Ethical Diamonds: A Guide to Buying Conflict-Free Jewelry

Guide to buying conflict-free and ethical diamonds: We examine just what constitutes “ethical” when sourcing items of jewelry, and diamonds in particular.

Introduction to Ethical Jewelry

We all try to make the proper moral and ethical decisions throughout our lives. Using a specific brand of items is significant to some customers, whether it involves buying free-range food or wearing cruelty-free cosmetics.

The same goes true when it comes to purchasing various jewelry pieces. Jewelry businesses have a responsibility to ethical production, much like apparel retailers or shoe manufacturers do.

With a focus on diamonds, we’ll explain in this guide exactly what qualifies an item of jewelry as ethical.

6 "ethical diamonds" on a black background
Photo by Edgar Soto on Unsplash

Diamond production history

The adjective “adamas” was used to designate the hardest substance known, and eventually became synonymous with diamond. The word “diamond” derives from the Greek “adamao,” which means “I tame” or “I subdue.”

Diamonds were originally known to exist in human history as early as the 4th century BC. Even so, it wouldn’t be until the 1400s that the substance started to gain favor with Europe’s aristocracy.

At this point, production was exclusive to India.  For almost 300 years, the Asian country supported diamond production. But just like with any natural resource, centuries of mining the gem used to have their value.

By the 1700s, India was unable to meet the disproportionate demand for its diamond exports. Although a modest quantity of the gem was discovered in Brazil, South Africa caught everyone’s interest.

A new diamond rush had started with the discovery of the Star of South Africa. To take advantage of this rich mine, people began pouring into the African country.

Where do diamonds come from?

Deep underground, a variety of natural processes are used to create diamonds themselves. Many have been forced up into layers that can be mined as a result of the movement of the Earth’s plates and intense pressure (sometimes from long-ago volcanic eruptions).

From the time a diamond is buried until it is worn on your finger, there are six main stages in the manufacturing process:

  1. Exploration

The main source of diamond production is kimberlite rocks. Diamond prospectors examine these for magnetic fields that might suggest the presence of a priceless gem.

  1. Mining

In order to remove objects from the ground, special technologies are introduced. Depending on where the diamonds are situated, many types of mining systems are used at this stage of the procedure. These consist of:

  • Uncovered mines – When diamonds are found close to the surface, the most prevalent type of mining is performed.
  • Mining underground – Building mining tunnels may be necessary when a resource is located further underground.
  • Marine mining – When something is retrieved from the bottom of the sea.
  • Small-scale mining – A non-industrial method for resource recovery whereby small-scale local groups participate on a fundamental level
  1. Sorting

Following extraction, diamonds are categorized based on their size and prospective worth. Additional factors include shape, quality, and color. As a result, there exist numerous groups.

  1. Cutting and polishing

Diamonds don’t emerge out of the ground dazzling, despite the fact that they appear expensive when they are utilized in jewelry. The precious jewels are shaped and polished by professionals so they are ready for sale.

  1. Industrial production

The finished product can now be made from diamonds. They will then be incorporated into jewelry pieces like rings and necklaces.

  1. Profit-making
  • In 2020, the value of the global luxury jewelry market reached $228 billion.
  • The retail jewelry market in the US has increased to $33.9 billion.
  • Among millennial females, 51% purchase their own jewelry.
  • Women prefer white gold by 35%.
  • Compared to other age groups, people aged 55 to 64 purchase the most jewelry and watches.
  • With 650 million carats of diamonds, Russia has the largest diamond resource in the world.
  • LVMH is the largest jewelry retailer in the world, with an estimated $54 billion in revenue annually.
  • Sales for Chanel total $13.7 billion annually.

Although expensive, the production method is efficient. The quantity of diamonds still present in the Earth’s crust is decreasing due to efficiency in mining and jewelry production.

A decline in the quantity of diamonds being sourced has been observed in recent years due to a lack of sustainable manufacturing. Since the aforementioned peak in 2005, the demand for ethical jewelry has increased significantly.

What exactly is ethical jewelry?

Yes to Life, No to Mining

It is not normal to think about a piece of jewelry’s origin when you look at it. However, the effects of the mining industry on the environment and local communities as well as the source of diamonds and other precious jewels may be alarming.

Ethical measures have been adopted to enhance sustainability and the standard of living for individuals who source the gems in order to mitigate any potential harm. These modifications have been put into practice in a variety of ways.

Transparency in the supply chain

An increased emphasis has been focused on making sure that every stage of the diamond mining process is documented and made available to the public. To do this, one must follow a diamond’s history from the time it is discovered until it is put to use in jewelry.

De Beers even went so far as to develop a blockchain platform that allowed them to track any diamond’s journey from the earth to a storefront, demonstrating the enormous development that has been done in this area thus far. This ensures that only sustainable techniques have been used.

No use of child labor

This is unquestionable that the practice of child labor goes against what most people are prepared to tolerate, especially in such difficult circumstances. Surprisingly, this type of workforce is commonly used in mining areas throughout Africa and India.

This frequently results in children not receiving an education, thereby sentencing them to a life of mining labor. Apparently, ethical jewelry prohibits using a workforce that is composed of minors.

Even though the practice is prohibited by current child labor laws, certain developing nations will ignore the rules. To guarantee that all sanctions are upheld and to stop any future harm from being done to the young of developing nations, organizations like Diamonds For Peace are fighting to do this.

