Conflict Diamonds 101

Engagement rings and wedding bands symbolize the starting point of a lifelong union and are a visible testament to a couple’s commitment. As more couples come to learn about the environmental and human damage caused by destructive mining practices and the gem trade, they are choosing to begin their journey together with a more sustainable choice: conflict-free diamonds.

Three out of four brides receive diamond engagement rings, yet few realize that every diamond carries a social and environmental cost. Conflict diamonds, also known as blood diamonds, are those mined in unstable regions of Africa and used to finance civil war and widespread brutality. Dangerous, unjust labor practices employed by large-scale mining operations often go unregulated. Mines have historically been breeding grounds for harsh conditions where workers are beaten and tortured, and child labor is common.

This makes it hard, if not impossible, for smaller and less destructive mines to compete and stay in business. In addition, diamond mines are notorious for environmental damage such as soil erosion, flooding and water pollution.

How can I avoid conflict diamonds?

In 2000, the global diamond industry began to crack down after a decade of extreme brutality in Sierra Leone and announced a zero tolerance policy on conflict diamonds. The world community, with the help of the UN, various NGOs and the diamond industry decided to create a system to prevent conflict diamonds from entering the legitimate diamond supply chain.

The agreement that was reached is referred to as the Kimberly Process. In essence, it is a system of mine-to-market documentation for each stone to insure that from the point of extraction to the point of sale it follows legal, traceable channels. It aims to keep conflict out of the supply chain by closing off points of entry.

Since the adoption of the Kimberly Process in 2003, the number of conflict diamonds has been reduced from approximately 4 percent to less than 1 percent. Today, most of the global production of rough diamonds occurs in nations certified by the Kimberly Process.

However, it can be extremely difficult to know the exact origins of a diamond. While the Kimberly Process has eliminated many of the human rights abuses associated with the diamond industry, some Conflict diamonds still enter the market through a loophole that allows rough conflict stones to be certified from the conflict-free country that cuts and polishes them.

In addition, the Kimberly process does not take into consideration the environmental impact of mining. Canadian diamonds, for example, have become the conflict-free choice for many, but it’s important to remember that every newly mined diamond carries a cost.

It seems incongruous to choose a ring with these origins to serve as the symbol for a lifetime of love. So what’s a couple to do? Rest assured, there are plenty of beautiful, eco-friendly, socially responsible ring options.

Conflict-Free Diamond Options

1. Certifications.

When Ashlee Simpson’s engagement to Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz was announced, Wentz made a point of saying that her ring did not contain conflict diamonds. How could he be sure? There are different certifications that document diamonds from mine to jeweler to help consumers know what they are buying.

Any reputable jeweler should be able to tell you where their diamonds come from, and if they are conflict-free, fair trade or Kimberly certified. Doing some research on different types of certifications will help you know what to look for when you shop.

2. Heirloom Diamonds.

Why not use a ring or stone already in the family? This environmentally friendly choice also adds a personal touch to your ring. If your family ring doesn’t fit, it can easily be resized. Longtime animal-rights and environmental advocate Alicia Silverstone was given an engagement ring that belonged to her husband’s grandmother.

If you have a piece of heirloom jewelry but don’t like the look, you can have the stones reset to match your style, or have the metal melted down and fashioned into your dream ring.

If you cannot find a local jeweler who can do this, there are many companies (listed below) who will take your recycled metals and stones and turn them into something new.

3. Antique Rings.

Diamonds that were mined before 1880 predate large-scale mining operations. Purchasing an antique ring is a glamorous way to recycle, and it ensures your ring did not contribute to mining pollution.

4. Synthetic and Cultured Diamonds.

Synthetic diamonds, such as cubic zirconium, look like real diamonds but have different compositions. They can be seen on the fingers of stars such as Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow, who refuse to wear real diamonds. Even though synthetic diamonds have celebrity appeal, that doesn’t mean they cost big bucks; in fact, synthetic diamonds will often save you money.

Besides synthetics, man-made — or cultured — diamonds, are also available. These are identical to natural diamonds but are created in a lab.

5. Canadian Diamonds.

Certified Canadian diamonds are mined, cut, and polished in Canada under strict environmental and working regulations. Many American jewelers and online retailers now offer certified Canadian diamonds.

6. Diamond Alternatives

1. Natural Options.

Consider having a ring made with a unique focal point such as opal, pearl, river stone, or sea glass.

2. Wood.

There are many companies today that carry handcrafted wooden rings, which can be inlaid with stones, or combined with a metal. Often these retailers use environmentally sound practices, such as using downed trees and scrap wood, or planting a tree for each ring sold. Your purchase not only ensures an eco-friendly ring, but also helps give back.

3. Gemstones.

Although the production of some gemstones, such as emeralds and rubies, can cause the same harmful impacts as diamond mining, there are a number of producers (listed below) that pride themselves on “ethically sourced” gems. This means they follow strict labor, trade, and environmental protocols.

4. Tattoo Rings.

This is a green alternative to traditional engagement and wedding rings that truly is forever.

Reputable Conflict-free, Recycled, and Fair Trade Jewelers:

Green Karat

Ruff & Cut

Reflective Images

Touch Wood Rings

Simply Wood Rings

Further Resources to help you find conflict-free diamonds

If you’re looking to find a conflict-free diamond, here are some resources that can help:

  1. Kimberley Process Certification Scheme: The Kimberley Process is an international certification scheme that regulates the trade of rough diamonds to prevent the sale of diamonds that fund conflict. You can ask your jeweler if they source their diamonds from Kimberley Process-certified countries, or check the Kimberley Process website for a list of participating countries.
  2. Responsible Jewellery Council: The Responsible Jewellery Council is a non-profit organization that promotes responsible ethical, social, and environmental practices in the jewelry industry. They offer a directory of certified members who adhere to their Code of Practices, which includes requirements for responsible sourcing of diamonds.
  3. Brilliant Earth: Brilliant Earth is a jewelry company that specializes in ethically sourced and conflict-free diamonds. They work with suppliers who adhere to their strict standards for ethical and environmentally responsible mining practices, and offer a wide range of diamond engagement rings and other jewelry.
  4. MiaDonna: MiaDonna is another jewelry company that specializes in ethically sourced and conflict-free diamonds. They offer a range of engagement rings, wedding bands, and other jewelry made with lab-grown diamonds or recycled precious metals.
  5. The Diamond Development Initiative: The Diamond Development Initiative is a non-profit organization that works to improve the lives and working conditions of diamond miners and their communities in Africa. They offer a list of companies that have committed to ethical sourcing and responsible practices in the diamond industry.

When looking for a conflict-free diamond, it’s important to ask your jeweler or supplier about their sourcing practices and certification. Be sure to choose a reputable and transparent company that prioritizes ethical and sustainable practices in the diamond trade.