Jewel of the Month: Empress Wu for Earth Day


Today is Earth Day, marking the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. I do love a theme, so let’s contemplate my Empress Wu dragon ring with its spinning lapis lazuli globe.

Click to shop on 1stdibs.

I created the Empress Wu ring as a symbol of a powerful woman, as I explained in this old YouTube video. Lately, I see this design differently — more ominously — with the Earth facing climate castrophe as the focus. With this interpretation, there’s one saving grace: My version of the globe may be in the dragon’s fangs but the jaws haven’t fully closed yet. There’s still time to make a difference. If you’re in New York City, one thing you can do is attend the March for Science tomorrow (12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m., starting at Central Park West and West 72nd Street). The march is the finale of 10 days of action coordinated by the New York chapter of Extinction Rebellion. I took part in another Extinction Rebellion march last Saturday, in an unexpected way. I was not one of the 13 people arrested for nonviolent direct action, seeing as I have a recent New York City climate-related protest arrest under my belt. Instead, I was part of the Red Rebel Brigade.

Anna Conkling described the Red Rebels in the Village Voice:

“In another part of the crowd, a group dressed in long red cloaks and headdresses, with black masks on faces painted ghostly white, silently and slowly drifted by, holding onto each other, displaying signs of grief and horror before falling back into one another. They are part of the Red Rebels, a performance activism group created as a response to the global environmental crisis that draws attention to facts such as the UN estimation that 80% of people displaced by the climate crisis are women and girls.  ‘Our message about the climate crisis is: We are all in this together. We need to empower each other, grieve the losses, and rise up against the powers that put profits over the possibility of the planet,’ said Red Rebel member Yana Landowne.”

Our quiet, stately procession of seven made a big impact, assisted by a small but passionate activist: 12-year-old Avery, who led the way from Washington Square Park to Madison Square Park.

Avery is in front. I’m on the left and Avery’s mom is on the right. Photo by Donna Aceto.

The appearance of the Red Rebels stopped pedestrians in their tracks, giving our non-costumed companions the opportunity to explain Extinction Rebellion’s mission to curious onlookers. Later, we provided emotional support to activists arrested for blocking traffic, watching over them until the police vans drove away.

Facing the cops. Photo by Karla Cote.

Anyway, going back to my Earth-Day-appropriate Jewel of the Month, we all know there are serious, centuries-old environmental and human rights issues when it comes to mining the metals and gems used in jewelry. I’m happy there are now people and organizations including ANZA Gems, Moyo Gems, Fairmined Gold, Ethical Metalsmiths, and Misfit Diamonds working to do that differently. From my perspective as a designer, one thing I love about finished jewelry like mine is that it’s the ultimate slow fashion. Gold can always be melted down and reused. (People who work in gold like bench jewelers literally sweep the gold dust off the floor for reuse.) Gems can nearly always be reset. One of my specialties is redesigns. So once the materials are above ground, you can be sure they’ll never end up in a landfill or burned in a dumpster like #fastfashion clothes. Jewelry really is forever, though it might change forms many times.

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