Sourcing Ethical Diamonds

An inside scoop on the gem industry from Bario Neal

by Lucy Bennett

Q: I fall into the pre-engaged category—we have a timeline, we’ve looked at rings, our parents are on board—and so far, it has felt pretty smooth. However, we’ve run into one issue that’s tough to reconcile, and I’d love to get an outside perspective on it. I’ve always been involved in social change issues, and one of the first issues I was exposed to (in high school!) was the issue of conflict diamonds. While I’ve always wanted a fairly traditional engagement ring, blood diamonds have been in the back of my mind. And now they’re at the front. My boyfriend hears my feelings on this and acknowledges them, but has also always looked forward to buying a ring and all that comes with it.

I’m trying to reconcile my desires and his. He wants to buy something in person (not online) and unfortunately we don’t have any family heirlooms that could easily solve this problem. I’ve tried to do research on the Kimberley Process and ethically sourced diamonds, but I’m not satisfied with the information I’ve found. It seems contradictory and everyone has a different answer. Have you or your readers struggled with this at all? I’m happy to be shown the error of my ways—honestly, it’d be ideal—but finding a compromise on this one seems like it could be a challenge.

A:You’re right, this one is going to be a challenge. But it sounds like this is an issue you care a lot about, so own the fact that you care about it, and by all means, push for it. Because this is a ring that you’re going to be wearing—or at least have in your collection—for a very, very long time, if not forever. And your opinion on conflict diamonds isn’t likely to change once there’s a ring on your finger.

That’s the emotional stuff, though. On the logistical side of things, your best bet for meeting both your needs and your partner’s needs may be in finding an independent jeweler in your area. Many have studio space that you can visit to see rings in person, and they might also be able to help you in sourcing more ethically minded pieces. In the meantime, to aid in your search and to give you more information on conflict diamonds, we asked APW Sponsor Bario Neal to give us the ins and outs of this complicated subject. (They are one of the best in the business when it comes to environmental responsibility and ethical sourcing. Plus their jewelry is hot.) So grab a drink, sit down, and prepare to take some notes.

APW: We know the Kimberley Process is a method of certifying conflict-free diamonds, but can you give us a little more information about its origin and their process?

Bario Neal: Conflict diamonds, or blood diamonds, captured the world’s attention during the extremely brutal conflict in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s. Proceeds from diamond sales financed arms purchases and prolonged insurrections in Sierra Leone and Angola, which were some of the most brutal of the past decade. Illicit rough diamonds have also been used by rebels to fund conflicts in Liberia, Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Republic of Congo (also known as Congo Brazzaville).

In response, several Southern African countries began developing the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. Established in 2003, participants of the KP include governments, members of the diamond industry, and civil society organizations. The method was to track rough, not cut and polished, diamonds by attaching a Kimberley Certificate to each shipment, ensuring that it came from a conflict-free mine.

Unfortunately, the Kimberley Process is a faulty system and, alone, fails to prove that a diamond is truly conflict-free. Because of this, we have ruled out reliance the Kimberley Process as the only indicator that a diamond is conflict-free.

APW: So why isn’t the Kimberley Process able to prove whether or not a diamond is conflict-free?

Bario Neal: The goal of the KP was to create a system that prevented the trade of blood diamonds, but the KP is now known to certify blood diamonds as conflict-free, and allow them to enter the supply chain. This is partly a function of its narrow and rigid definition of “conflict diamond,” which is limited to diamonds that fund conflicts against legitimate governments, and does not include violence perpetrated by governments. The KP has yet to broaden its definition.

For example, the Marange diamond fields in Zimbabwe are the most horrifying example of the inefficacy of the KP’s definition of conflict diamond. Rape, torture, and killings have been well documented there. The KP continues to embrace Zimbabwe as a member, and continues to allow diamonds from the Marange fields to enter the supply chain, stamped and sealed with the Kimberley certification. Today, Zimbabwe diamonds are boycotted in the EU and US, but they continue to enter the supply chain through diamond cutters in India.

Additionally, the Kimberley Process does not address environmental destruction—a huge issue in the diamond industry, especially in countries where environmental legislation does not exist. These destructive effects on the environment impact people in serious ways every day, especially those who live near and work in the diamond mines and fields.

Bario Neal promotes the issue of transparency in the gem industry through supplier interviews and in-depth articles on our blog. You can read more about the Kimberley Process here.

