The word ‘recycling’ usually conjures up images of bins with yellow lids, clothing swaps and bottle and can collections.
But at the circular jewellery business, Molten Store, recycling instead means shimmering gold, glistening gems and diamond rings.
The Brisbane-based jewellery brand takes customers’ old gold jewellery, weighs it and then gives customers a credit to be spent in store based on the current price of gold. And Molten Store will then melt down that unwanted gold jewellery to make new and beautiful designs.
It’s truly circular, and according to managing director Jessy Cameron, the whole process is a “joy to behold”.
One customer recently brought in an old gold bangle. She ended up getting a $3,500 credit in exchange which she used to purchase a diamond ring.
“The magic of our jewellery swap initiative is that we've actually, quite proudly, figured out a way to genuinely incentivise people to recycle. How amazing is that? You can recycle and get a diamond ring. That's just the best,” Cameron told Yahoo Finance.
Molten Store has existed for nine years but made the switch to focus on sustainability in 2018, when Cameron began to feel “a bit uncomfortable” about her business.
“This constant churn of new costume jewellery, new, new, new is just at odds with how I live my life personally,” Cameron said.
“The tricky thing is, people loved it and we still get people to this day who say they miss that kind of [costume jewellery] product but I just wanted to do something that had longevity.”
Where has my jewellery come from?
Around 2017, customers were also starting to ask more questions around who had made their jewellery and where it had come from. Soon, Cameron realised the only way to be able to answer those questions with 100 per cent accuracy was for her to own her supply chain entirely.
Mining for gold has been known to displace indigenous communities, while Myanmar’s jade trade is also causing deaths, drug abuse and civil conflict and is tainted by corruption. And in countries like Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the diamond trade has long posed major human rights challenges.
“The jewellery industry at large is notoriously opaque, so it's so hard to tell where things truly come from. The more I looked into it, the more astounded I was to learn how many hands touched it [gems and precious metals] before it becomes a product.”
Building those relationships and transitioning to a slower, more sustainable model ended up being a two-year learning curve, but Cameron is excited to have done it. Today, the jewellery at Molten Store is made from repurposed antique jewellery and items.
And, she added, sustainability also needs to be financially sustainable.
“So much of being in business is making sure you're in business again tomorrow. There's no point having these utopian ideas about what the future of consumption is going to look like if you're not around to make it a reality,” she said.
She said letting go of the spoils of fast fashion was hard - there are so many more steps and work that comes with building a sustainable product.
But it’s paid off.
“The visible growth speaks for itself. This time last year we had a 32 square meter boutique that basically had cabinetry that was fitted out when we moved into the space - it was borderline a pop up store,” Cameron said.
“Now we've got a 90 square meter boutique in Brisbane's premier retail location, it's a complete custom fit-out, we're having engagement ring appointments every couple of days now, we've been able to hire talent [and] we just got onto THE ICONIC.”
The business is almost completely different to what it was two years ago. But there’s still room to go. The phrase, ‘sustainability’ can be bandied around quite effortlessly in fashion spheres, but Cameron wants to be as true to the word as possible.
How does it work?
While Molten Store eschews sales, older jewellery that can’t be melted down will be sold at reduced prices to clear stock. But the emphasis is on circular design - nearly all of their new jewellery is now made from unwanted gold given to them by their customers.
The same goes for their silver jewellery, made from silverware, old coins and antique teapots.
And slow moving lines of jewellery aren’t reduced in price. Instead, the gems are salvaged, the gold is melted down and redesigned for newer styles. It means less waste and the ability to redesign quickly and almost create a fast fashion cycle within the store, but without the nasty byproducts.
However, breaking the fast fashion mentality remains a challenge for Molten Store.
“Jewellery is such a spectrum. You can get things that are very expensive, you can get things that are very cheap. And the value beyond the materiality is very subjective and very emotional,” Cameron said.
The brand is still trying to find the happy medium between the inherent value of the product and the craftsmanship and the price that a customer feels is right.
“I feel we are as close as we've ever been to finding that sweet spot but I still think it comes down to making sure that the value proposition is strong.”
Sentimentality as a selling point
One thing Molten Store, and vintage jewellery more broadly, does have going for it is the value of sentimentality.
People love items with stories attached to them, and it’s something Cameron believes will help the brand ride out coronavirus.
Molten Store opened its flagship store in mid-March, mere days before the lockdown period began.
A self-described nerd, Cameron took to Google to find out how the jewellery industry had fared in past crises.
The news was surprisingly good: during and after times of extreme uncertainty, love and commitment blossoms.
Sentimentality is a good thing.
“When September 11 happened, jewellery sales spiked in the years afterwards because global events make people think really deeply about the kind of person they want to be and the kind of consumer they want to be,” Cameron said.
“In the September 11 case, people were really aware of their mortality and people got engaged. We’ve really seen our engagement ring sales and our custom jewellery sales blossom in the last couple of months because I think it speaks to a customer who is really ready to nest and who is a lot more intentional, and maybe just had some time to slow down and think about the person they want to become.”
She said her product, which is all about sentimentality, will always have a purpose in any economy.
"We're coming through… a time that has been completely terrifying for every small business but we've come out of it stronger. That just goes to show customers vote with their feet and people are preferring to choose a more conscious option, thank goodness for us.”
Also read: Woman pays for wedding with recycled bottles