Your Guide to Conflict-Free Diamonds, Ethical Gemstones & Diamond Alternatives

October 31, 2020 2 Comments

Your Guide to Conflict-Free Diamonds, Ethical Gemstones & Diamond Alternatives


Sourcing ethical diamonds, alternative diamonds, and sustainably mined gemstones can be tricky when it comes to ethical fine jewelry as reliable certifications are limited. If you are wondering how to find ethical diamonds, what makes ethical gemstones...well ethical, or where to get these sustainable pieces, then this article is for you. First, let's take a look all the terms out there and what it means for gemstones, and diamonds to be ethical.

What does it mean to be an ethical and sustainable gemstone?

This means the gemstones or diamonds are mined and cut ethically, have minimal impact on the environment, or are created in a sustainable way. It also means that everyone in the supply chain is treated fairly and is not supporting: child labor, slave labor, unfair pay, unsafe working conditions or forced work.

Let’s break that down: Before your beautiful piece of jewelry hits the store, it has to be created right? Did you know that most diamonds change hands so many times before they come to market that it is virtually impossible to trace where it was mined or cut?

How can you tell if the gemstones and diamonds you are purchasing are ethical and sustainable?

Now that you know what sustainable jewelry is, how can you tell if the super cute alternative engagement ring stone you have your eye on, wasn’t mined by abused workers? It’s time to do a little homework on the jeweler. Ask the jeweler or look up the answers to the following questions: 

  • Is this gemstone traceable?
  • Were these materials mined or lab grown?
  • If these materials were lab grown, was it made with renewable energy?
  • If these materials were mined was it done by a large corporation or a small one?
  • Do these mining companies have environmental safeguards or use primitive equipment?
  • Do these companies pay their workers fair wages and treat them well?
  • Who cut the stone? Were these workers paid and treated fairly and have safe conditions?

Believe it or not, most engagement rings are not ethically made and harm the planet. Many fine jewels made with diamonds or precious gemstones are not ethical.




What is a Conflict-Free Diamond & Why Should You Not Rely on "Conflict-Free" for Sourcing Gemstones?

Ethical jewelers in the know today are actually abandoning "conflict-free" and Kimberly process altogether. The term conflict-free was created as a marketing tactic of the very diamond corporations that were committing atrocities like aiding genocides and destroying ecosystems.  The now feel good term "conflict-free" has been developed to basically conceal the very evil and complicated supply chain issues, all the while providing no actual support and restitution to the communities terrorized by diamond mining past and present. 

The Kimberly Process Certification Scheme was the other piece of the conflict-free marketing package, peddled as a reliable certification system that guarantees diamonds to not fund civil wars or come from conflict areas, and not really much else. The Kimberly Process is essentially just a lot of paperwork that fails at addressing the big issues in mining like: slave labor, unfair pay, forced labor, child labor, dangerous working conditions, traceability or provenance. 

Reflective Jewelry has done an amazing in-depth article on the subject, I highly recommend reading: click here to check it out!

What is Block-Chain Tracing and is it Ethical?

Block chain initiatives like Tracr by De Beers are similar to the Kimberly Process in that these are technologies developed by the giant corporations that have been doing the harm to advertise traceability of their diamonds, and not really much else it seems. These block chain programs may just be another empty marketing claim that essentially say look this diamond is "traceable" which implies to the consumer again it is ethical. They appear to still not be addressing humanitarian and environmental issues.We are keeping an eye on these new systems in the diamond space and will report back if they seem like they are helping in any way.


Which gemstones are ethical and sustainable?

ethical conflict free diamond jewelry

Ethical Diamonds

Diamonds are mined on just about every continent in either big mining operations or a vast network of small scale mines. Classic brilliant cut diamonds are extremely difficult to trace because they change hands so many times before coming to market. Kimberly process is the only available certification that is supposed to help curb these corruption issues however it has been proven to be unreliable at aiding in traceability or improving the lives and protection of miners. 

Be weary of greenwashing and the overuse of the term "Conflict-Free", conflict-free stones are just one part of unethical mining and has been proven innefective at preventing blood diamonds. Conflict-free really has no weight when it comes to truly ethical jewelry. 

What to look for: Canadian Diamonds, Australian Diamonds, artisanal small scale mines, or traceable diamonds. 

What to avoid: Kimberly process diamonds. New diamonds with no verified origin. Large corporation diamonds like De Beers or Gemfields. Diamonds labeled or marketed as "Conflict-Free". 

Read about why Kimberly Process doesn't work here. 