APW: What other options do consumers have for making sure they’re purchasing conflict-free diamonds?

Bario Neal: At this point, there are many options other than Kimberley Certification available on the market that more effectively address the ethical issues present in the diamond industry. In our research, we’ve found trusted suppliers that offer traceable diamonds mined in Australia, Canada, and Namibia under preferred environmental and working conditions.

Many diamonds from reliable sellers come with a laser inscription and certificates to document their source. You can start your search by asking retailers about specific diamond brands that certify the origin of the stones, like Kalahari, CanadaMark, or Origin Australia (there are many others).

APW: What do you think about purchasing vintage rings, or reusing diamonds which are already above ground?

Bario Neal: Yes, another approach is to make use of the diamonds that are already above ground by purchasing a ring with a recycled diamond. The flip side to this is that you aren’t supporting the mining communities or the new efforts towards sustainable mining practices. We believe in both recycled and ethically mined diamonds, and we view it as a personal decision to choose one over the other. If you decide to go with a recycled diamond, ask if the diamond recycling process is audited by a third party organization (like SCS) to ensure the stones are recycled, or look for antique diamond cuts like Old Mine or Old European.

APW: Are there other areas of the gem industry where we should be paying attention to ethical practices?

Bario Neal: The act of mining the diamond isn’t the only place where human rights abuses occur. Polishing and stonecutting may be outsourced to poor countries where child labor laws do not exist. They often do not have the correct equipment to avoid extreme health hazards associated with stonecutting and polishing. Look into companies who work with organizations like The Jeweltree Foundation and Open Source Minerals that track diamonds from mines to cutting facilities to vendors and to jewelers.

Kerin Jacobs of The Raw Stone stated in a recent article on ethical gem cutting in Jaipur that there are only two ways to ensure that gems are cut ethically. The first is to have your gems cut by an independent professional in the US, UK, Israel, or Australia. The second is to travel to one of the countries where gems are more commonly cut to “find a safe and well-kept facility employing only adults, and to sit there, watch, and wait for each and every gem to be cut and polished.” Kerin did exactly this, and with relative ease she found a small family gem cutting business with safe working conditions.

In lieu of traveling the world to watch your diamond get cut, you can opt for a Jeweltree Certified diamond and let them do the auditing work for you.

APW: Bario-Neal recently started offering certified Fairmined gold, in addition to your ethically sourced stones. Can you tell us a bit more about ethical gold, since it appears to be a newer trend in the jewelry market?

Bario Neal: Fairmined gold certification is supported by the Alliance for Responsible Mining’s (ARM) vision for responsible Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM). That vision encompasses a “formalized, organized and profitable activity that uses efficient technologies, and is socially and environmentally responsible.” Fairmined gold has only recently become available to the US market, and we are proud to be one of the first jewelry companies to develop a relationship with sources for Fairmined gold. You can read more in depth on Fairmined gold on our blog.

Ethical gold is very new to the jewelry market. As of now, ethical gold is really only sold by small, specialized jewelry companies like Bario Neal, which make up a very small portion of the jewelry industry. Essentially, the supply of ethical gold is currently greater than the demand, though as customers like you become more invested in supporting ethical gold this balance will shift in its favor.

If you have questions about wedding planning, submit them here.

Lucy Bennett

Lucy a freelance designer/writer hybrid. When not coming up with weird self-challenges, she can be found marathoning TV shows or playing board games. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, her moderately internet-famous pup, and two cats. She takes herself very seriously.

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • EF

    I’m really glad this is being addressed on APW, but I wish there had been more discussion, rather than just a brief mention, of the environmental effects of mining. We probably shouldn’t be pushing towards more ethical mining, but instead shutting it down altogether, as it’s simply awful for the environment (and let’s be real, there are A TON of diamonds out there already. They aren’t exactly scarce). In Uganda, for instance, an indigenous population (the Batwa) were recently forced off their land so the government could harvest diamonds — the mine opened a couple of weeks ago. The Batwa were already some of the worse off people central Africa, now they have no hunting grounds.
    Once diamonds are brought above ground, they’re put back beneath it — this time in storage. And the costs to the environment there, for security, temperature control, etc, are also really high. Same goes with gold and other precious metals/gems, of course.

