and turn your old, neglected trinkets into something you’ll treasure forever.

It’s always the worst of days when we say goodbye to a beloved pet. It wasn’t just an awful day I had five years ago, when my Siamese cat, Truly Scrumptious died, aged 14. It was the worst day of my life. I won’t go into detail as to the way she died; suffice to say, it wasn’t the calm and peaceful passing in my arms that I had anticipated.

I know you’re wondering what the heck this has to do with upcycling jewellery. Well, for a few years, I frequently pondered what to do to honour her memory.

My incredibly talented artist friend, Erin Whitty, painted a stunning watercolour of her for me, which hangs above my bed, but I wanted something that I could carry around with me and keep close to my heart.

I toyed with the idea of a tattoo on my ring finger, as traditional symbolism had the ancient Romans believing that there was a vein in the ring finger of the left hand leading directly to the heart. I love the folklore behind this, but what was I meant to do if the tattoo artist messed up?

Then, one day while skimming Facebook, I happened Fairina Cheng. Fairina is a Sydney-based jeweller who creates unique, bespoke jewellery that incorporates symbolic, sentimental and sometimes quirky references to the personal stories of its owner.

I had a stunning aquamarine stone that I had been given by my very first boss many years earlier. It was the exact same colour as Truly’s enormous eyes and pretty much the same shape. I’d previously had it set in an oversized cocktail ring. It was bold and dramatic and ever-so-beautiful, but my style had evolved to be a little demurer over the years.

When Truly passed, I kept a small cutting of her fur and had taken a print of her little paw. I told Fairina the sad tale and mentioned the various objects I had, sending photos for her to design to. Within a day or two, she had come up with the most touching, meaningful design for me.

Fairina used the old silver from the original ring to create a beautiful pendant, in which she set the stone and then placed it on a chain to hang around my neck and sit close to my heart. She embossed Truly’s paw print in the silver at the back of the pendant. Before setting the stone, she placed some of Truly’s fur in the setting, which if you look very closely, you can see through the crystal blue of the gem.

It is without doubt, the most beautiful piece of jewellery I have ever owned. I love it on so many levels. That it is a piece to honour my much-loved cat, is of course at top of list. However, I also love it because we were super careful not to waste anything in its creation. I love that it still holds the silver from its previous life and as such, is honouring our earth, as much as it is Truly Scrumptious.

 

Fairina specialises in this kind of work. She says, “the planet has been kind to us. And it’s about time to start giving back. We have to think more and more about how our choices in fast fashion and throwaway accessories affect the world we live in.

“There are simple ways to decrease your environmental footprint and it comes down to the decisions you make around purchases, including significant ones like jewellery, whether sentimental like this pendant, or for commitment pieces like an engagement or wedding ring.”

Fairina offers these tips, below, for upcycling and breathing new life into those trinkets that time – and perhaps you – have forgotten.

Put your pre-loved jewellery to good use
Think about the old jewellery you may have stashed at the back of your sock drawer. It could be yours from a younger age, your mum’s jewellery from the 80s or even Grandma’s old engagement ring.

This kind of pre-loved jewellery is a great way to create a really special piece without having to purchase new materials. Both the gemstones and metal can often be used, and it ticks all the boxes of ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’. It can be a great way to imbue your special piece with the story of a family. You may even have several pieces you can melt down to make one new piece, which adds so much meaning to your new jewel. Some metals don’t melt down as well as others, so chat to your jeweller for advice beforehand.

Know where your gems come from
If you’re purchasing new gems, be sure you know where they came from. Large-scale mining can be destructive, so choose gems that are sourced ethically and with respect for the environment. Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie Blood Diamond shone a light on the ugly truth of “blood diamonds” or “conflict diamonds”, which are mined in areas controlled by rebel forces and sold to fund wars.

Fortunately, we now have the Kimberley Process, which certifies rough diamonds as “conflict-free” (stones that do not finance insurgencies). However, the Kimberley Process does not cover ethical mining and working conditions nor the use of child labour. It is also possible for conflict diamonds to be smuggled into the legitimate supply chain, where they are then indistinguishable from diamonds from legitimate sources.

If getting an ethically sourced gem is important to you, consider diamonds that are traceable right to the source (and certified as such), or diamonds that originate from Canada and Australia, which are sourced in a more responsible way.

Choose lab-created stones
Want to take ethical sourcing of gems a step further? Try lab-created gems. Lab-created gems are grown in a laboratory under controlled conditions. They are chemically and physically identical to their mined counterparts, the only difference being that they have been made in a lab. This means we know they are ethically sourced and because they don’t involve intensive mining, they don’t have the environmental impact of a mined diamond.”

Ask your jeweller lots of questions
It’s time to ask the tough questions. Choose a jeweller that vets their suppliers and has processes in place to minimise their environmental impact. There is so much that jewellers can do to reduce their footprint.

I love working with customers to choose ethically sourced gemstones and repurpose old jewellery into new custom pieces. I’m not a fan of throwaway, mass produced jewellery. As an independent jeweller, I craft my pieces in small batches or make them to order. In the workshop, I prioritise sustainability by recycling scrap materials and substituting harsh chemicals with natural, environmentally friendly options.

Some questions you may want to ask your jeweller are:
1. Can you send me some information about how your metals are sourced?
2. I’m looking for an ethically sourced sapphire. What do you recommend and why?
3. What ways would you suggest making my ring as eco-friendly as possible?

For more information on ethical, upcycled jewellery, or to have a piece made of your own, visit Fairina Cheng Jewellery.

Fairina Cheng