Summer Rayne Oakes on Kirsten Muenster Jewelry

In December, we gave a brief nod to Kirsten Muenster, a designer who creates unique customized jewelry out of eco-friendly, socially responsible materials. In her July "Behind the Label" column for Lucire magazine, eco-model/entrepreneur/Treehugger fan Summer Rayne Oakes took a closer look at Muenster's creations, and the creativity she harnesses in both her design process and her choices of materials. According to Oakes,

Each piece is emblazoned with ethics. She strays away from using any questionable gem stones such as diamond and tanzanite, even with the advent of the Kimberly Process, a voluntary certification scheme that was approved by the international diamond industry and NGOs in 2002 to help put a stop in the trade of conflict diamonds. Where she gets her materials are about as varied as her designs. Most of the stones she uses are found in the United States and acquired from stone dealers that she has built a trusting relationship with. She also does her own stone cutting from rocks that had been found as early as the 1940s. Occasionally she'll recycle stones from vintage pieces and when she uses fossils, she is sure to get them from privately-owned land. Gold, which she doesn't use very often, is always recycled.

Muenster is also exploring untraditional avenues in pursuit of socially-conscious materials. She is currently designing pieces with the byproducts of manufacturing processes. One such example is her use of reclaimed "Fordite." It is not so much a peculiar "stone" name until you dig deeper into the story behind the material, which is also known as "Detroit Agate" found in the most unlikeliest of "quarries" - the Ford Motor Company. The exquisitely beautiful material looks like out-worldly agate stones and are the end-results of the automotive assembly paint plant process. In addition to her use of Fordite in her most current collection, Muenster is also taking to copper fire brick, the byproduct of the copper smelting process. "It's smooth and glimmering. Each piece has the weight of metal and a patina like antique copper," comments Muenster on the material. "Most of the smelters are no longer in operation so each piece contains a little bit of the history of the Upper Midwest."

Each piece of Muenster's work has a story to tell, and those stories underscore the idea that beautiful things don't have to involve exploitation. Muenster's work is on permanent display at Los Angeles' del Mano Gallery; if that's too far too travel, you can also view images of her work at her website. :: Behind the Label

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