Ethics of Beauty

Adelaide based eco jeweller Benjamin Manning is leading the way in ethical jewellery creation, using materials such as meteorite, palladium, created diamonds and Mammoth tusk.

In a tiny attic in central London jeweller Benjamin Manning began pondering the potential harm of the chemicals involved in his trade, substances he worked with day in, day out. This research led to him discovering the darker side of the industry. “When I was in London I was making jewellery and working in a really small loft, it was probably only three metres by three metres with a really low roof. I had all these chemicals sitting around me and that started me thinking [that] there must be something else I could do other than use all these chemicals,” Manning says. After studying jewellery design at the University of South Australia, a degree which he says left him underprepared, Manning moved to Melbourne to get work in jewellery repairs before jetting off to London. He began searching for alternatives when he discovered  the manufacturing processes impact on the people and the environment, as well as the sourcing and mining of the products he was working with. “When I came back to Australia I decided that if I was going to make jewellery I wanted to try to do it in a cleaner, healthier way.” Manning established jewellery design company Utopian Creations in 2005 and, after the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 stripped him of the majority of his international clients, he expanded to the Studio Eco shop front in 2009. Earlier this year the store relocated from an ex-bank on Magill Road to the thriving precinct of Ebenezer Place. “I always wanted to be in here, somewhere like this.” Luckily Manning craves a challenge, as the difficulty he has had sourcing ethical materials means he’s determined and prepared. Each process has its own issues and each step of the way must be carefully examined to ensure high ethical standards are maintained. Where possible, Manning does this investigating himself but for international suppliers he uses third party certification. “We try to do everything we can in  Australia, so that makes life a lot easier, the laws governing everything from pay to the environment are much better.” He prefers to work with vintage or antique materials. “Even if something, a diamond for example, is classed as ethically mined it just depends what your ethics stand for really,” he explains. “So even though they’re Australian diamonds, the ones that we sell are classed as ethically mined, there’s still a huge amount of energy needed to get them out of the ground, an enormous amount of energy. So it’s actually better if you still use a vintage or antique stone.” A fan of working with unusual materials, ;Manning’s creations have featured “everything from meteorite to Mammoth tusk and all sorts of weird and wonderful things, interesting gem stones as well. It’s just finding them from ethical sources – that’s the hard part.” Though a tad out of the ordinary, Manning has attracted a local and global following. The positive reception in Adelaide means he’s staying put but a sister studio in Melbourne may be on the cards. In the coming months a website relaunch will also see the addition of a playful ‘build your own ring’ option, streamlining the design process for simpler rings. “The whole process can be done online and there’ll be a whole range of different options, so just with diamonds alone there will be vintage, ethically sourced and human created, same with the coloured stones as well. The metals will be both recycled and ethically mined. So there are lots of different options that people can choose depending on which way their ethics go.”

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