Diamond engagement rings have been a longstanding, popular symbol for commitment, marriage, and eternity. Since 1477 and for hundreds of years, mixed diamond and precious stone engagement rings were a trend among the rich nobility and royalty.
The demand for diamonds brought on the development of massive, unstable, and conflict-creating mining sites around the world. Today, global mines dig up about 90 million carats worth of rough diamonds and 1,600 tons of gold annually.
Advertising had a key role in turning diamond mining into an industry worth about $300 billion. De Beers launched an ad campaign in the 1930s with the slogan ‘a diamond is forever’ that turned diamonds into a high-demand item for marriages. It is one of the longest-running and most successful ad campaigns to date.
Lately, though, there’s been a shift in opinion. People are considering alternatives to real diamond engagement rings and gold wedding bands. Two main reasons being diamond and gold mining are culprits of massive human rights violations and environmental destruction.
Here are some facts you should know about diamond and gold mining:
Diamond and gold mining is an environmental issue
- Gold mining emits about 32, 689 metric tons of carbon dioxide for 1 metric ton of gold, equal the collective annual emissions from 6,940 passenger vehicles. Source: euronews.com
- Diamond mining produces about 160kg of carbon dioxide, equivalent to burning 176 pounds of coal, for 1 polished carat. Source: diamondproducers.com
- Mining development causes soil erosion, deforestation, exploited rivers, forced removal of locals, and loss of wildlife. Source: brilliantearth.com
Diamond and gold mining working conditions are a human rights issue
- Processing gold exposes workers to toxic chemicals such as mercury. Source: hrw.org
- Mining in certain unregulated areas led to unfair, abusive, child labor and human trafficking. Mining in pits is typically an unstable and dangerous process. Source: heng.diamondsforpeace.org
- Demand for diamonds developed war zones and civil wars in some countries. Source: hrw.org
Given the state of the diamond industry, you may want to consider other options for engagement rings.
Here are some more sustainable wedding ring alternatives
- Vintage rings – Ask a jeweler to reset or recut an old stone into a modern, recycled gold or platinum ring. Buy secondhand rings from auction sites.
- Family heirloom rings — Ask your family if there is a tradition of passing down rings between relatives.
- Embossed or engraved rings without stones — Choose recycled gold or platinum.
Important Note: Manmade or lab-grown diamond, cubic zirconia, and semi-precious stone rings are not necessarily eco-friendly as some sources suggest. The FTC warned several lab-grown diamond (LGD) operations not to mislead consumers with false advertising claiming the LGD process is sustainable and eco-friendly. Artificially growing diamonds requires a ton of energy. A significant number of LGD companies operate in cities with power grids that rely primarily on coal and natural gas. The problem is LGD companies aren't being transparent about their sourcing, extraction and production processes.
Semi-precious stones such as morganite, emerald and topaz have become more popular as engagement rings but are not any better. Some of these crystals are mined in places like Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo where mining operations may be committing human rights and environmental violations.
Questions to ask before buying a diamond ring
Diamond jewelers that fully meet international standards of human rights due diligence and cruelty-free standards are hard to find. If you choose to get a diamond ring, do your research and look into the jeweler’s sourcing practices.
- Where was the diamond made? Can you provide the names of the people who made it? If the exact place of origin is unknown, then the diamond may have been smuggled in from a conflict zone. Look for diamonds mined in Canada that should abide by Canadian environmental and labor laws. Some other areas including Namibia and Botswana may also abide by environmental and labor laws.
- Do you have KP (Kimberly Process) certification? KP is an international organization that oversees transparency in the diamond trading industry, aiming to stop conflict diamonds or diamonds traded by violent rebel groups.
- Is your gold fair trade certified? Options include MACDESA, AURELSA, and SOTRAMI in Peru, SAMA in Uganda.
- Do you have recycled platinum or gold? New gold and platinum mining leaves behind toxic waste and harms the environment. Recycled material is more sustainable.
- Where was the diamond cut and polished? Even if the diamond came from a cruelty-free zone, it may still have been cut and polished in a sweatshop.
- Do you give a portion of your profits to an organization that helps with natural resource exploitation, conflict elimination, poverty issues, corruption issues, and human rights abuses? Some jewelers donate to organizations that help stop or combat cruelty in the diamond mining industry.
Exchanging engagement and wedding rings are meaningful practices. The circle shape, symbolizes unity and eternity making them an important symbol of love and commitment. Luckily, since there are so many alternatives out there, you can keep tradition while also sticking to your values.
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