These days, consumers are interested not exclusively in the product they are buying, but also in its origins. The human and environmental impact that a buyer’s purchase may have is now more important to them. This trend has spread from the food industry to the fashion industry, where recently we've seen pushes by digital fashion business industry publication Business of Fashion to keep the industry honest about its treatment of labourers and the environmental impact of “fast fashion”. In the same vein, there’s an increasing demand for ethical engagement rings from socially conscious brides-to-be. Tiffany & Company, for example, has responded to the demands of a younger customer with a campaign that promises to be transparent about where and how their diamonds are mined, cut, polished and set.
While the industry is far from perfect, most of the diamonds on the market now are said to be conflict-free – that is, have not been mined to fund civil wars and other conflict or human rights abuses and war crimes. Most of the world’s diamonds now come from ethical mines in countries including Botswana, Namibia and Canada, where the mines don’t have records of human-rights abuses. A lot of emphasis has been placed on conflict diamonds (or “blood diamonds”) in recent years, but it’s important to remember that millions of workers, often in remote communities, rely on the diamond industry for their livelihoods. There are many jewellers and diamond merchants working towards creating a more transparent and traceable buying process, so watch this space. In the meantime, the below suggestions are here to help you make a purchase that’s as responsible and ethical as possible.
Vintage or antique
One way of making sure your engagement ring is ethical is buying a vintage or antique ring, or (for those lucky enough to have them) using jewels you’ve inherited. As I touched on in my previous column, vintage and antique jewellery has a character and charm of its own. And you can have complete peace of mind knowing your purchase is environmentally friendly. If the antique look is not your style, perhaps take a leaf from Prince Harry's book and consider having stones from an inherited ring reused in a contemporary creation.
Mining precious metals such as gold can be an ugly business, and often has a negative effect on the environment. “Producing one single gold ring can generate up to 20 tonnes of mine waste, with mercury and cyanide going into the water system,” New York jeweller Monique Péan told Business Of Fashion.
If you have some old or inherited gold jewellery gathering dust, why not melt it down and reuse it to create a new engagement ring? The process is far more personal and will have less of an impact on the environment. Most good bespoke jewellers will be happy to do this for you. If you don't have any old gold lying around, there are Australian jewellers using recycled gold to make contemporary creations.
The diamond industry still has a long way to go in terms of traceability. Although the Kimberley Process was established in 2003 (it introduced strict guidelines that rough diamond traders must meet before they can ship their products globally) it has since been reported that the certification scheme is not always reliable and only covers a specific range of abuses. While it’s a step forward, conflict diamonds are still being smuggled out to neighbouring countries.
One way to ensure you’re getting a gemstone from an area of KP compliance is to buy it on home soil. The well-known Argyle mine in Western Australia is known for its rare pink-coloured diamonds, and areas of Queensland and New South Wales are rich with dark-blue and green-blue parti sapphires, as well as countless types of the lesser-known but no less beautiful gemstones. If you do your homework you may be pleasantly surprised at what’s on your doorstep.
Get in touch with Olivia Bond to secure an appointment here. She is also happy to travel interstate.