At wedding ceremonies, couples pledge their love for each other with wedding bands fashioned from unending circles of gold or silver. Now they can pledge their shared values around sustainability, too, by exchanging “ethical jewelry” at the altar.

“Ethical jewelry” combines social and humanitarian concerns with environmental awareness. Chaya Caron, for example, a South Portland jeweler, uses only recycled metals, Fair Trade Gems stones, and conflict-free and “re-purposed” diamonds in her work.

“Gold mining is extremely destructive to the planet,” Caron said. “It often uses these heavy metals and products like cyanide to extract the ore from the ground. Then those chemicals leach into ecosystems.”

The gems that go into her custom wedding rings are all Fair Trade Gem stones cut in Washington state by Columbia Gem House, which is the force behind Fair Trade Gems. Columbia Gem House sells gems at four different “Fair Trade levels.”

“I buy everything at Fair Trade level one (the most responsibly sourced level),” Caron said. “The stones have either been mined completely here in America – so fair wages and work conditions, and then they’re cut here – or they’ve actually visited the mine and seen the working conditions and whole sustainability approach to the mining effort.”

Many of Caron’s customers are nature lovers, and she does her best to incorporate nature into their wedding rings, depicting trees and leaves in different colors of gold or using real twigs or bits of birch bark from a couple’s property. For the latter, she prepares the organic material in a process similar to wax casting, then bakes the rings in a kiln.

“If it’s done well, then that organic matter just completely disintegrates. It turns to ash, like in your fireplace, and then it falls out. So you have this hollow replica of this material that was once in there, and you fill that with metal.”

Caron, who has a studio at 22 Cottage Road, said it usually takes eight to 12 weeks to create a set of wedding rings. She hopes each ring becomes a conversation piece as well as a symbol of lasting love.

“I like my work to be subtle,” she said. “I call it a bit of Japanese minimalism, where I don’t want it to tell the entire story, but I want to tell enough of it that it will draw someone in to ask a question. So if the wearer wants to talk more about the making of the ring or what it means to them, they can.”