Just because there’s a recession going on doesn’t mean you can't look your best for the holidays. What would winter be without the bright-red candy cane brooch, the New Year's Eve rhinestone necklace? If you don’t want to expand your carbon footprint by buying brand-new  jewelry, it’s time to hit the vintage stores. While it's true that you’ll probably spend less at the secondhand store, as we noted in our blog on secondhand clothes, the selection and quality is almost always better at a vintage place. That's because people tend to be attached to their jewelry and are more likely to sell better pieces or give them to friends and family rather than donate them to Goodwill.

The online store Absolute Vintage has a big selection at reasonable prices. Then there's new jewelry made from vintage materials: Eda & Betty turn old chandeliers into necklaces and bracelets Mazel Tov! Jewelry recycles watch faces, computer chips, and chunks of old costume jewelry to create unique works of art. Eco-Artware is another good site: try this recycled magazine bracelet or vintage vinyl record bracelet.

One note of caution about jewelry, vintage or new:  Pieces, especially very cheap ones, made of unspecified soft metal rather than pure stainless, silver, platinum or gold, can contain neurotoxic lead. These should be kept away from children, especially those younger than six and most to likely to shove the nearest shiny thing down the hatch. If a retailer can't assure you what a piece is made of, make sure you can return it and then screen  with lead testing strips.  The Center for Disease Control has a list of “toy” jewelry and jewelry-making kits that were found to have lead in them and have been recalled.

We can’t mention jewelry without conflict diamonds. As our eco-hero Leonardo DiCaprio showed in his 2006 film Blood Diamond, these shiny bits of rock fuel wars in Sierra Leone, Angola, and Liberia. The United Nations recognizes the role that diamonds play in these international conflicts and the World Diamond Council has a zero-tolerance policy for buying and selling conflict diamonds. Fortunately, Canada is the world’s third largest producer of diamonds, which also come to us using fewer fuel miles.

Story by Rachel Brown. This article originally appeared in Plenty in Novemeber 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Jewelry that is free of lead and conflict
If you don't want to expand your carbon footprint by buying brand-new jewelry, it's time to hit the vintage stores.