    I get that it’s an individual decision on what to wear, and I’m really glad to see an APW sponsor willing to talk about the problems in the industry, and work with fairtrade gold. Hopefully, as individuals, we can all make choices to support ethical and recycled materials, rather than those that harm both human rights and the environment.

  • Marie

    One alternative is to get a man-made diamond; chemically identical to mined diamonds, internally flawless, and completely conflict free, they are hard to beat! (You know the diamond industry is shaking in its boots when “unique flaws” become a selling point for mined-diamonds over man-made ones ;) )

    You also mention liking traditional engagement rings– perhaps you could go truly old school, and look to the likes of Queen Victoria, who got a gold snake with emerald eyes from Prince Albert!

    • Natalie

      My dad bought my mom a beautiful lab-created diamond ring as her 25th anniversary present. It’s beautiful, and a good option for people who want diamond rings but are concerned about ethically-sourced materials.

      • Marie

        How grand! I’m convinced that as technology improves and attitudes evolve, diamonds will (eventually) go the way of pearls, where “real pearl” now means “cultured pearl”, and cultured pearls are absolutely the norm.

        • Natalie

          Yes, I hope so. Right now there seems to be this very prevalent attitude that lab-created diamonds aren’t “real” or that they are a little bit… lower? …less? I think that’s mostly snobbery because they’re cheaper.

          And yeah, it was really sweet. Mom’s engagement ring diamond is tiny, because they were poor college kids when Dad proposed. He was so proud and excited to be able to buy her a big rock as an anniversary gift.

          • Marie

            My (delightfully) snobby French friend and I had a funny conversation recently– she was considering buying a pair of lab-created diamond studs, but she wondered– “Would they be as nice as my natural ones?”– and then she paused, and laughed, because it dawned on her that the lab created ones would, inherently, be better (or, at worst, the same…) :)

    • Ally

      I have a lab diamond in my e-ring (from Brilliant Earth) and it’s perfect.

      • JDrives

        Me too! It’s gorgeous and so meaningful to me, because I told my partner it’s important that a ring I wear every day should not contain a conflict diamond and he listened. I love my ring.

    • Maggie

      Yes! I got moissanite in my ring, and am super happy with it. I wanted something clear, white, and sparkly, and moissanite entirely fits the bill and is practically indistinguishable from a diamond! (Plus, it’s a tenth of the price of a diamond, with no ethical issues. And since it was modeled after a source found in a meteorite, it’s a science space rock!) It’s a great option.

  • pajamafishadventures

    Bario Neal offers great information. I’m grateful that I was given not one but two heirloom diamonds to use (though let’s be honest, they were probably conflict diamonds). Before we knew about those I was pushing for a lab-created stone, because where this post and I disagree is that I think moving away from mining stones altogether is THE ethical and environmentally friendly solution.

  • moonlitfractal

    I always wanted a synthetic stone for my engagement ring, but my now-husband got a lovely ring from a big-box jewelry store with a stone that was almost certainly not ethically sourced. It’s been a bit of a sore spot for years. Stupid cultural narrative telling us we can’t talk freely about engagement rings before getting engaged!

    • Jade

      Omigosh are you me? I’ve always wanted at the very least an ethically sourced and cut diamond, but a man-made diamond would have made me happiest. I assumed one day we’d have a “let’s get engaged, what ring do we like” discussion, but fiancé did the surprise proposal instead with a diamond from a chain store. Asked everyone but me on what I’d like! *sad trombone*

      • moonlitfractal

        Mine asked me one question about style months in advance and ran with it. There was no discussion of metal or stones. I tried to give ‘hints’ but that does not work.

  • Meredith

    I have a little man made diamond from Brilliant Earth. We really liked their customer service. We had to order online though. I felt that was risky at first, but everything arrived safe and secure and looks great. Maybe your fiance can reconsider buying online?

    • Rin

      Another vote for Brilliant Earth’s online shopping experience. The customer service was amazing, they kept us updated as my ring was being finished, the gold is recycled, we both felt good about the working conditions for the miners (as posted on their website and info included with the certification) and the stone sparkles, dare I say, brilliantly? It does though, it really does.

      I think it’s pretty exciting by all of the wonderful, ecological and humane choices that are becoming available. Bario Neal’s stuff is pretty rad, and had we known about them at the time, would have given them some consideration.

