of 2020, S&P Global Market Intelligence reported: “Gold mines emitted on average 0.8 tonnes of CO2 equivalent for every ounce of gold that was produced in 2019; however, stark differences exist both regionally and across open pit versus underground mining methods.” At the lowest end-of-the-scale estimate for carbon emissions in diamond mining, the (highly contested) TruCost report financed by the DPA (Diamond Producers Association) concluded that: “the DPA member diamond mining operations emitted an average of 160 kg CO2e per polished carat produced in 2016.” Recycled metals and repurposed stones are gaining market share, and the lab-grown diamond market grew 15% to 20% in 2019, following a similar trajectory in 2018. While carbon emissions are an increasingly serious consideration of the jewellery industry, the litany of human rights abuses and societal issues which arise as a consequence of precious metal and gem mining are an even more terrifying ethical consideration of the jewels we create, wear and covet.
Digital evangelists can easily argue that there is a chasm of difference between the ethical quandaries surrounding the nascent digital jewellery space in comparison to those related to the behemoth physical jewellery industry. A rebuttal could be proffered in the high energy consumption of many technologies connected to digital jewellery: NFTs, blockchain – and consequently – cryptocurrencies (with which the overwhelming majority of transactions for digital art are purchased.) Questions of financial value and stability in these digital markets are also being asked by the biggest voices in the traditional art world, as explored in Damien Hirst’s latest project ‘The Currency’, where the buyer decides between a physical Hirst artwork or an NFT. These are the concerns which many digital artists compensate for by offsetting their carbon emissions, whilst solutions like lazy minting and sidechains are gradually becoming more widely adopted in response to criticism.
It is likely that in terms of ethical positioning, as digital jewellery becomes a more developed industry, it will likely align with the already established digital fashion space – which alongside other drivers, hopes to reduce the demand, over-consumption and waste produced by physical garments by replacing them in our online worlds with digital fashion designs. ‘Inside The Wardrobe of The Metaverse’ is a monthly newsletter written in partnership with The Fabricant by digital fashion pioneer Dani Loftus, Founder of This Outfit Does Not Exist. In the article titled ‘Design and Technology’, Dani discusses the myriad sustainability concerns relating to the fashion industry at large, all of which are directly applicable and comparable to the jewellery industry. She writes: “The implementation of digital design processes reduces environmental impact across […] textiles – reducing materials waste across the supply chain by enabling: 1) Designs to be pre-engineered to minimise textile waste during production 2) Physical clothing samples to be eliminated, replaced by digital counterparts for both creators and consumers 3) The seamless shift towards a made-to-order production model, where clothes are not manufactured until they’re consumed.”
Not only does the digital revolution reduce the appetite for the physical, like-for-like objects it can create for your virtual world, but crucially it also allows for a shift in the power dynamic of who can make jewellery, and therefore, who can make money from making jewellery. Gen Z is expected to account for over a quarter of global income by 2030 and then surpass millennials’ income by 2031 according to a global Bank of America study. The disruptive, socially and ecologically conscious behaviours of this generation are already changing our economic landscape – challenging traditional financial, business and artistic institutions with desires for digital first, radical transparency, and circular consumption, as well as disregarding conventions which drive the current jewellery industry and its market positioning. Digital jewellery aligns with these principles and motivations much more closely than the current jewellery industry, and so we can expect to see Gen Z being the dominant group of early adopters in these technologies in our immediate future, with generation Alpha following closely behind…
This is the fourth out of five articles on Digital Jewellery commissioned by Current Obsession and written by Jodie Marie Smith.
This series seeks to explain, suggest, hypothesise and forecast the landscape of digital jewellery in our immediate and short term futures. From today’s NFTs, blockchain gems and cryptocurrency diamond auctions, to the metaverse of VR, gaming and the social networks of internet 3.0 – jewellery has evolved beyond the physical, beyond the bounds of our reality, and beyond all definition.
Jodie Smith is a San Francisco based writer, trend forecaster and creative consultant specialising in the jewellery industry. Newly transplanted from London with a background in fine jewellery, Jodie has written for The Future Lab, Rapaport, 1st Dibs, Adorn Insight, The Adventurine, Retail Jeweller, Jewelry Connoisseur and The Jewellery Cut, amongst others. Uniquely positioned between journalists, diamond specialists, luxury brands and digital artists, she reports on every facet of the jewellery world – from the designs we covet, to consumer identities and the our digital futures.
*cover image by Artwork by @trs.mnz