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Ethical Engagement Rings

By Mike Fried,

What is an Ethical Engagement Ring?

An ethical engagement ring features an ethical diamond and a setting made of recycled metal. Ethical engagement rings are manufactured with a low impact on the environment and don’t violate any human rights.

There are a few options for finding an ethical diamond, including CDCC-compliant Canadian diamonds, recycled diamonds and lab-created diamonds. You’ll also need to choose recycled metal for your setting, such as reclaimed gold or platinum. The precious metal is refined and refurbished without losing any quality. With a recycled metal setting, there’s no impact on the environment because there’s no mining involved. 

The Difficulty of Ensuring an Ethical Engagement Ring (The Hard Truth)

Choosing a socially responsible and eco-friendly engagement ring showcases your love while helping the world become better and safer. You can feel at peace knowing that your ring didn’t have a negative impact on the environment and other humans. And you’re supporting businesses who are committed to providing ethically sourced engagement rings.

Unfortunately, conscientious consumers can never be sure about purchasing an ethical engagement ring. There are fundamental problems, like clever marketing and the difficulty in tracing a diamond to its origin. 

By understanding the challenges of ethical engagement rings, you can conduct better research. You can then look for the most socially responsible and environmentally friendly engagement ring for your budget. 

To help you with the diamond buying process we lean on our expertise and experience. The author of this article, our CEO, Mike Fried has over 20 years of experience in the diamond industry. Mike started from the bottom, sorting and evaluating hundreds of thousands of diamonds to learn every facet (pun intended) of diamond quality and value. Mike followed that up by spending years buying and selling diamonds on the wholesale market as well as selling tens of millions of dollars worth of diamonds to diamond retailers.

4 Main Problems Finding Ethical Engagement Rings

When you’re in the market for socially conscious engagement rings, there are a few challenges you’ll encounter. From misleading marketing to finding recycled metal, here are the main issues to be aware of. 

Issue 1: The misleading term of “conflict-free”

The terms “conflict diamonds” and “blood diamonds” were coined in the 1990s. They referred to diamonds involved with violent rebel groups in parts of Africa. Once these groups overtook mining areas by brutal force, they illegally traded diamonds for money and weapons.

In 2003, the Kimberley Process Certification System was established to prevent these conflict diamonds from entering the market.

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While you can have some confidence in the system, the narrow certification process still allows diamonds to be sold that are tainted by child labor, violence, and environmental atrocities. The Kimberley Process gives consumers false security that the diamonds are completely conflict-free. For instance, the process doesn’t consider the people who mined them and their surrounding communities.

Even well-meaning diamond sellers can’t guarantee “conflict-free diamonds.” They don’t know with certainty that there are no human rights violations or environmental harm associated with a diamond.

We covered the topic of ethical diamonds in our thorough article.

Issue 2: You usually can’t trace a diamond’s origin 

Most diamonds are difficult to trace through their entire lifetime. Before a diamond is cut and polished, it’s sorted and mixed as a rough stone. From when and where the diamond is mined to selling it, the stone passes through many hands—and not all are honest. A seller won’t know if a diamond is from artisanal sources or a large mining corporation. There’s no distinguishing characteristic to separate how diamonds are mined.

Unless you buy a lab-created diamond or one from a Canadian mine, there’s no guarantee that it’s sourced ethically.

Issue 3: Clever marketing strategies 

The language used in marketing can be misleading. For instance, the terms “provenance” and “origin” have distinct meanings in the diamond world. “Origin” refers to where the diamond was mined. “Provenance” refers to the last stop (or any stop a diamond made) before arriving at the jeweler. If a jeweler tells you a diamond is Australian in its provenance, it means that the diamond at some point was in Australia (not that it was mined there). How a country or company gets a diamond remains unknown and undescribed. 

As another example, a vendor might advertise “beyond conflict-free diamonds” that are “Botswana sort” diamonds. The diamonds, though, come from Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana, but are sorted in Botswana. The diamonds aren’t necessarily mined in Botswana. They could be from a country with below-standard mining practices.

You’ll also want to watch for Russian diamonds that are referred to as “beyond conflict-free.” The Human Rights Watch identifies Russia as oppressive, and the diamond industry is not exempt.

Before buying from a “conflict-free” or “beyond conflict-free” vendor, be sure to conduct thorough research. Read about the company and the diamonds’ original, verifiable whereabouts.

Issue 4: Finding recycled metal for your setting 

The mining of precious metals damages the environment. According to Yale School of the Environment, gold mining has a huge impact on forests, particularly in tropical regions:

”According to a 2012 study, mining accounts for 7% of deforestation in developing nations and large-scale and artisanal, small-scale gold mining techniques such as open-pit mining and dredging are becoming more prevalent in the Amazon and West Africa.” Yale School of the Environment

This means that even if you locate a 100% conflict-free diamond, you’ll need to pair the diamond with a recycled metal setting to minimize its impact on the natural world.