    • Alison O

      Yeah, if you go vintage, too, and just look around for a while and do some research, you can buy online safely, and the selection is, of course, great! I bought a Victorian rose gold, opal & tiny diamond ring off Etsy and a vintage Finnish 60s diamond and gold ring off eBay. Both for great prices, and there were no snafus at all!

  • Jules

    I’m hearing that boyfriend wants to buy in-person and looks forward to “all that goes with it”, but is that because he wants The Experience and doesn’t necessarily disapprove of the offerings online? (Kinda like dress shopping is for brides?) If that’s true, then you might have a different issue at hand (ha, ha!) here. He can still buy the setting in store and have the brick and mortar service that goes along with it, but maybe he goes online for the stone…..something of a compromise between both of your wishes.

    Options that we explored (in order):
    – In-store diamond from local jewelers
    – Online diamond from Brilliant Earth
    – Lab-created diamond (<— couldn't find in oval shape)
    – Online colored gemstone from Brilliant Earth (<– ended up wanting something clear/white after all, for the rose gold setting)
    – Gemstone already set in ring from Etsy, Gemvara, etc (<– did not offer setting we wanted)
    – Online moissanite….not as a diamond "substitute", but as a beautiful gem of its own accord.

    Ultimately I'm hoping he ends up with the last option. I can't claim to have been as conscientious about ethical diamonds – in my head I was hoping KP was enough – but it made me vaguely uncomfortable since really, who knows? All it would take is someone forging documents, right? The cost was what made me so uncomfortable and I would feel weird accepting a super-expensive gift when something else of lower cost would have made me just as happy.

    • Alyssa M

      Another option, speak with a local jeweler about your concerns and see what they can offer. We had a whole laundry list of concerns and wishes and our awesome jeweler spent time discussing options and ended up special ordering lab made emerald and moissanite so he could set it in the setting my partner picked out. I feel confidant in the ethics of my ring and we got exactly what we wanted while still supporting a local business!

    • SuperDaintyKate

      On a completely unrelated note, I remember you raising this issue in Happy Hour a few weeks ago, and I’m happy to hear that you are approaching a decision :)

  • Nell

    I agree with the advice to go with a local jeweler. Ours was able to talk with us about where all her gemstones come from. I had initially wanted a white sapphire, and she pointed out that there is no equivalent of the Kimberly Process for sapphires. She works with a source committed to ethical practices, but not everyone does. Does anyone know if there is some sort of certification for sapphires and other gemstones?

  • Jules

    On using diamonds already above ground/recycled diamonds:

    I don’t think this necessarily solves the ethical concern. Just because it’s already been mined and purchased doesn’t mean you should buy it. You then become part of the faction creating market demand for natural diamonds. You aren’t supporting “new” efforts, but you ARE supporting the diamond market as a whole. If diamond engagement rings weren’t as prevalent, if diamonds were no longer seen as the most desired of gems, the market would be very different.

    • Sarah E

      Do you think that holds true if you buy a vintage diamond from someone other than a jeweler? For example, if you buy a ring from a personal estate sale, your money isn’t going to anyone participating in the diamond market, right? I definitely agree that diamond rings on fingers perpetuate the concept that diamonds are the Proper Way to get engaged, but at some point, if you like it because you like it, watching where the money goes and fuck the rest who make assumptions, right?

      Also, I think it could be framed as creating a market for vintage gems/jewelry. What might the consequences be if it became the fashion to not buy new? Thinking through how that might affect consumer culture is interesting, too.

      • Jules

        I think it just depends on how you approach it. For example, if I go online to idonowidont and buy an already-mined diamond from someone else, I don’t think this escapes the ethical concerns. You’re giving value to something that has come from unknown origins.

        However, if you wander into an estate sale and buy a diamond that was mined decades ago, it becomes iffier….Even then, I’m tempted to say the same thing and add that chances are it wasn’t mined under ethical conditions. That could bother some people. Though, thinking about what would happen if the market for NEW diamonds disappeared…that is certainly interesting. I suppose I see some of the same problems if the market moved that way. I just imagine jewelers would find a way to stay in the game, and unless you were super diligent about verifying when it was mined, it would be easy enough to pass off a new diamond as an old one.

