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Interview with Arabel Lebrusán - the Fairtrade, Fairmined Fine Jewellery Designer and Creator

 In the past, fairtrade products have been viewed more as hippy, shabby chic, but this trend has passed, today’s consumer wants ethical products created with high precision and expert style.

Arabel Lebrusan, through her stunning designs is doing just that, and as such has become a beacon of light for the jewellery trade in how to design and create fine jewellery to be stunning, commercial and ethical.

Your Jewellery is beautiful- how would you describe your style?

Thank you. I’ve always been committed to beautiful jewellery which I believe encompasses design, craftsmanship and ethics. My jewellery designs take direct inspiration from my Spanish roots, heritage and timeless fashion. I love to look at traditional cultures and customs and transform them into modern concepts. My jewellery combines the new and the old, with collections weaving between a softer vintage look or boho-chic and well defined, contemporary shapes. In my designs, I push the boundaries of what wire can do and the scale of it. How it can be used to create large standout pieces that give the impression of weight and toughness, but in reality are light and fluid with a feminine feel.

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How did you decide on your jewellery design style? 

As a little girl I was fascinated by my mother’s jewellery. She owned this amazing yellow gold pendant featuring an eagle clasping a sapphire in its claws. My mother used to wear it on special occasions.  This one elegant, timeless and beautiful crafted piece got me hooked on my love for one-of-a-kind jewellery. It inspired me to want to learn everything about gemstones, jewellery and sculptural techniques and to want to design my own jewels…. And I’m still designing 30 years later!

ALebrusan-Filigree-Links-Bangle-Rose-Gold-NEW-Web.jpgMy interest to start creating contemporary pieces using only ethically sourced materials, like recycled metals and traceable gemstones comes from my sustainable approach to life, in general to ethical living.  The Rosette filigree bangle is without doubt one of my signature pieces. I am so proud that Queen Letizia of Spain wears it!  The use of the filigree technique, with its lace-like vintage look and seemingly endless potential for adaptation, continues to be at the heart of my designer collection.

You have designed a range of ethical engagement rings - what can you tell us about this collection?

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So far, 2017 has been a really exciting year for me and the team. In February, we launched the first Fairmined Eco Gold jewellery collection in the UK.  Entitled ‘Engraved In My Heart’ and aimed towards the bridal market, the designs feature hand engravings of flowing motifs inspired by nature that symbolise the interconnectedness of all things and the continuous cycle of existence. These rings are a beautiful way to express your love for your partner and our planet… at the same time I wanted to create a very playful collection where you can mix-and-match patterns and colour metals to make your unique combinations. There are matching wedding rings and earrings to make the perfect ethical bridal set.

Is all your jewellery created using ethical materials? If so what made you make this decision? 

Ethical has to do with everything, the materials that we use in our jewellery, the processes, manufacturing, packaging and the studio. For me, the words that best define something ethical are Traceability and Sustainability. Traceability of materials, to understand where they come from and if they have been harvested in the most responsible manner. Sustainability is about respecting the resources of the world, materials but also human and cultural resources. This last point is the main reason why I tend to use traditional craftsmanship in my jewellery designs, as a way to sustain traditional techniques and to not let them disappear.

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When did ethics become the driving force for your jewellery designs?

My journey began when I started working in the Far East as a fashion jewellery designer in my late twenties. Seeing the world of mass production and the abuse of natural resources and the exploitation of individuals who don’t have the economic means to defend themselves made me think “this is not sustainable...” “I want to find another way...” “This cannot be my trade”! Since then, “ethical” has been the only choice for me.

I came to the UK to do my Masters at Central St. Martins specifically in ethical jewellery and set up my own company selling ethical jewellery. Back in 2005 there was no ethical jewellery. I am proud to say that I was one of the first Fairtrade Gold licences in the UK and I’ve never looked back.

I’m pushy and stubborn (in a good way!) and I’m constantly asking questions and giving my expert opinion on how we can find an alternative way to ensure these awful practises are not part of my jewellery’s history.

How do you source the sustainable materials used in your jewellery?

Through our Fairtrade certification we guarantee that the gold in our jewellery is responsibly and ethically sourced.  In addition and unlike other jewellers, our metals come direct from a 100 per cent certified and single recycled source.  We are also committed to sourcing responsibly mined diamonds and gemstones, the mining of which we know has not resulted in environmental damage or human rights violations. We mainly use Canadian origin diamonds in our jewels

I have recently become registered to use Fairmined gold. The Fairmined organisation and the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) supports responsible small scale gold mining and the development of the local community. The use of chemicals is reduced; the water supply is protected which results in minimal damage to the natural surroundings, ensuring a positive environmental legacy.

In October 2016 I visited the Nariño province in Colombia to visit La Llanada gold mine. One of only two areas in the world producing Fairmined Ecological Gold. Going underground, I saw first-hand how they work and what makes them so unique. The La Llanada mine in the south of the country is the main source of livelihood for most of the 8800 people who live in the town and is an important part of the population’s cultural identity.

According to statistics a third of consumers will choose to buy ethical products if given the opportunity- have you found your customers question more about the sourcing of your metals and gemstones over your time as a jewellery designer?

Definitely. When customers come to us, they have already done quite a lot of research into the subject and are asking much more specific questions, such as where does the gold come from? Where is the ring made? Why are Canadian diamonds more ethical? When I started out, I usually had to explain what ethical jewellery was and how we were achieving it. Now there is much less explaining to do - customers already understand what ethical jewellery means.

Unfortunately, the term “ethical” is becoming widespread and in some cases misused, so it is very important for us to explain clearly what we mean by it and we have the certification to back it up.

Do you think creating fine jewellery in ethically sourced materials is the future for the jewellery industry world wide?

We would like to hope so. We believe that using fully traceable materials can be the future for the industry.

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What advice would you give to future jewellery designers who wish to follow your example and create in ethically sourced materials for their jewellery collections? 

I believe that if you have the opportunity to use sustainable materials then you should seize it. By choosing to use Fairtrade or Fairmined Gold in your pieces you are making a real difference to small scale artisan miners and their families. So the more gold of this type we use, the more we are supporting economies in need. Also, the more these standards are used, the more they will spread between small communities learning from each other.

For more information on Arabel Lebrusán visit www.arabellebrusan.com

hfg gemstone summary guide book

This guide aims to help you:

  • A brief understanding of gemstones and their properties
  • Some useful charts telling you what different stones of different sizes weigh. Ideal for estimating the the weight of stones when planning jewellery
  • Information of the durability of different stones. Good to know when choosing how to see them

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