The diamonds, silver, and gold in a new collection of jewelry from Pandora, the world’s largest jewelry producer, are physically identical to stones and metals from mines. But the diamonds were grown in a lab with renewable energy, and all of the gold and silver is recycled.
The shift is part of the company’s goal to become a low-carbon business. “If we look at the CO2 emissions of our company, the vast majority that sits within our own four walls is linked to production,” says Alexander Lacik, CEO of the Copenhagen-based company. “So then we said, okay, let’s have a look at production.”
The company buys hundreds of tons of silver each year, for example, and the team knew that using recycled silver has only a fraction of the environmental impact of newly mined silver. Inside its own production facility, it was already sourcing recycled metals. But around 30% of components come from other suppliers. In 2020, the company pledged to move to recycled silver and gold for all of its jewelry by 2025, including parts that its sources externally. The new collection, with 33 items, is the company’s first to use 100% recycled metals.
The transition “is not so easy,” Lacik says, “because you have to touch the whole value chain.” Silver refiners need to invest in new equipment, and need to be convinced that the investment is worth it. Pandora needs certification that the silver was actually recycled. Parts suppliers need to adjust their own processes to incorporate recycled material. And the supply of recycled silver needs to increase. (Gold is more highly recycled since it’s more valuable.) Right now, 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 of precious metals are thrown out in phones, computers, and other electronic waste each year.
Pandora wants to send a signal that there’s demand for recycled silver and gold, even though the materials are currently more expensive than their mined counterparts. “We’re trying to kind of make a big deal out of this so that more people follow this path,” Lacik says. That includes both other jewelry makers and other large users of precious metals, including electronics brands.
The company also wants to help push the industry toward lab-grown diamonds (Pandora announced in 2021 it would no longer use mined diamonds, switching exclusively to lab-grown). If a diamond is grown, cut, and polished with renewable energy, the carbon footprint is 95% smaller 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 the exact same, but the pathway 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 a couple of weeks.” Inside a machine, “you bombard the speck of diamonds with carbon atoms, and then eventually they bind to each other 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 shifted away from mining, Pandora calculated that society would avoid 6 million tons of carbon emissions a year, or roughly the equivalent of converting every car in New York City to an electric vehicle. Of course, the industry isn’t likely to change soon—the powerful marketing story that links diamonds to the concept of eternal love means that there’s still demand for “real” rocks. Pandora isn’t targeting the engagement and anniversary market as much as that of women who want to buy themselves diamond jewelry at a lower price point.
“Am I going to convert the entire diamond market? I just wish I could, but that’s not realistic,” Lacik says. “But being who we are, we can at least raise the topic. We can show the way for the industry.”