        I don’t think everyone should have to RUN from diamonds/clear stone engagement rings so as to bring about the collapse of the diamond market. For sure, you should get what you like. I think that we should be honest with ourselves about just how much we’re mitigating the damage by buying used.

      • Jules

        You know, I feel like it *IS* somewhat in fashion to not buy new diamonds: the ethical concerns with diamonds aren’t a secret (though I think people would be surprised just how few truly conflict-free diamonds there are – see,0&wp_login_redirect=0), new diamonds are expensive, Kate’s ring brought a spotlight to gemstones, heirloom diamonds are…..the best of all worlds. No one can say it’s too big or small, too colored, or too flawed because you inherited it. No one can bash you for spending too much money. No one can get THAT mad at you for actively supporting conflict diamonds because the damage has “already been done” since Grandma owned it. Plus throw in that’s it’s an heirloom, and you win all the cool points!

        But….this is me playing Devil’s Advocate…..even heirloom diamonds in their own small way create more need for diamonds as a whole. People buying new might expect to be able to pass it down to a child, but even 50 years from now, not everyone’s grandma/mom will be able to give them an heirloom diamond, and all THOSE people will still have to buy new or be clever to find a vintage one. It also drives the thinking that diamond rings are The Best. Thus…even heirlooms create some market for new diamonds.

        Maybe it all depends on how far-reaching you want to be with “ethical”. Lab-created, vintage, and gemstones all have their own implications. I don’t want to imply it’s unethical to go with a vintage option – again, I just don’t think that people can run around saying they made the MOST ethical choice by waving around an older stone.

        That being said, all this discussion is making me think that if/when I receive a Moissy, I should own that fact and be proud of it. Otherwise I’m trying to have my cake and eat it too.

        • pajamafishadventures

          Slightly tangential but regarding the desire to create heirloom diamonds: there’s apparently a post-mortem option to be cremated and then turned into a diamond. I announced that I wanted my family to do that when I died so I could forever be an heirloom. Their reactions ran the gambit from “mildly horrified” to “completely appalled.”

          I think the points you’re raising overall are very akin to “is it ethical to own vintage furs” argument. The damage (if it’s something you view as damage) has already been done, so does that absolve it or is it still there? There isn’t so much a right or wrong answer, just one you have to be comfortable with.

          • laddibugg

            My mother and I looked into that –she loves jewelry and especially diamonds and she already wants to be cremated instead of taking up space in a cemetery , but it’s crazy expensive!

    • I say this based out of logic, and nothing else, because i have a diamond on my finger that my wife designed and surprised me with- but I do understand your logic here. To me, it’s the same thing as wearing a “vintage” fur coat. Your still selling it and promoting it every time you walk in public. So while it may be better in a slight sense, it’s still a fur coat and it’s still a diamond.

    • laddibugg

      Didn’t you type this on a smartphone or computer? Those things use metals (and sometimes diamonds!) that probably weren’t sourced ethically, and, most of the time, people wear jewelry for damn near forever, while phones and computers are seen as disposable.

      For diamonds, at least, my concern stops when there is a way to procure them without damaging people or the environment. In my opinion to worry about one specific thing when I use others that utilize similar materials is hypocritical.

      • Jules

        Oh, certainly. However, I think that’s a weak argument for NOT worrying about where my diamond comes from.

        I don’t think it’s hypocritical of me to try and make a decision that *I* am comfortable with ethically in the realm of diamonds even though I still use a computer. I don’t know what kind of concerns there are with computers, or what alternatives there are, but I would happily take that into consideration when I make my next phone purchase.

      • Jules

        Alternatives for an engagement ring stone are plentiful. Alternatives for computers/smartphones are harder to come by, so the ultimate solution is to buy LESS stuff, use it less often, make it last. This doesn’t stop me from wanting to make the best choice possible for another item.

        At some point there will be a spike in consumer awareness about electronics and how we don’t need a new smartphone every 12 months. *sigh*

        • laddibugg

          “Alternatives for an engagement ring stone are plentiful. ”

          The non-hypocritical alternative is ‘none’.

          • Jules

            So…because I use a computer, I can’t have an engagement ring stone?

          • laddibugg

            No, my issue was with the original commenter implying that even buying a man-made or lab created diamond still had huge unethical complications. If that’s the way you feel as well, then yes, in my opinion, it’s being hypocritical to be fine with wearing another stone set in a metal, especially gold, and to also not consider the implications of other items that use similar conflicted metals and resources. So, yes, I feel that if you have an issue with a ‘fake’ diamond, you can’t be upset if someone calls out other things you use.