Read more on the human rights violations that De Beers contributes to here.

heirloom diamond engagement ring - rose gold diamond stacking ring set

Recycled Diamonds, Vintage Diamonds and Heirloom Diamonds

A great diamond alternative for engagement rings or heirloom jewelry is certified recycled diamonds. Recycling in diamonds and gold for jewelry is more of a neutral solution rather than an active one as it does not decrease the demand for destructive mining operations. The reason being diamonds and gold are not comparable to plastic where their demand far exceeds the supply. Traceability is an issue for certified recycled diamonds, as there is no way to know the age of the finished diamond or if it came from unethical sources in the last hundred years. However, definitely consider repurposing grandma’s diamonds before setting out to buy a new rock for your next piece of jewelry. Most jewelers would be happy to use your heirloom stones.

What to look for: Certified recycled, or your own heirloom stone.

What to avoid: Non-certified recycled diamonds.

Lab Grown Diamonds

Lab diamonds are increasing in popularity as an accessible, sustainable, fully traceable, and ethical diamond solution. Lab diamonds are diamonds that are grown using special machinery mimicking the exact same process that formed diamonds billions of years ago but condensing it into a week. Under magnification lab diamonds are indistinguishable from earth grown diamonds. The only difference is that lab grown diamonds are not naturally earth grown. Lab Diamonds are not without their flaws and have been known to use a ton of resources, however the resources lab diamonds use are far less than mining earth diamonds. Up until this point there has not been a certified ethical or sustainable lab diamond on the market until now, SCS global services has just introduced their Sustainably Rated diamond standard.

What to look for: Certified Lab Grown from a company that uses renewable energy and has an offset program.

Runner up: Lab Diamonds made in the USA and cut using ethical labor. 


rustic diamond ethical engagement ring

Diamond Alternative: Rustic Diamonds

The best diamond alternative is actually a diamond! Rustic diamonds or alternative diamonds or salt and pepper diamonds are diamonds that are heavily included, and come in a large variety of warm romantic colors and creative cuts like hexagon, kite, pear, or bullet. Rustic diamonds are very unusual and do not have the look of a traditional diamond and each one is one-of-a-kind. Rustic diamonds are also an accessible price point compared to traditional perfect diamonds. Rustic diamonds have an ethical and environmental edge over the brilliant cut diamonds because they are less in demand and usually come from smaller mining companies who are trying to use every last piece of rough they mine. 

What to look for:  Look for a traceable rustic diamond for the ultimate ethical stone. 

What to avoid: Rustic diamonds from large mining corporations.

ethical sapphire engagement rings

Diamond Alternative: Sapphires & Rubies

Sapphires and rubies are a great diamond alternative because they are accessible in price, they come in many beautiful vibrant colors that fit any style and they are almost as hard as a diamond. In fact they are the 2nd hardest gemstone with #1 being a diamond. This means they are suitable to stand up to everyday wear and tear. Fun fact: Rubies are actually red sapphires! So same rules apply to them too. Buy your sapphires and rubies from a reputable source that uses small scale mining over giant corporations with no traceability or disclosure of working conditions. 

What to look for:  Montana sapphires, Australian Sapphires, traceable sapphires, artisanally mined sapphires, 

What to avoid: Materials from Burma are often linked to sales that could be funding militaries that the United Nation accuses of genocide. Avoid sapphires and rubies from Gemfields, a giant corporation that is fueling the ethical issues with colored stone mining.

Read more on the human rights issues with Gemfields here.


custom ethical engagement rings by valley rose studio


In Closing

Many sustainable and ethical brands like us at Valley Rose are very transparent about the source of the materials. Ethical brands will usually include their sourcing in the description of the jewelry. If this information is not there, do some of your own research before you buy. When you support sustainable and ethical brands, you’re supporting a healthy, equitable, and sustainable world. Happy shopping!


2 Responses

Valley rose studio
Valley rose studio

September 03, 2023

Hi Jacie,

Moss agate is sourced from India, Brazil, Uruguay, central Europe, and the western United States. I would try and find one sourced direct in the closest country to you. As far as ethics these stones are extremely low risk for being involved in any sort of slave labor and conflict issues.

I do want to point out that Moss Agate has a mohs of 6.5-7, if you get a stone around a 6 mohs then it is at risk for scratching or chipping if worn everyday. We recommend a bi-color green sapphire instead! These can be cut into rose cuts (flat cuts like agates) and will resist scratching and chipping a lot more. Plus they come in those dreamy color patterns that make moss agates so beautiful. Happy Ring shopping!

Jacie A Cotter
Jacie A Cotter

September 03, 2023

I am wanting a moss agate engagement ring and am wondering if they are ethical

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Ring Sizing Guide

Print and download this chart to find your ring size. Make sure you use exactly 8.5"x11" letter paper. You can use a string or a piece of paper and wrap around your finger or nuckle to measure the circumference and match to your size.

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