Horn has been used by artisans for centuries to make beautiful jewelry. But what makes upcycled horn sustainable?
Sustainably harvested or upcycled horn refers to animal horns that have been found or discarded. These can come from the meat industry byproduct or from animals that naturally shed their horns or antlers each year. Let’s dive into some details!
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What’s the deal with upcycled horn?
Unlike rhino horns and elephant tusks, which motivate poaching and are cut from the animal, water buffalo, cattle, and bull horns are a byproduct of the food industry that would have been discarded otherwise. Creating jewelry from this truly unique byproduct is a handcraft tradition around the world. Using this material for adornment is part of a larger process of appreciating, honoring, and never wasting a single part of an animal. This appreciation of the animal can be seen and felt in pieces like the Niha Necklace. Made in Vietnam, where the national animal is the water buffalo, this necklace showcases the unique colors and patterns of each animal’s horn. Ankole Longhorn are cattle native to the Rift Valley in East Africa. They navigate the arid climate well and have high fat content in their milk, thus making them a desirable breed for meat and dairy in that region. Their enormous horns have a color palette ranging from the deep lustrous black seen in the Hai Hoops to striated neutral tones like in the Helene Pia Threaders.
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All the deets on sustainability
Upcycled horn, in addition to being a sustainably sourced byproduct material, is traditionally processed for use in jewelry without any chemicals or toxic products. How great is that! Artisans use a combination of oil, heat, friction, and water to shape, smooth, and polish the raw material into exquisite elements of the jewelry we admire.
Because horn is predominantly made of keratin - the protein that we also find in hair, nails, and skin - it can bend when heated and hold its new shape once it cools. Pretty miraculous! Our favorite sustainable detail: horn dust that collects during the cutting and shaping processes can even be used as fertilizer for crops. None of this precious, beautiful, and nutrient-rich material needs to go to waste when handled the right way!
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Understanding brands and sourcing
So, how can you tell if a brand is using sustainably sourced upcycled horn in their production? First of all, since we know that upcycled horn is a by-product of other industries, look for ethical jewelry brands that produce in small batches or work with local artisan groups. Small artisanal batches most often means that they are truly sourcing horn as a byproduct and not motivating additional animal consumption.
Secondly, check out the origin of the upcycled horn material. It’s best when the horn is from butcheries local to the country, region, or town where the jewelry is made. This not only means that the jewelry you buy is supporting the makers’ local economy, but that it also has a small carbon footprint. The Whitney Necklace is a win-win. It’s made fair trade by a women’s cooperative in India and combines multi-color horn sourced locally with hammered brass features. This necklace is a truly bold statement, not only aesthetically, but also in support of fair and sustainable production practices!
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We love a vegan alternative!
If you're vegan, horn may not match your values. But you're in luck - there's beautiful vegan-friendly materials, such as tagua seed and marble, that give a similar aesthetic and are harvested in ways that honor the plants and stones they come from. For a super fun and colorful example, check out the Vera Earrings made from tagua.
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The beauty and uniqueness of upcycled horn jewelry is undeniable and sustainable too! Check out our full collection of ethically and sustainably made jewelry to pick which one you’ll add to your wardrobe.