Ethical metals come up a lot in the conversation about sustainable jewelry, but ethical gemstones and ethical diamonds are a big part of sustainable jewelry too. 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, diamonds, and alternative diamonds to be ethical and why we need to discontinue the term "conflict-free".
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?
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:
Believe it or not, most engagement rings are not ethically made and pollute the planet. Many fine jewels made with diamonds or precious gemstones are not sustainable. They are mined and cut in places with very poor working conditions.
Ethical jewelers in the know today are actually abandoning the term "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. Not only does it not actually do that, the Kimberly Process also fails at addressing any real issues: like slave labor, unfair pay, forced labor, child labor, dangerous working conditions, traceability or provenance.
For example, Kimberly process diamonds are 100% not traceable so how can they also guarantee that they did not fund a conflict if they know basically nothing about that diamond? Ok so playing devils advocate here, say Kimberly Process does actually stop conflict diamonds from entering the supply chain, what about the other long list of horrendous and way more prevalent issues that diamond mining is responsible for? Forget it, you only get the conflict-free.
Conflict-Free diamonds and the Kimberly Process is just disgusting racism and evil white supremacy at work. Reflective Jewelry has done an amazing in-depth article on the subject, I highly recommend reading: click here to check it out!
Most diamonds are mined though giant corporations 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 and also because the corruption is very widespread. Kimberly process is the only available certification that is supposed to help curb these corruption issues however it has been proven to be unreliable.
Be weary of greenwashing and the overuse of the term "Conflict-Free", conflict-free stones are just one part of unethical mining and the majority of the issues happen in non war torn areas. Conflict-free was also a term developed by the corporations causing the atrocities so it really has no value 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".
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 and the 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 diamonds are increasing in popularity as an accessible, possibly 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 lack the drama and heroic story of a naturally earth grown diamond. Because jewelry is all about story some may find it hard to get behind lab grown diamonds. But Lab Diamonds are are definitely an option for a lot of people that don't care that they are machine made. Lab Diamonds have been under criticism as of late as the process to make the diamonds can be very environmentally taxing because they use a ton of water and energy, however the resources lab diamonds use are far less than mining earth diamonds.
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.
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 because they are typically less costly than traditional brilliant cut 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 using every last piece of rough.
What to look for: Look for a traceable rustic diamond for the ultimate ethical stone.
What to avoid: Rustic diamonds that have no traceability.
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.
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!
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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.
Follow this chart to see where the necklace will fall. All necklace sizes are described on the product pages. We suggest getting a piece of string and measuring necklace on your neck to ensure best fit.
To keep your jewels looking their best please keep these tips in mind to extend the life of your pieces.