Most jewelers use new precious metal for their ring settings. A truly sustainable engagement ring is made of recycled precious metal or a reused setting.

Best Places to Buy Ethical Engagement Rings

Even with the challenges of socially conscious engagement rings, you can find ethically sourced rings. The options below guarantee that you’re not buying a diamond from an artisanal mine that violates human rights. You can find a beautiful ring that also helps make the world a safer, better place. 

For a 100% ethical engagement ring, be sure any diamond is placed in a setting made of recycled metal. If the vendor doesn’t market recycled metal settings, ask them if it’s an option. Or buy the diamond separately and seek a vendor who uses recycled metal to make custom settings. 

Option 1: Canadian diamond engagement rings

Canada is newer to diamond production but is a major source of quality diamonds, most of which can be traced to their source. Canadian diamonds are mined within the country’s strict fair labor laws and environmental guidelines. They respect local indigenous people. With a unique ID number, CanadaMark diamonds can be traced from their mine to their vendor. 

Option 2: Lab-created diamond engagement rings

Lab-grown diamonds are great for ethical engagement rings. The diamonds are man-made without causing harm to miners or the environment. Lab-created diamonds look the same as natural diamonds and make for beautiful eco-friendly engagement rings. It’s important to note that lab-created diamonds have little to no resale value

Option 3: Recycled diamond engagement rings

Recycled diamonds and engagement rings are becoming increasingly popular. With a recycled diamond, you avoid the ethical and environmental problems of newly mined diamonds. Recycled diamonds can be removed from their original settings, and even recut and repolished.

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Option 4: Kalahari Dream engagement rings

A new solution recently arrived on the market. If you want to avoid ethical pitfalls, this is the optimal option for you. You can support African communities reliant on diamond industry income while ensuring the stone is ethically sourced.

Kalahari Dream is a venture of De Beers sightholder Leo Schachter Diamonds. They sell diamonds direct to the consumer that they’ve purchased directly from southern African mining companies (such as ODC, Debswana, and Lucara).

The big difference between Kalahari Dream and Brilliant Earth? Brilliant Earth is similar to Blue Nile in that they list diamonds that belong to someone else. With Brilliant Earth, you rely on other companies’ honesty in claiming that a diamond is actually from a certain place versus another. Even if you can verify the diamond’s origin, you won’t know where the diamond was polished.

Kalahari is the exact opposite. They own all the diamonds they sell. They own the diamonds from the initial purchase from the Debswana partnership between the Botswana government and De Beers. They polish the diamonds in their local factories—employing hundreds of local citizens. The Kalahari Dream process is airtight and provides immeasurable good for the people of Botswana.

Review empowering stories like that of Goabaone Wetshootsile and Kemmonye Kgatitswe to learn more about the positive impact of Kalahari Dream.

Overall Recommendation for Buying an Ethical Engagement Ring 

Buying a ring from the above choices ensures an ethical engagement ring. Except for Kalahari Dream, the options deprive African communities of income that they rely on for their livelihood. 
In our global economy, it’s hard to know the full journey of any good we buy.  Whether it’s an engagement ring or a pair of pants, we’re often unsure of the working conditions and environmental impact involved. In general, we recommend doing your research and choosing a diamond that feels right to you. You can also reach out to our experts and they’ll help you determine the best option for your desires and budget.

James Allen James Allen is the leader in online diamond sales. Their imaging technology is the same as inspecting a diamond with a jeweler's loupe. They have the largest exclusive loose diamond inventory online and fantastic prices. They also have the nicest collection of lab-created diamonds online.
What we love about them:
  • No questions asked returns within 30 days of shipment. James Allen will send you a paid shipping label to return the ring.
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Free International Shipping
  • Free prong tightening, repolishing, rhodium plating and cleaning every 6 months
  • Provide insurance appraisals
  • One free resizing within 60 days of purchase
  • Free ring inscriptions
  • Best-in-class high quality imagery of all diamonds in stock
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Blue Nile Blue Nile is the largest and most well-known internet jewelry seller. They have a very large exclusive online inventory. Their high-quality images are catching up to James Allens' and their prices are amazing. 
What we love about them:
  • No questions asked returns within 30 days of shipment. Blue Nile will send you a paid shipping label to return the ring.
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Free Shipping
  • Free prong tightening, repolishing, rhodium plating and cleaning every 6 months
  • Provide insurance appraisal
  • One free resizing within the first year of purchase
  • High quality images of about half of their diamonds
  • 24/7 Customer Service
  • 100% credit towards future upgrades (must be at least double in value)
  • Best in class fulfillment
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About the author

Mike Fried Mike Fried Mike Fried has over 25 years experience in the diamond industry working with Leo Schachter Diamonds, Moshe Namdar Diamonds, and joining The Diamond Pro in 2007. He is recognized as an industry expert and has been quoted in publications such as Us, People, Page Six, The Next Web and more.

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