          • Jules

            “huge unethical complications” is a massive overstatement of what I was trying to say….but see comments above for that. Lab diamonds are undoubtedly a better solution than a mined diamond for many reasons. I have an issue with the fact that is IS a diamond. I don’t really want to be part of the diamond industry, lab or not. I don’t want to create demand for them.

            My original problem was with this part of the article:

            “Yes, another approach is to make use of the diamonds that are already above ground by purchasing a ring with a recycled diamond. The flip side to this is that you aren’t supporting the mining communities or the new efforts towards sustainable mining practices.”

            While this is still better than a mined diamond, I don’t think it skirts the ethical issue as well as they are framing it. Others have mentioned vintage furs as a comparison. I have to agree.

            I never mentioned “fake” diamonds. By that do you even mean lab, or do you mean other stimulants or alternatives? I don’t consider either of those fake.

            If you’re calling me out for using gold or computers, have at it. We never actually talked about what kind of setting I’m having or if it’s recycled gold, so I’ll just let you make your worst assumptions. But “to worry about one specific thing when I use others that utilize similar materials is hypocritical” is backwards. Because you’re not worried about ALL THE THINGS, you shouldn’t worry about the one thing that you might have the most information about? Okay.

          • Laddibug, “calling people out” isn’t any way to engage in meaningful discourse over this subject, considering you’re immediately putting people on the defensive about their personal choices, instead of trying to talk about the actual issue at hand.

            Repeatedly calling someone a hypocrite in comments is harassment, and is also a case where you’re intentionally criticizing someone’s personal choices without context, not the issues (this is harassment because this type of commenting style is typically used to force a response). This is against our comment policy. This is a warning that further comments where you’re choosing to engage in this manner will be removed.

          • EF

            Yes, and many of us choose none.

    • Violet

      But if people can’t tell by looking that a lab-created stone ISN’T a diamond, then doesn’t a lab-created stone perpetuate this idea too? Unless you’re telling everyone on the subway, “Excuse me, this is a lab-created diamond!”

      • Jules

        Oh, there’s most certainly a blurry line. I don’t think that anything that LOOKS like a diamond is intrinsically a bad choice. There can be a very decent argument, though, for this: If fewer people sought to buy diamonds, the demand would shrink, the prices would drop, good things would happen. (Also, when I look at the prices of lab diamonds: they’re only like 15-20% cheaper than a natural, which makes no sense to me. I suspect a large part is because it’s STILL a diamond and that carries a lot of weight…not because production is wildly expensive.)

        It’s certainly an unpopular opinion, what I wrote above, but I just want to point out that ethics is on a sliding scale and we should be realistic about where we fall on it and be comfortable with that. Nobody wants a blood diamond. Some want a blood diamond that someone re-labeled as conflict-free. Some get a mined diamond that actually IS conflict-free. Some get a vintage diamond from who knows where. Some want a lab diamond. Some don’t even want a diamond, but a clear stone. Others get a colored non-diamond gem. And still others forgo gemstones entirely and just opt for bands….and then there are people with tattoos instead of bands…and those who don’t wear anything at all.

        Frankly the way to live with the least impact is to run around stark naked, but I’m cool with having a closet of clothes. Just like I’d be OK with lab diamonds or a moissy….I think it’s a super-personal choice, but it’s on a continuum of “ethicalness”.

        • Violet

          Thanks for your reply!
          I understand how supply and demand work in economics, and fully agree with the theoretical underpinnings of your first paragraph in response to me.

          You say you’re proposing one sliding scale of ethics. As I read your take, you seem to be describing two levels (that I guess each have their own sliding scale?). One level is individual consumer choice. The “Is this ethical enough for me?” thought-process. The second level down is you’re implying that my individual consumer choice can influence others to ALSO make a more ethical consumer choice. That’s the part that’s WAY harder to prove can happen in any intentional way. Without being a celebrity of huge influence, or willing to walk around proclaiming my ring to be known to be ethically sourced, or lab-made, or whatever I had determined to be ethical “enough” for my individual choice in Level 1, I am doing absolutely nothing concrete to affect Level 2. So I don’t know if it makes sense to lump this “downstream” process in with the determination someone makes in Level 1. Obviously you feel that way, so for you, the idea that MAYBE down the line, generations or so from now, diamonds won’t be a big deal because you personally made an ethical choice, then that’s your thought process. Can’t nobody ever prove you conclusively right or wrong on that. But I wouldn’t consider something so far removed from me and tenuously linked to my actions as factoring in when I make an individual choice. I would consider the ethics of my decision at hand, not of all the future choices of those who may or may not be influenced by me in something as unclear as this particular decision (when the ethcial-ness of my original choice isn’t clear to an observer).

