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Practical Magic

How Pandora, the world's largest jewelry maker, switched to recycled silver and gold

The changes affected more than 40 suppliers, which help it produce more than 100 million pieces annually.

Pandora circular economy

Image: GreenBiz/Sophia Davirro

Pandora — the world’s largest jewelry maker, selling more than 100 million pieces per year — said it has delivered on a pledge it made four years ago to use recycled silver and gold for all the bracelets, necklaces, earrings and other trinkets in its collections.

By moving away from newly mined metals to recycled materials, the company said it will avoid its carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 58,000 metric tons annually. That is the equivalent of taking 6,000 gasoline-powered cars off the road. 

Silver is the most widely used material in Pandora’s products, accounting for 81 percent of the content at the end of 2021, according to the company. For the full year 2023, 97 percent of the silver and gold sourced for Pandora’s collections came from recycled sources and by the second half of 2024, all products will be crafted with 100 percent recycled silver and gold. Pandora’s revenue for 2023 was around $4 billion.

"In our climate accounts, that will make a huge difference," said Mads Twomey-Madsen, senior vice president of sustainability for Pandora.

Other jewelry companies, including Prada and Tiffany & Co., use recycled silver, gold and other precious minerals as a selling point, but Pandora’s commitment is the most extensive given the volume it produces.

It’s not without controversy: The Jewelers Vigilance Committee, a nonprofit focused on industry ethics, is lobbying the Federal Trade Commission to ban the term "recycled" in marketing. Its gripe is that metals such as gold and silver aren’t wasted, and have been recovered and melted for reuse for years. The group argues that the term "recycled" is a form of virtue-signaling.

100 employees dedicated to the transition

It took a substantial effort for Pandora to switch over to recycled sources, and it will cost an extra $10 million annually on top of its usual sourcing contracts to source silver and gold under the company’s new policy, Twomey-Madsen said.

Sources for buying recycled gold are more established than those for silver, and they account for about 30 percent of the overall supply. With silver, less than 20 percent of the supply comes from recycled sources such as discarded electronics, silverware, manufacturing scrap waste and old jewelry, according to Pandora. The company is buying about 340 tons of recycled silver annually, about 6 percent of the overall market globally, said Twomey-Madsen.

To reach that milestone, more than 100 employees were involved in a transformation that lasted four years. The program covered everything from the refineries from which it buys metal directly to suppliers that make components such as clasps and certain chains. (Pandora employs 26,000 people worldwide.)

More than 40 suppliers — including multinational precious metals suppliers such as Umicore and MKS PAMP — changed their business processes to comply, the company said. Now, anything they sell to Pandora must be certified as recycled according to the Responsible Jewellry Council Chain of Custody standard.

Lessons learned along the chain

For those considering a similar program, Twomey-Madsen offered these takeaways from his team’s experience:

  • It was easier for Pandora to convince silver and gold smelters to consider these changes, because of the volume of material it buys from these sources. The conversations with component suppliers that make items such as clasps and chains took a longer time. 
  • The adjustments required by each supplier varied widely, as Pandora set chain-of-custody standards for both climate action and human rights. Some companies, for example, had rigorous policies on fair wages and other issues but had spent less time optimizing for circular economy techniques such as sourcing secondhand or pre-used materials. 
  • Some suppliers had to set up separate production lines that segregated recycled material to accommodate Pandora’s needs. That was the most difficult and time-consuming part of the process, Twomey-Madsen said.
  • Pandora paid a premium for these services to help suppliers make the changes.
  • Another selling point Pandora used in negotiations was the prospect for suppliers to offer the same option to other customers, making their investment in changes worthwhile.

Now that Pandora has completed the transition, its primary focus will be on auditing and refining the processes needed to support this work over time, Twomey-Madsen said. It’s also rewriting contract requirements for all new suppliers.

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