From junk to jewelry

With creativity, skill, and an eye for opportunity, these Italian jewelry designers put environmental sustainability and social responsibility at the core of their design philosophy.

Upcycling is the order of the day in sustainable fashion. The drive to creatively reuse old items has also come to the gilded world of jewelry and bijouterie. Unfortunately, because it relies on mining, the environmental and social impact of the jewelry industry on the world is significant. That is why, thanks to their creativity, some visionary jewelry designers can see the precious potential in objects that get forgotten or thrown away. They transform “junk” into little treasures and give it a second life.      

But how do they combine quality, design, and sustainability?

For some innovators, transforming discarded materials into necklaces, bracelets, and earrings is an exciting and rewarding challenge. Upcycling is a growing trend, and many creatives are starting to seriously value recovered materials of all kinds. One of the most original and ethical producers is Nowar Factory. The company makes jewelry out of aluminum from unexploded ordnance left over from the Vietnam War. Gilberto Calzolari recycles broken umbrellas to produce an entire collection, while Maria Sole Ferragamo uses scrap leather and brass. Among the most original is jewelry made from plastic bottles, buttons, pencils, computer components, used bicycle inner tubes, and old vinyl records.

Unexploded Ordnance

Nowar Factory’s jewelry is made in Laos by local artisans and is mainly made from aluminum war ordnance left over from the Vietnam War. Laotian artisans make these artifacts using a classic lost wax technique, which uses simple clay molds into which the molten aluminum is poured. The rough pieces thus obtained are imported to Italy, where they are finished.

The village of Ban Naphia, where the artisans live, is located a few kilometers from Phonsavan, the capital of the Xieng Khouang region, which was the most affected by the scourge of unexploded ordnance. The region around Phonsavan was hit by devastating American carpet bombings during the Vietnam War. To this day, only a small part has been cleared.

Vinyl records

Elena Valenti’s atelier has been using old vinyl records for years to create stunning jewelry. With the V33 collection, Elena gives new life to vinyl by giving it sinuous shapes and painting or covering it with gold or silver leaf. Each piece of jewelry is unique and catches the eye. It is conceived as wearable music.

Scrap metal

The philosophy of the Tuscan company Bejew is to create pieces in recycled and recovered metals, thus avoiding all environmental and ethical problems related to the extraction of raw materials. Bejew focuses on the reuse of silver, brass, and bronze alloys, all three materials that can be recycled indefinitely without losing their quality. Recycling them to make new jewelry, rather than using virgin metals, significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions from processing.

Beverage can tabs

Dalaleo produces fashion accessories using aluminum tabs recovered from beverage cans as a base material. These are combined with recycled fabrics and textiles. A simple idea, but executed with such creativity that the aesthetic effect is astounding.

Waste leather and brass

A love for experimenting with shapes and materials has inspired the So-Le Studio project in Milan, which transforms waste materials, mainly leather and brass, into wearable amulets and sculptures. The line is the brainchild of young Maria Sole Ferragamo. It powerfully embraces the philosophy of sustainable fashion, offering a selection of jewelry that is increasingly respectful of nature and ethics.


Aquamadre is the name of the first MagmaLab Project, started in 2014 in Bologna to produce jewelry from recovered polyethylene processed using the eco-artisanal   thermoforming technique. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a transparent thermoplastic material that is a ubiquitous part of our daily lives (bottles and containers) and a top cause of pollution and environmental degradation at both the production and disposal phases. Thanks to its structural characteristics, PET is suitable for thermal treatment with non-industrial procedures, making it an ideal material for recycling and reinvention.

Colored pencils

Maria Cristina Bellucci is a master of creating striking jewelry using common colored pencils as her base material, giving new dignity and life to this widely used everyday object. Using traditional jewelry techniques, the rings, earrings, and bracelets are expertly mounted on silver. They are immediately recognizable because of their distinctive explosion of color. 

Bicycle inner tubes

Camilla Pietropaoli is a young artisan who makes alternative and eco-chic jewelry in Italy. She recycles used inner tubes and has a passion for detail and a philosophy of creative recovery. She draws inspiration from nature and the perfection of its forms. Giving lightness and refinement to an initially dirty and rough raw material is the key to her work.

In the world of jewelry, sustainability, and social responsibility are becoming increasingly important to designers who want to make a positive impact on the environment and society. The use of upcycling is a growing trend, and these visionary designers are not only contributing to the circular economy but also promoting ethical and responsible practices in the jewelry industry.

Images provided by Lorenza Bini