Gold jewellery has grown in popularity in recent years, thanks to brands like Missoma, Orelia, and Astrid + Miyu, who have helped make classic pieces more affordable and accessible through gold plating and the use of brass metals. But what a lot of people don't know about gold is that the purer forms have an inherently limited supply, and there is a chance that we won't be able to get much more of it in the future. With an ever-increasing demand, and with mining becoming less economically feasible and sustainable by the day, it's now more important than ever to facilitate the recycling of gold, something that new jewellery brand Aurum LDN prides itself on.
The genius behind Aurumn LDN is Karly Wake, who was born and bred in Leeds, and moved to London in search of opportunity. She founded the preowned jewellery brand as a way to encourage more people to buy vintage and real gold jewellery. In just over a year, her vintage finds have been worn by the likes of Kara Marni, Julie Adenuga, and Ella Eyre, as well as Maya Jama's stylist, Alizé Demange. Before lockdown hit in December, I met Wake at White City House in West London, where we caught up over a hot chocolate and a coffee milkshake, to chat about the rise of preowned jewellery, how she sources pieces for Aurum LDN, and what's next for the brand.
Wake's been working as a buyer for Paul Smith for nine years now, looking after the brand's collaborations. "Jewellery was the part of the job that I liked the most" she said. But like with any job, there are ups and downs, and it was during a particularly stressful time at work that her boyfriend turned to her and asked, 'What do you want to do with your life?'" which (understandably) left her questioning everything.
The conversation led Wake to follow her dreams and start her own thing. Wake's boyfriend also has his own business, which inspired her to believe that she was more than just her 9-to-5. "Where I've grown up in Leeds, it all was very orientated to having a 9-to-5. There wasn't anything creative, and I never really saw having my own business as something that was in my reach until now", she told me. As someone who'd always only ever worn real gold (a lot of her jewellery are hand-me-downs from her mum), Wake knew early on that gold was going to be the main focus. "People were always asking me where my jewellery was from. Whenever I said to them that they were from a market, everyone would turn their noses up at it", she said. "I started sourcing little bits for people and just repackaging it in nicer wrapping, just for friends at first, making a little mark up on top. Then I realised, there's a market for this."
In fashion, with the conversation around sustainability growing louder and louder, the notion of buying vintage and secondhand clothes has become more mainstream. Jewellery, on the other hand, has been slower to jump on the preowned bandwagon. "There is a tendency with the younger generations to want everything new and it has to be branded and look expensive", Wake explained. "If you took them to a little pawn shop in a small town they're more likely to turn their nose up at it", she added. For Wake, this misconception of preowned is why branding and education is so important to Aurum. "You can often get secondhand jewellery a lot cheaper, even though it's got so much more detail than something that you're buying new," Wake added. That's because when you're buying older pieces of jewellery, you're no longer paying for the labour costs but the intrinsic metal alone. This isn't quite the same for new jewellery, where you pay for the price of the metal alongside labour.
It's not just quality you're getting shopping secondhand. In the age of limited drops and ticketed raffles, the quest to find the most unique and one-off piece has never been more real. Luckily, limited drops are something that Aurum specialises in. "I did a drop yesterday, and two of the earrings sold in a couple of hours, and it's because there's only one", she told me. For her customers, knowing that Wake might not ever stumble on anything like it again is a big incentive to buy.
Wake doesn't ascribe to the typical one-size-fits-all approach in a variety of ways. Aside from selling one-off vintage finds, Aurum LDN also offers ring resizing and a scrap service. For a majority of pieces that don't have engraving, she's able to saw the gold and melt it down to the size required by the buyer, a process that takes just a few hours. The scrap service allows you to either weigh your gold yourself and send off the measurements, or send the pieces to Aurum, who then weigh it and provide a quote. You'll then be offered a credit to spend on-site, whilst Wake and her team melt down the pieces you've sent over in order to recycle the gold. On rare occasions, items will be sent over that are far too precious to melt down, so they're cleaned up and repaired if necessary and then resold on the site.
Next on the agenda for Aurum is taking the scrap service one step further and creating an in-person exchange (when it's safe enough to do so, of course), where customers can have their pieces valued and have the opportunity to swap them for something they're more likely to wear. It's pretty genius and a great way to make use of any broken jewellery that's been sat in your box for ages.
When it comes to sourcing these vintage pieces, there seems to be a lot of truth in the age-old saying, "it's who you know". "Because a lot of people know I'm doing this now, there's always someone who's got a mum or a grandma that wants to get rid of some gold", meaning that a lot of her pieces are discovered through friends and family.
Charity and pawn shops have their place, too, with Wake citing East London's Roman Road as an area that she frequents for its gold shops. There are big jewellery quarters all over the UK, she said, with Birmingham, London, and Glasgow being some of the most notable. Jewellery pieces from each of these areas have their own hallmark, so you can inspect your rings and see where they might have come from. If your ring has a lion's head on the inner band, it's from London, and an anchor symbolises Birmingham. Typically, the hallmarks are too difficult to see without magnifying them, but for jewellers like Wake, it's an easy way to track a piece's journey.
When it comes to checking the quality and the carat, specific tests have to be done, too. The top part of the piece is filed away, to check if it's plated, and then an acid is placed on top, before merging with another chemical. The acid doesn't affect real gold, and the added chemical changes colour according to the carat. Processes like these help to identify the true value of the gold you might already own, something that Aurum LDN seeks to help its buyers with.
For those of us who want to begin curating a more sustainable jewellery collection but may not know where to begin, the answer is simple. Research your metals. "A lot of the time, if you're reading gold on a product description, they might just mean gold in colour. You think you're buying something gold, and then it turns out that it's plated, and it turns silver in a few months, and you end up throwing it away," Wake said. "There's a lot of places where you can buy recycled gold" and, she revealed that you can even buy it in sheet or wire form for ultimate customisation. People often come to Wake asking for advice on other brands and what to buy, so it seems that honing in on the education aspect of what to look out for is definitely in the cards for Aurum.
Already sourcing products for prospective buyers, with tonnes of people in her DMs asking her to help find the perfect T bar or huggie hoops, shopping at Aurum LDN is essentially like having your own personal shopper, but for real gold and true vintage. The more personal experience tends to be the case with small and independent businesses, where owners like Wake are the marketing, PR, and production departments all in one.
Plans for the future include getting a small physical location, so Wake can connect even more with her buyers and start to educate gold newbies like us on things like hallmarks and carats, with a definite emphasis on the more bespoke side of her services. As an avid real-gold wearer myself (thanks, mum!), I am definitely going to be one of her first visitors.