More funds and resources should be donated to the community

Taxes on the diamonds and profit-sharing agreements are frequently advantageous to the governments of nations with diamond mines. Additionally, mining corporations keep a large portion of the revenue.

Only when there is concrete proof that the local community is receiving a fair and equal share of the profits can diamonds be considered ethical. This can be used to replenish essential resources including housing, healthcare, and education.

It can be challenging to determine with certainty whether the diamonds you’re buying come from places where the labor force is paid fairly and equally. Therefore, it is essential to contact fair trade organizations. They assist in creating a system where individuals who source the gems can directly profit.

Used diamonds

For the diamond industry, recycling is a realistic solution. It’s sustainable since precious stones are used again. By using jewelry that has already been sourced, the mining process is avoided.

One of the examples is to consider recycled and ethical sourcing metals in your wedding ring. Up to 20 tons of garbage might be generated by just one wedding ring. Precious metal mining can result in toxic waste products that frequently contaminate groundwater, killing fish and rendering land worthless for irrigation. Oftentimes, the contaminated water makes its way to our oceans.

A minimal impact on the environment

Diamond mining still carries a possible risk even though it is less detrimental to the environment than most other types of mining (due to the absence of toxic elements).

Local ecosystems may be severely harmed by the tearing apart of substantial portions of the Earth’s crust. If their water supply is disturbed, this could negatively affect tiny villages, wildlife, and the surrounding environment.

Systems have been put in place in nations like Namibia and Botswana to guarantee that the local ecosystem is safeguarded when mining takes place. Additionally, artisanal miners are a genius technique to guarantee that the environment is only slightly harmed.

The value of purchasing ethical jewelry

You support the cause every time you decide to purchase ethical jewelry rather than something that was obtained using unethical methods. But what change are you really going to make?

The effect on local communities

There has been consideration given to the problems of mining villages. Initiatives have been put in place to guarantee that workers receive a fair and balanced distribution of wealth in light of the country’s extreme circumstances.

Perhaps the clearest example of this is Liberia’s Fair Diamond Mining program. Thanks to heavy machinery, fewer workers are now required to perform manual labor.

Additionally, it has worked to lower “unfair fees,” where users are either required to pay for the right to mine or are only paid when they locate a gem. This has made it possible to give the local community a larger portion of the profits.

The effect on the environment

Any type of mining, no matter how ethical, will have an effect on the environment. A natural habitat will be disturbed by the usage of machinery, which may negatively impact the life of the inhabitants.

As a result, there are two strategies used to address this problem.

  1. Energy efficiency

The equipment needed to find diamonds requires a lot of energy to work. This can sometimes signify that non-renewable resources (like coal) are getting depleted.

A renewed emphasis has been made on making sure energy sustainability is taken into account when mining in order to address the issue. A number of organizations, all of which are attempting to do their part to preserve resources, have maybe served as good examples of this:

  • Rio Tinto

Two significant mines owned by this corporation are subject to drastically different weather conditions. Western Australia struggles with extreme heat, whilst Canada experiences minus 40 degrees Celsius.

Rio Tinto makes the most of these climatic features rather than relying on non-renewable sources of energy to run these operations. 9.2-megawatt turbines are powered by Canada’s strong winds, and Australia’s hydroelectricity keeps the complex functioning smoothly.

  • Alrosa

In just one year, this business was able to cut its energy use by as much as 4%. This has largely been made possible by the transition to gas-powered vehicles and the advent of new, very energy-efficient machinery.

  • Petra

Petra has changed its system in a variety of ways. Heat pumps, LED lamps, and solar heating systems have all been introduced. All of these developments are a part of a plan to use energy more effectively.

Higher demands for the value of ethical manufacturing have led to these activities. These industrial firms are responding as our society places a greater emphasis on the need to protect the environment.

But more than just using a greener strategy will contribute.

  1. Artificial diamonds

Artificially manufactured diamonds are now being produced in greater quantities than ever before. Once more, increased worries over sustainability have made this a popular choice.

How ethical diamonds are influencing the diamond industry’s future

Many diamonds on a grey background
Image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay

Even just a few decades ago, the world was a completely different place. The increased emphasis on ethical behavior brought on by our expanding understanding of how our activities influence the world and the people in it has already had an effect on the diamond industry.

But how will the sector’s appearance change?

Widespread use of blockchain

As was previously mentioned, De Beers has already tested blockchain technology for tracking diamond transit. The early success can significantly alter how it is approached moving forward.

All vendors may adopt blockchain to track the origin of their supplies and determine if they were obtained ethically or not. Even using specialized ID to search up the precise travel on an internet database by the customer may become standard.

The influence of consumers

People are becoming more concerned about the source of their products. Particularly in recent decades, environmental perspectives have undergone a significant transformation.

Putting a green lifestyle ahead of economic growth would have seemed inconceivable for a country like the US, but recent research found that 70% of Americans believed it to be a more urgent problem.

With such a fundamentally different perspective on the world, it makes sense that the demand for diamonds made responsibly will continue to grow.

‘Fake’ diamonds are being promoted

The development of lab-grown diamonds has gained more significance as a natural byproduct of this. Despite some people’s contention that they can’t hold a candle to the genuine thing, they actually provide a very environmentally friendly alternative. People who are willing to spend money on anything other than natural products now have a clear market.

Ethical products will undoubtedly have a significant influence on the future, no matter where it goes.