          • Jules

            Yeah…and I think if the effect were actually measurable, or significant, it would be more important. What I struggle with is thinking that I’m now part of the consumer group for diamonds, and even if my non-purchase doesn’t have an effect, it makes my conscience rest easier.

            And again, I want to reiterate that the only thing I think is clearly unethical is a blood diamond. Everything after that is fuzzier.

      • pajamafishadventures

        My problem with this is that the untrained eye can mistake plastic for precious gems (and vice versa). I don’t really have a point beyond that, but it kinda seems like one of the “where is the line” issues if I can’t wear my crap from Forever21 because it could be mistaken for not crap or something.

        • Violet

          Right! Right, my thoughts exactly.

  • Lauren from NH

    I appreciate APW for addressing this issue so readers can make more informed decisions, however I feel some frustration that engagement rings (typically for women) get so much ethical scrutiny and our other consumer choices get so little. There are also conflict minerals that go into our computers and phones, there are sweat shops around the world with terrible working conditions and environmental standards. I realize for many people an engagement ring is one of the largest purchases of their life, right up with a car or a house or a wedding I suppose, but the sum of our everyday decisions has a significant ethical impact also. NOT saying that if we can’t make 100% ethical consumer choices then we are hypocrites, just pointing out that engagement rings are gendered and generally a one time decision, where as the consumption electronics is gender neutral and the industry is exploding, encouraging people to buy more and buy more frequently than ever before.

    • Natalie

      I agree with you. That being said, I still view our wedding purchasing choices as important. Even knowing that engagement and wedding-related choices are a small drop in a bucket compared to all the other choices we make as consumers, I view my and my FH’s choices about our wedding & engagement as symbolically important. For us, it’s a representation of the values that we try to and want to live by. For us personally, it’s important that our wedding-related choices reflect a sense of who we strive to be. That doesn’t need to be the case for everyone. It’s just how I feel about my own choices.

    • SuperDaintyKate

      I appreciate your point and don’t disagree with it, but I think that the context of the wedding industry in comparison to the electronics industry is important.

      As you and Natalie point out, the purchases associated with a wedding are some of the largest that a couple will make together, shy of houses and cars. The way that I justify spending that money to myself is that it is an investment in my community– small local businesses that i want to support. I think of it similar to how Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen thinks about philanthropy in her book Giving 2.0– you should think of large-scale spending the way that you think of your investments, and give large sums of money with purpose and intent. For me, that means supporting local businesses with ethical practices that I embrace. The particular context of the wedding industry (small, mostly local businesses) gives me the opportunity to contribute the the economy and effect real change by supporting businesses that are making a difference.

      I don’t disagree that it would be great if all our spending decisions were made this way. I agree with you that it would be ideal if the world worked that way. But given the large size of companies in the electronics industry, and the lack of many choices in connection with where we spend our money, I don’t think it’s surprising that wedding-related decisions attract more scrutiny.

    • KH_Tas

      I would take it even further: I think most of the electronics industry is (falsely) gendered male; with the result that many things there are given a free pass (oh I loathe ‘planned obsolescence’ so much) because of the old sexist assumptions that men are more responsible decision makers, therefore ‘male’ products ‘must’ be more responsible than ‘female’ products (urg)

      Note: of course I also agree with Natalie and SuperDaintyKate about engagement rings being symbolic and therefore garnering more attention than most other purchases, this is a far from simple problem

  • Angela Howard

    Buying a vintage ring satisfied my desire for an ethical diamond because I wasn’t creating demand for a newly mined diamond. Would that be a compromise that you could be satisfied with?

