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Sustainable jewelry movement makes new treasures from old gems

a pile of silver and gold bracelets, earrings, rings and necklaces against a white background
Martin de Arriba

There's a growing movement against mining new gemstones and minerals for the jewelry industry. Instead, the nonprofit Ethical Metalsmiths encourages jewelry makers to reuse and repurpose stones and metals from old, unused, broken or otherwise unwanted pieces.

It's called Radical Jewelry Makeover, and it's coming to a college campus near you.

"The mining industry is one of the most environmentally unfriendly industries," explains Lauren Darrouzet, visiting assistant professor of art, metals and 3D fabrication at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind.

"It creates a lot of waste. It also (does) a lot of irreparable harm to the environment, and it just creates a lot of trash in general. This is a project that helps to keep the consumer mindset focused on reuse and recycling."

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Students at Earlham College and a handful of other Midwest universities — including Ball State, Indiana University (where Radical Jewelry Makeover is based), and Bowling Green State University — are collecting donated jewelry items now through Sept. 12. The items will then be sorted and students will learn about the materials and the jewelry trade.

"We'll give some basic knowledge and information to them, and after the event, they'll all come away with pieces from these donated jewelry parts and they will be taking those parts and making them into new jewelry pieces, which then are available for sale," says Darrouzet.

The new creations will also be part of an exhibit at Indiana University’s Grunwald Gallery of Art in Bloomington from Jan. 19 through March 2, 2024. Darrouzet says she hopes it will also travel to Chicago.

"I think the hope for this program is to consider ... how we consume, and that we don't really need as much as we think we do; that local projects can really change the world in a slow way," says Darrouzet. "I think that a more transparent process will help people to — especially in the jewelry industry — to think about how and why you are making, and create a culture of sensitivity to honoring the materials that we use."

How to donate

Volunteer "miners" in Richmond can deposit unwanted jewelry in a box outside Room 109 in the Earlham College Center for Visual Performing Arts or at the Richmond Art Museum.

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From Earlham:

"Items may also be mailed to Earlham College, Attn: Metals, 801 National Road W., Richmond, IN 47374. Shipped donations can be sent with a printed and signed donation form or via email to

"Donors are asked to complete a submission form available through this link or in print at the collection locations.

"Donors will receive discount coupons to apply toward the purchase of a new piece and will supportEthical Metalsmiths’ efforts. Donations of gold or silver accompanied by an official appraised document may be considered tax-deductible to their full appraised value."

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.