The De Beers diamond company once made diamonds synonymous with love in their iconic marketing campaigns, but diamonds are often synonymous with danger, conflict, violence and greed. Since the 2006 movie Blood Diamonds with Leonardo Dicaprio was released, many more customers are now aware of the tragic history that was and often still is part of the diamond industry.
Today, diamond jewellers and companies make a substantial effort to sell 'ethical diamonds,' but what does that really mean?
How do we judge an 'ethical' diamond ring?
There are a few categories and requirements a diamond has to have in order to be considered 'ethically' sourced, crafted and sold.
Conflict free engagement rings and diamonds
If diamonds are 'conflict-free,' it means the collection, transport and sale of the diamonds were not involved with financing any civil wars or conflicts in the diamond industry’s countries.
When ordering takeout, we never have to wonder, 'is McDonald's funding any wars or conflicts through the meat and fast food industries?' - the same can not always be said for diamond dealers and retailers. The luxurious jewelry, engagement rings and wedding rings many of us pay for and wear, come at a much higher price to the countries that diamonds are mined from.
Conflict and corruption are a part of the profit margins in the blood diamond trade - but don’t be disheartened, conflict-free engagement rings can be bought. It just takes some effort on each customer’s part to ensure a more ethical and sustainable diamond industry.
Before buying a car, washing machine or television, a little market research and comparison is done between brands, retailers and manufacturers of these big ticket items. The same should be said for engagement rings and jewelry - customers should research big names companies and their diamond mining policies or practices before they buy their beautiful jewelry. If not, your fiance or partner could end up wearing the products of war, corruption and exploitation.
There is not a lot of transparency when it comes to tracing diamonds back to their sources. Therefore, customers need to be aware and conscious when buying jewelry as not every diamond wedding or engagement ring is ethical, conflict free or sustainable. Diamond miners and dealers are supposed to follow 'The Kimberley Process' (a fair and honest trade process), but diamonds change hands so frequently that there are likely conflict-free gems and blood diamonds sold together on the same designer wedding ring.
Canada's Dominion Diamond Mines have expanded and furthered the previously unreliable Kimberley Process. Canadamark diamonds are far more closely audited and tracked via serial numbers on each diamond. Therefore, when you buy engagement rings with a Canadamark that means you’re buying truly ethical
Canadamark diamonds are far more transparent with their customers about the path from mine to market. There is far less ambiguity when it comes to the diamond’s mining and trading origins and the conflicts it may have been involved in, therefore they are far more 'ethical' than other diamonds. As they say ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’ - customers should have this peace of mind when wearing their precious engagement and wedding diamonds.
But not all diamonds sold within Canada are ethical. Canadamark diamonds should have a certificate of authenticity presented when they’re purchased. If not, then they can't be verified as ethical and honest diamonds.
Sustainable Diamonds (Lab-Created Diamonds)
Just as vegetarians and vegans take issue with unethical and unsustainable food production, diamond-lovers take issue with unethical blood diamonds. With the help of modern science, the diamond industry has expanded to include artificial, eco-friendly and entirely beautiful 'lab-grown' diamonds.
Diamonds grown and created in a laboratory eliminate all danger, exploitation and ethical challenges that traditional diamonds bring. According to Ryan Shearman, the founder and CEO of Aether Diamonds, which creates carbon-negative diamond jewelry: lab-grown diamonds also cost 25% - 45% less to produce, not to mention there is a massive eco friendly planetary benefit when eliminating mining.
On average, for every single carat that is mined:
- 250 tonnes of the earth are removed from the site
- 127 gallons of water are used
- 143 pounds of pollution are emitted
It is then fair to say that lab-grown diamonds have a far greater eco friendly and sustainable appeal to them since so much does not have to be wasted or used to create them. All that's needed to create a single lag-grown carat diamond is
- A state-of-the-art laboratory, with staff
- High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) or Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) machines and technicians
- An enclosed chamber to heat the 'diamond seeds.'
- Methane and other carbon-rich gasses
- High levels of electricity and human labor
With the above resources, a team of scientists can create diamonds (essentially from nothing) when mimicking the time-intensive natural process of diamond creation. It takes a lot of energy, resources and knowledge to produce lab-grown diamonds, but it is possible to create diamonds without exploitation, violence and undue stress. Which means, if you support lab-grown diamond retailers, it becomes possible to buy sustainable engagement rings and jewelry.