  • Meredith Walsh

    Bario Neal is the best. I have a half dozen pieces from them (in addition to my wedding band and engagement ring) and they are all really, really beautiful. And their customer service is top notch. I came in with a broken chain on one of their necklaces and they simply replaced the necklace. If you are in NY or Philly (or nearby) I highly recommend checking them out.

  • Alyssa M

    If he’s set on shopping in person, as my partner was, I absolutely suggest shopping around to local jewelers. Speak with the jeweler themselves and see how they respond to your concerns. If they try to get shifty, or can’t answer your questions definitely go elsewhere, but they may come up with options you never would have thought of.

    We found our jeweler because I ran around looking for my partner’s engagement ring and ended up choosing a shop based on their reactions to “I’m looking for an engagement ring for a man, and I don’t want gold.” Even though it was a small purchase (for a jeweler) and *gasp* a woman buying a man a ring, he talked over my options with me and gave great service… then my partner went in with confidence that the jeweler could help and they (together) designed a ring that was both perfect for me and ethical. We had to wait for stones to be special ordered and the ring to be made instead of just taking it out of the case, but he got the in store experience, I got the ring I guilt-free love, and we supported a local business.

  • Rose

    If you want a diamond, I’m not going to tell you to not get one. But if what you want is something sparkly that looks like a diamond, my ring is moissanite, and I do just love it. From what I’ve read, it actually sparkles more, and it’s almost as hard. Plus it suited our budget much better. When we first started talking about options that weren’t sapphire or diamond I was just a little disappointed, but as it is I couldn’t be happier (and instead of letting people think it’s a diamond, which I totally thought I would, I find myself finding excuses to tell them it’s moissanite. Go figure).

  • Ann

    Going along with the local jeweler idea, we visited several highly recommended jewelers in our area to look at their estate jewelry and purchased my ring, an estate piece from the 50’s, from one of the jewelers. I knew going into the process that I wanted an estate ring so that I’m not directly compliant in any present-day mining issues, but understanding that by having a diamond ring I am still compliant in all the other issues surrounding diamond use. At any rate, this was my compromise.

    Visiting the jeweler gives you that “experience” of shopping around, trying lots of stuff on, talking about what you want, discussing your options later, etc. You could go with your partner or he could go alone, either way.

    I found that the local jewelers actually had pretty decent options in estate rings, although not as many as a lab-made diamond dealer/store could offer.

  • LB

    Depending on where you live and how set you are on having a diamond, you may be able to mine your own stone. I know that the Montana/Wyoming/Idaho area and the North Carolina area are both really rich in gemstones including sapphires. It’s a fun trip to take, and WAY more personal than any other option.

    • Claire

      That is AWESOME.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I just want to point out that most diamonds are actually used for industry, not jewelry. So whatever we do with jewelry trends, we’re not going to kill the diamond industry. Diamonds used for industry tend to be smaller, lower quality, and lab-created, so maybe we can shut down the mines, but we’re not going to shut down the industry.

    • KH_Tas

      Yes! I prefer lab-created to digging a huge hole in the ground, but certainly the demand for diamonds to put in saws far outstrips the demand for diamonds to put in rings

  • KH_Tas

    A very side point – if you live somewhere where it’s not possible to find something suitably ethical in your local area (I doubt you’d have much luck in my tiny, regional-classed home town for example), then I think it is appropriate that your boyfriend become a bit more flexible about the ‘no online buying’ thing: after all you’ll be wearing it

    (an anecdote, my fiance was uncertain about buying rings online, but the ring I chose wasn’t available in person, so he brought it online and it was all ok. I brought his ring online also).

  • windsorplace

    This is a nice post and thanks for sharing this kind of useful information all about wedding. Thank you.

  • Now, caveats. I know nothing about jewellery – I wear almost none, and the sole reason I have an engagement ring *at all* is because both spouse-to-be and I were surprised by his mother, who had secreted away her old ring to give to him. (And what a lovely surprise! It’s the only piece of jewellery I enjoy wearing!).

    So I might be daft for asking this but… OP does not want to support blood diamonds. OP’s spouse-to-be feels that buying in person is a vital part of the experience. Would it work to just have a non-diamond engagement ring? Maybe spend the diamond money on one with a meaningful engraving or lovely design work?

  • Wow that is a very in depth article about the worries of getting blood diamonds. I did not realize people felt so strongly. I did meet an actual diamond cutter that sells diamonds and rings in Dallas.