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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Rebel with a Cause

Jewelry is a universal form of embellishment. For as long as humans have existed, we have been adorning our bodies and outfits with shiny metals, colorful stones, and sparkling gems. No matter who you are, jewelry has the ability to add beauty to whatever you’re wearing.

The jewelry business, however, has a reputation for being anything but beautiful. From blood diamonds and poor working conditions for miners across the globe, to damage to the ecosystem, all that glitters is not (sustainable) gold.

For Stephen Webster, eco-responsibility has been a key element of his business for the past decade.

The British designer, often referred to as the “jeweler to the stars” and the “bad boy of jewelry design,” is renowned for his edgy, avant-garde creations that mix elegant gems and gold with unexpected stones, wood, and even brightly colored enamel.

Webster had already built a loyal following thanks to his mix of classical training and rock ’n’ roll attitude, when in 2000, Madonna was photographed wearing one of his signature rings. The press went crazy. A few months later, Webster designed the singer’s wedding ring for her marriage to Guy Ritchie. Since then, just about every A-List celebrity has sported his creations, from Ozzy Osbourne and Steven Tyler to Jennifer Lopez and Taylor Swift.

His rebellious punk-inspired designs are unmistakable: skulls, thorns, serpents, insects, and sea creatures, all rendered with wit and elegance in precious metals and gemstones. But even though Webster has received praise from his clients and industry peers and numerous professional accolades, he believes that jewelry should be more than impeccably crafted — it should also stand for something good.

“For several years, we have focused on being as sustainable and responsible as possible across all our business practices,” he explains.

In 2010, Webster visited gold mines in Peru with Dutch NGO Solidaridad, whose main objective is facilitating “the development of socially responsible, ecologically sound, and profitable supply chains.” Webster was the first jeweler to visit the mines with the group.

“I went down into the mines and saw what they did every day, and it had a big impact on me,” he recalls. “I’d been working with gold my whole life, but that made me really want to champion the best way that we could work in practice, because I saw things that were just awful. I’d be chatting to women miners and their kids would be playing outside next to open mercury pits. It was terrible.”

Stephen Webster at the Peru Mines with brother David Webster in
association with Solidaridad Fairtrade Gold.

The trips were part of Solidaridad’s “On Our Way to Good Gold” campaign, the goal of which was to raise awareness of the need for better practices in the mining sector and to help the mines become certified Fairtrade. Webster became the first jewelry maker to introduce Fairtrade Fairmined gold — a designation created by the Alliance for Responsible Mining and Fairtrade International — to the market.

“I’ve met these miners, I’ve been to their villages, and I’ve really connected to them. So I was really keen to work with products that were Fairmined,” he says, noting that he was one of the first jewelers in the world to receive a Fairtrade Fairmined gold license.

“I felt really good about that, and quite rightly, because that was the start of the journey,” he adds.

From the materials he sources to the way he runs his business, Webster is committed to embracing socially responsible and ethical practices.

“It’s one thing to apply these standards to your materials and suppliers, but to complete the picture, you’ve got to apply them to yourself,” he explains. His brand has an in-house Green Team whose goal is to identify and implement solutions to help the business become more environmentally sustainable — including developing a target to halve carbon emissions by 2030.

Stephen Webster and his team pick up litter in the River Thames.

In 2018, the company launched RESET, a recycling design service that allows customers to bring in old jewelry and have it redesigned and repurposed into something new, reusing as many elements of the original as possible.

Webster also saw success with his Last Straw initiative. Each summer, Webster and his team take part in beach cleaning or clean ocean activities, and one of the top things they would find were straws. In an effort to raise awareness of the problem, Webster created a sterling silver straw. A portion of the $175 sales price goes to Plastic Oceans, a charity that’s working to end plastic pollution. So far, the initiative has raised more than $10,000.

Webster is now on a quest to eliminate single-use plastics from his business’s supply chain by 2025. This includes using only recycled and biodegradable paper and shipping products. He’s also issued a no single-use plastic bottle policy throughout all of his facilities.

“It’s really, really important to us,” he says.

In 2021, Webster was honored with the inaugural Grosvenor Sustainability Award. The award recognizes environmental and social leadership and rewards brands that are working toward better, more sustainable practices. And in 2023, he received the Friend of the Earth Award from Mayfair Times Community Awards, which recognizes people and businesses in one of London’s toniest neighborhoods.

“When we started this journey, it felt like an uphill battle,” Webster recalls. “It’s bad enough trying to run a business, let alone run a business that wants to become sustainable. But in the last five years, I feel that we’ve become a bit of an authority on that in the jewelry industry. I’ve been very happy to share my experience, and I’m very proud of our team and the way we run our business to not be wasteful.”

Stephen Webster jewelry is available in some of the most exclusive galleries and department stores in the world, including Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. In Arizona, his work can be seen exclusively at Grace Renee Gallery in Cave Creek. It can also be purchased online at www.stephenwebster.com.

Read more Style articles from Green Living magazine.

Header photo and all photos courtesy of Stephen Webster. Pictured is Stephen Webster and his internal Green Team.


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