At first, these two words seem at odds with each other. When one writes the phrase 'the perfect engagement ring,' they don't immediately think of the phrase 'reduce, reuse, recycle.' But these contrasting ideas can collaborate when it comes to defining the terms' ethical diamonds' and 'sustainable diamonds'
Recycled diamonds are not entirely ethical as many diamonds that are recut, repurposed or reset may have been involved in unethical diamond practices - but these processes are not being repeated for the sake of this new wedding band or engagement ring, and that's what makes the new diamond more ethical, eco friendly and sustainable.
Recycling mined diamonds prevents continued harm and unethical processes when creating new diamond jewelry. While 'recycling' might not be the most effective marketing term for diamond buyers - it could be rebranded as ‘eco-friendly engagement rings’, ‘heirloom honouring jewelry’, ‘antique and ethical wedding rings’ and hidden treasure are a few words that may sway nay-sayers to reconsider.
Which diamonds are ethical? Which brands can you trust?
Discussion on ethical diamonds has spread far and wide, but large diamond companies and corporations still often operate in unethical, unsustainable and undesirable ways to produce their diamonds.
But wouldn’t we know if Tiffiany’s and Cartier were buying and selling blood diamonds? Not necessarily.
Researching a diamond retailer's website can be a great way to verify if they've taken on any ethical and sustainable business practices. Anyone can view these websites and come to their own opinion on the company's policies and ethics. Below we analyze two popular brands and their websites to understand if they're ethically producing their diamond rings and earrings or only appearing to do so.
Tiffany & Co.
We reviewed the Tiffany & Co. website to understand more about this world-famous jeweller to the stars.
First, it's worth noting that Tiffany has no diamond mines of their own, so all mined diamonds are subject to another's actions and ethics.
Tiffany's ethics, sustainability and values are listed under the 'Stories' tab on their website.
Here, they speak on various initiatives, and trailblazing Tiffany & Co. has been a part of when attempting a more ethical diamond trade. Among Tiffany's ethical accomplishments are:
- A commitment to conflict-free diamond sourcing
- Sourcing diamonds through a more transparent process, known as the Kimberley Process
- Forming a new organization devoted to further defining and expanding ethical diamond practices. The Initiative For Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) was formed in 2006
Tiffany & Co. writes extensively on their commitment to ethics and sustainability, but there's a lack of clear, concise and reliable evidence of this effort on their website. Much of their 'Stories' section is written elaborately and descriptively without much evidence or references to ‘facts’. There's no mention of lab-grown diamonds, no services offered to customers who'd like to reuse and recut diamonds and no reference to outside sources to confirm their ethics.
Customers of Tiffany & Co. therefore, have to do their own research to verify if the brand is ethical, sustainable and transparent with its diamonds, as there is not enough information given on their website to verify their ethics beyond a few company policies.
We reviewed the Cartier website and its commitment to ethical diamonds. Under the tab 'La Maison,' there's a section titled 'Cartier and Corporate Social Responsibility.
Compared to the Tiffany website, one can see how much more information and documentation Cartier offers to prove their ethics and sustainability efforts. Importantly, all their information on ethical practices is listed under the 'Resources of Excellence' tab, which implies that Cartier understands that excellence stems from ethics, integrity and sustainability - which is admirable.
Under this section, one can learn about
- Cartier's Conflict-free diamond purchasing and support of the Kimberley Process
- The extensive lists and requirements of Cartier's corporate policies.
- Cartier's carbon-neutral position they've held since 2009
- A new LED lighting product Cartier commissioned and pioneered to lower energy consumption in all well-lit Cartier stores.
While not every Cartier customer likely cares to know about their policies and commitments, Cartier's open and honest approach indicates a more ethical and transparent company.
Cartier offers their ongoing business practices in an easy-to-read and detailed piece of writing. Unlike other essay-styled company pages, this website reads like a curriculum vitae, with all of Cartier's commitments and accomplishments set out for us to fact-check and process.
Sustainability and ethics pages often turn into flashy puff pieces designed to complement the company they're written about. However, Cartier's page reads as an honest pledge and commitment to its customers.
Are ethical diamonds more expensive?
No, they are often more affordable!
Mined diamonds have a much longer supply chain (meaning the diamonds change hands frequently) which leads to these diamonds having sky-high profit margins. But lab-grown diamonds only pass through a few hands before they're sold, which makes them a lot more affordable.
Sustainable and ethical diamonds are available and attainable. Companies and jewellers are taking steps to achieve a more ethical diamond trade, but there are still many obstacles and challenges in acquiring ethical diamonds through traditional dealers. Customers can find ethical, eco friendly, sustainable conflict free rings and jewelry if they are weary and conscious of their jewelers policies.
Customers can do their own research to verify whether a company's policies and ethics align with their own. But it's still up to larger companies and corporations to guarantee a sustainable future for the diamond industry.