The diamonds, silver and gold in a new jewelry collection from Pandora, the world’s largest jewelry producer, are physically identical to the stones and metals from the mines. But the diamonds were grown in a lab using renewable energy, and all the gold and silver are recycled.
This change is part of the company’s goal to become a low-carbon company. “If we look at our company’s CO2 emissions, the vast majority that lies within our four walls is related to production,” says Alexander Lacik, CEO of the Copenhagen-based company. “So we said, okay, let’s look at the production.”
The company buys hundreds of tons of silver each year, for example, and the team knew that using recycled silver had only a fraction of the environmental impact of newly mined silver. Inside its own production plant, it was already sourcing recycled metals. But about 30% of the components come from other suppliers. In 2020, the company pledged to switch to recycled silver and gold for all of its jewelry by 2025, including pieces from external sources. The new collection, consisting of 33 items, is the company’s first to use 100% recycled metals.
The transition “is not so easy”, says Lacik, “because you have to touch the whole value chain”. Silver refiners must invest in new equipment and must be convinced that the investment is worth it. Pandora needs certification that the money has been recycled. Parts suppliers must adjust their own processes to incorporate recycled materials. And the supply of recycled silver must increase. (Gold is more heavily recycled because it is more valuable.) Currently, the majority of recycled silver comes from manufacturing, including chemical production and electronics, but much more could come from harvesting parts from old gadgets. Currently, billions of dollars precious metals are thrown away every year in phones, computers and other electronic waste.
Pandora wants to send a signal that there is a demand for recycled silver and gold, even though the materials are currently more expensive than their mined counterparts. “We’re trying to make a big deal out of it so that more people follow this path,” says Lacik. This includes both other jewelry makers and other large users of precious metals, including electronics brands.
The company also wants to help push the industry towards lab-grown diamonds (Pandora announced in 2021 it would no longer use mined diamonds, switching exclusively to lab-grown diamonds). If a diamond is grown, cut and polished with renewable energy, the carbon footprint is 95% lower than that of mined diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds can avoid other ethical challenges in mining, including child labor. And since diamonds are pure carbon, the end product is identical.
“The end result is exactly the same, but the path to get there is different,” says Lacik. “The pathway for a mined diamond is 2 million years under pressure and heat, and the pathway for a lab-created diamond is weeks.” Inside a machine, “you bombard the grain of diamonds with carbon atoms, and then they end up bonding together and they create a rock,” he says. The rock is then cut and polished in the same way that a mined rock would be.
If the entire diamond industry moved away from mining, Pandora calculated that the company would avoid 6 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year, roughly equivalent to converting every car in New York by electric vehicle. Of course, the industry isn’t likely to change anytime soon – the powerful marketing story that links diamonds to the concept of eternal love means there’s always a demand for ‘real’ stones. Pandora doesn’t target the engagement and anniversary market as much as it targets women who want to buy diamond jewelry at a lower price.
“Am I going to convert the whole diamond market? I just wish I could do it, but it’s not realistic,” says Lacik. “But being who we are, we can at least raise the subject. We can lead the industry.