Do you remember the time when your grandmother upcycled her gold coins to create something new? Or when your mother used gemstones from an old jewellery set to get a new design made? This mindset of upcycling fine jewellery has been an Indian custom for generations. Now, a new breed of designers is introducing this in fashion jewellery as well. Think buy-backs of old stock, revamping clients’ old pieces and recycling industrial waste to create more “eco-conscious” pieces.
Méro Jewellery, for instance, launched the Silver Recycle Project in June. Its premise is simple: the brand buys back silver jewellery and artefacts from their patrons in exchange of new custom pieces equivalent to the silver’s value or a credit note to be redeemed on their e-shop. “We grew up seeing our grandparents and parents recycle their silver. It’s a concept we wanted to introduce to a new generation of customers too,” explains Dhaval Palrecha, the brand’s founder.
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Similar was Aavriti R. Jain’s thought when she launched Green Dhora, an initiative by her brand Dhora that allows clients to return their old brass and silver jewellery from the label in exchange for new pieces, over three years ago. “As a young jewellery designer, I was frightened by all the waste I saw around me, and was researching ways to reuse materials. Green Dhora is our way to refrain from buying new metal where we can,” she says. Jain likens the environmental impact of fashion jewellery—whether it costs you ₹500 or ₹10,000— to that of a white T-shirt brought from a high street brand. “Fashion accessories are easily forgettable. One tends to get bored of them quickly. At least this way, you can get something new in exchange for it rather than simply discarding the piece,” she insists.
Have there been many takers? Since launching its project, Méro has had some 35 women in the age group of 25-45 reach out to them with their old silverware, coins, artefacts and jewellery. The brand’s other co-founder, Priyanka Palrecha, admits that a lot more education is required before the concept gathers mainstream steam. “Such kind of programs do involve some amount of effort on the client’s part. Assessing the silver and determining its value takes some time. And then making a new piece adds another couple of days to the process. The younger generation doesn’t necessarily have the patience for this. While they are becoming aware, they want instant gratification too.”
Jain believes that the lockdown and the resulting conversations on the importance of circular economy, are turning the tide. “When we initially launched Green Dhora, the response was limited to reposts and applause on social media. But that was not our aim. We didn’t want it to be a marketing gimmick,” she says. “But in the last 15 months, an increasing number of clients are finally taking us up on this offer.”
The core idea behind upcycling is developing a circular economy in jewellery. Curated Curiosities, for example, uses discarded acrylic products or acrylic and wood from industrial sites for its creations.
Jewellery design house Chicory Chai works with antiques to recreate “wearable art”. “We don’t categorise our products as ‘fashion jewellery’. They are made to be passed on from generation to generation, even though made with recycled brass,” says the brand’s founder Himani Grover. “Fashion jewellery is made with cheap raw material and industrialised processes that are not very planet-friendly. They are not made to last beyond a few seasons, and eventually end up in a landfill, alongside seasonal clothing. It is only when brands start thinking of fashion jewellery beyond a few seasons that the perception and responsibility towards the product will change.”
With brands releasing new collections or drops every few months, the need of the hour is a future-forward approach, points out jewellery designer Roma Narsinghani. “We have to ask ourselves important questions: Why am I making yet another collection? Is over-production the crux of the waste issue? Upcycling is a fresher and more productive solution to cutting down waste and supporting the development of a circular economy.” Narsinghani, who already has a take-back offer for her jewellery, is now in the process of collaborating with couture and bridal designers to use their textile or crystal waste for jewellery. “It hasn’t been easy though,” she admits. “Many brands don't want to disclose their waste and have declined our offer. Some said they reuse all their waste in-house.”
Jain, whose most recent collection Sukoon is made from kundan and meena surplus from factories in Jaipur, adds: “Small collections made from surplus, and an exchange of ideas and materials is the way forward. There is a lot of greenwashing. But there are those genuinely working to make a difference too. The time has come for this to become a movement.”