As part of our founder interview series, we speak with Arabel from Arabel Lebrusan about becoming a pioneer in fairtrade jewellery, and designing ethical jewellery for the modern woman.
Where did your passion for jewellery design come from? And when did you first start to consider the environmental and social impacts of jewellery making?
It probably started with my mother’s eagle pendant. My mother owns this amazing yellow gold pendant featuring an eagle clasping a sapphire in its claws. She used to wear it on special occasions and as a little girl I was fascinated by it. This one elegant, timeless and beautiful crafted piece got me hooked on my love for jewellery. It inspired me to want to learn everything about gemstones, jewellery and sculptural techniques and to want to design my own jewels…. and here we are, 30 years later and I’m still creating jewellery!
The year passed and after studying I went to work in fashion jewellery and accessories in between the Philippines, Hong Kong and Europe. These experiences allowed me to explore trends, cultural heritage and local techniques, but at the same time to learn from the fast paced commercial aspects of fashion jewellery. It wasn’t all a bed of roses, as this opportunity of travelling and visiting jewellery factories also showed me some of the darker sides of the jewellery industry and its practices.
When I made the jump to fine jewellery, I wanted to have a more ethical jewellery approach, which lead to me focusing on making the jewellery world in itself, more ethical.
People are aware of “blood-free diamonds” but generally public awareness of ‘the ethics of jewellery’ doesn’t extend further than that. If you wanted people to consider three things when evaluating the ethics of jewellery, what would they be?
The main things to considers in jewellery would probably be where those materials come from, how the jewellery was made and how it gets sold.
Where do the materials of that jewel come from?
Traceability is one of the biggest words when taking about supply chains in jewellery. Unfortunately, most jewellery is sold without any knowledge of the origin of its materials and even where that piece of jewellery was made, so this leads us naturally to the next question.
Where was it made?
In order to be able to make an informed choice about the ethics of a piece of jewellery, we also need to know where and by whom it was made. It’s a simple question, which you would expect every brand owner to know, but these days with wholesalers and importers selling a vast array of generic jewellery, who made the jewellery, is hardly ever talked about.
And last but not least, I would suggest to inquire about the brand itself, their general ethical policy and their standpoint on transparency about the questions above.
There is growing consumer demand for responsibly produced clothing, and higher ethical standards in the fashion industry. Do you see a similar trend growing in the jewellery industry today?
Yes, definitely. It started some years ago with the beginning of the Fairtrade Gold, which I’m a licensee of, but unfortunately it’s not developing very fast. I believe a growing consumer demand will be the biggest factor for standard jewellery brands to become more conscious about the products they sell.
Where do you get the inspiration for your designs? Who do you envision wearing your pieces?
Heritage and traditional craftsmanship inspire me the most. My designs are for anyone passionate about sustainable jewellery, and those who have an eye for detail and statement design. I love mixing the old with the new and reinventing traditional crafts for the modern woman, like in my filigree collections.
The intricacy of the Filigree Collection is incredible. What is the history of these delicate designs?
Generations of family craftsmen have honed their crafts and passed on their skills in artisanal workshops in the tiny towns dotted along the Via de La Plata, the border between Portugal and Spain. Whether the jewellery in question is a ring, bracelet, earring or pendant, each delicate piece is unique and helps sustain the ongoing craftsmanship of these centuries of Spanish fathers and sons.
What is your favourite piece of jewellery from Arabel Lebrusan, and why is it your most loved?
I have a few rings that are very special to me, but probably on top of my list is my beloved Links Ring, which is also my wedding ring. It’s one of the first designs I ever designed to be made with 100% recycled gold using handmade filigree technique. It was made by Lorenzo, my most trusted filigree artisan, in his traditional workshop at the old town of Caceres, west of Spain. It was my first sample, and the ring turned out too small for anyone else to wear, but me (I have very small fingers indeed!). It has been 10 years on my finger. It first became my commitment ring, then my engagement ring and not long ago, it also became my wedding ring. So, it is definitely charged with lots of beautiful feelings.
Arabel Lebrusan designs come to life in Spain and the UK. Tell us about the craftsmen that turn your designs into reality?
I only work with the people I respect and trust. I only commission the best craftsmen in both the UK and Spain to bring my designs to reality. I support artisans in small Spanish towns where jewellery making is a valued craft; the skills for which are painstakingly passed down from one generation to the next. Without their hands their skills will be lost! Lorenzo always exceeds my expectation when it comes to Filigree.
Jewellery supply chains can be long and complex. What tips do you have for young designers that are looking to source in an ethical and sustainable manner?
Back in 2005, while doing research for my masters at Central Saint Martins on ethical jewellery I was told bluntly to my face by a diamond dealer in London: “When you work in this trade you sell your soul to the devil”. Well, I don’t believe it has to be this way. If you want to change the system, then work with your uniqueness and never give up. It’s a long-distance race, not a fast track one! And don’t forget to enjoy the view on the way…
We ask all our partner-brands what “ethical fashion” means to them. What does it mean to you?
Something that not only looks beautiful in style, but tells a beautiful story too.
How would you like to see Arabel Lebrusan grow? Are there any materials, designs or techniques that you are keen to experiment with in the future?
I want to spread the word of sustainable and ethical jewellery. People do seem to be more aware of the effects of mass-producing clothing, but there is still a story to tell when it comes to jewellery. In terms of materials, I am always on the lookout for beautiful gemstones to work with. As an ethical jewellery designer, time after time I’m frustrated by the lack of availability of sustainable and traceable but ‘on trend’ gemstones. When I find the perfect stone, though, it feels that bit more rewarding and special.