Lo­cat­ing jew­elry’s pur­pose

With its use of buried bounty to cre­ate things of beauty, a Filipino jew­elry brand aims to give back to the en­vi­ron­ment


A free mar­ket doesn’t lack prod­ucts, and Rich Earth Jew­elry’s Rica Banares Manuel un­der­stands this. That’s why in con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing her jew­elry brand two years ago, she set out to present a prod­uct that will have pur­pose be­yond its im­me­di­ate one. “In the be­gin­ning, it was just about how I wanted the jew­elry to look,” the self-taught jew­elry crafter ad­mits. “But as I tried dif­fer­ent styles, I be­gan think­ing there has to be some­thing unique to the brand as I’m putting my tal­ent out there.”

She dis­cov­ered that the con­cept of sus­tain­abil­ity, though a com­mon char­ac­ter­is­tic among a va­ri­ety of con­sumer prod­ucts, isn’t quite as preva­lent in the jew­elry in­dus­try—un­der­stand­ably so, as pre­cious stones take thou­sands of years to form un­der ex­treme pres­sure. She then thought of in­cor­po­rat­ing alu­minum in her de­signs since the ma­te­rial is re­cy­clable, mal­leable, and read­ily avail­able, the per­fect coun­ter­point to the rare ap­peal of gem­stones. “It’s an an­gle that would work, plus I like work­ing with alu­minum.” As for the semi-pre­cious stones, she looked for a source with heav­ily reg­u­lated min­ing that also prac­ticed fair trade. She found a small-scale South Amer­i­can min­ing com­pany that now sup­plies her with gems not com­monly fea­tured in the lo­cal scene: emer­alds, ru­bies, lapis lazuli, tour­ma­line, ama­zonite, and more. To sup­port the core value of sus­tain­abil­ity on the con­sumer end, Manuel ap­proached Save Philip­pine Seas for a part­ner­ship in which a per­cent­age of Rich Earth Jew­elry’s prof­its would go to the or­ga­ni­za­tion. “We hu­mans take so much from na­ture and I found this as a way of giv­ing back. I wanted to be part of some­thing big­ger and pro­mote the idea of so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity to those who buy our jew­elry,” she says.

With a con­sci­en­tious busi­ness prac­tice fig­ured out, de­sign was a mat­ter of meet­ing the lux­u­ri­ous ap­peal jew­elry buy­ers look for. Manuel came up with a link de­sign that has since be­come the brand’s sig­na­ture fea­ture, and she thought of high­light­ing the nat­u­ral beauty of the col­or­ful gem­stones by mostly pre­serv­ing their shapes and fram­ing them with re­cy­cled metal. “I de­scribe our jew­elry as raw plus re­fined, be­cause

“We hu­mans take so much from na­ture and I found this as a way of giv­ing back.”

they have a cer­tain el­e­gance even with the ir­reg­u­lar con­tours of the gem­stones,” she ex­plains. “Their raw fin­ish brings that feel of an­cient civ­i­liza­tion to the pieces while the sig­na­ture link pro­vides the mod­ern touch. The gem­stones ac­tu­ally dic­tate how each piece’s de­sign would look.”

She hand­crafts each piece her­self, hence each col­lec­tion has at most 15 one-off de­signs. A new col­lec­tion is launched on Rich Earth Jew­elry’s web­site ev­ery month. Last year, her younger (aptly named) sis­ter Emer­ald joined the brand to han­dle its mar­ket­ing, giv­ing Manuel more time to fo­cus on de­sign and pro­duc­tion, es­pe­cially with clients ask­ing for cus­tom­ized jew­elry. “The peo­ple we at­tract value ex­clu­siv­ity. ‘Unique’ gets thrown around a lot, but with us, clients are as­sured they won’t see their pieces on any­one else, even those that come from the col­lec­tions.” In fact, the re­cent col­lec­tion Mer­aki (Greek for “putting some­thing of one’s self into what they do”) pre­sented gem­stones, metal charms, and links for clients to com­bine to come up with their own de­signs.

The brand’s grow­ing clien­tele in­cludes Cat Juan-Ledesma and Mikaela Lag­dameo-Martinez, both big on pro­mot­ing so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity. Juan-Ledesma, in fact, is the first col­lab­o­ra­tor to work with Rich Earth Jew­elry for the REJX line, geared to­wards rais­ing aware­ness for var­i­ous causes. “The col­lec­tion re­flects the col­lab­o­ra­tor’s per­sona, so with Cat’s love for the beach, we went with the hues of the ocean,” Manuel says. “Part of the col­lec­tion’s pro­ceeds ben­e­fit the Dan­ju­gan Marine Sanc­tu­ary in Sor­so­gon, which she also chose.”

Far from the cold, im­per­sonal glint of rare stones, Rich Earth Jew­elry’s warmth is from its de­ter­mi­na­tion to go be­yond prof­it­ing from the de­sire to own some­thing pre­cious. It takes the re­spon­si­bil­ity of fos­ter­ing a sus­tain­able life­style se­ri­ously. “We want to cre­ate a rip­ple ef­fect in mak­ing pos­i­tive change,” Manuel says. “Busi­nesses can set the stan­dard for tak­ing care of the Earth for younger gen­er­a­tions. Once we pro­vide the op­tions, con­sumers will fol­low.”

Rica Banares Manuel de­signs Rich Earth’s jew­elry, while her sis­ter Emer­ald Banares is in charge of mar­ket­ing.

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