The Scariest Jewelry!

tracy hibsman studio

This is the season for scary things.  Decorations, movies, and stories all tell tales of fright.  They show up like clockwork in early October and are repeated each year.  I read a similar story the other day. Oh, not about ghouls or ghosts...about jewelry!

For years now, we’ve seen headline stories about the toxic materials used in the manufacture of so many things made in China.  Jewelry is no exception. It started as early as 2004 with high lead content in children’s jewelry.

Lead was used in jewelry for children and adults to make bright colors, increase the weight of metal alloys, and to decrease the cost.  Because of public outcry over the dangers of lead poisoning, especially in children’s jewelry, this use of lead was banned.

Although manufacturers weren’t using lead, they still needed to make products that were cheap and brightly colored.  Enter cadmium. It’s a toxic metal that can cause reproductive harm and cancer with long exposure, especially if put in the mouth or swallowed.  Cadmium is used in the same way as lead.

In 2010, based on an Associated Press investigation, some states banned the use of cadmium in children’s jewelry.  By 2012 it virtually disappeared, except in adult jewelry where there is no regulation.

Last year, investigations by both the Associated Press and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) found that some jewelry samples sold in stores such as Ross, Aldo, Papaya and Arden contained from 40% to 90% cadmium.  While the stores have taken action to recall and help limit toxic jewelry, there is no guarantee that the next alloy or paint won’t include something cheap and equally toxic.

Unfortunately, there is no way to test your jewelry other than taking it to a laboratory.  So, what can you do to protect yourself?

Stay informed and speak up.  While this won’t prevent exposure, you can be aware of issues related to imported goods.  The use of toxic materials isn’t good for you, but it can be even worse for those making the jewelry.  Being informed and voice your concern at the state and federal levels helps change regulations. That helps everyone.

Avoid the cheapest jewelry.  Six pairs of earrings for $15?  It may not be a great deal. One of the common denominators with the use of lead and cadmium is the cost.  We have become accustomed to fast fashion, hyper-consumption, and cheap prices. This demand forces manufacturers to produce goods overseas using the cheapest of materials.  Instead, curate your accessories more slowly and purchase higher quality jewelry made from sterling silver, jeweler’s brass and copper.

Know who you are buying from.  Probably the best way to protect yourself is by buying jewelry from artisans.  When you purchase directly from a metalsmith you can speak with the person handcrafting the jewelry.  You can ask questions about the source and makeup of the materials and better assess the related stewardship issues.  Is the silver recycled? Do they know the person who harvested and cut the stones? Are the stones vintage or ethically sourced?   You’ll also be investing in jewelry that will stand the test of time, becoming family heirlooms.

Take the scare out of your jewelry purchases.  Buy from artisans who show a care for God’s creation, use safe materials, and create deeply meaningful work.  

What do you think?  How do you take the scare out of your jewelry collection?

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