Chances are if you’re shopping for engagement rings, you’ve put a lot of thought into the stone, metal, setting and price. But have you thought about the ring's origins? As one of the most important pieces of jewellery they'll ever buy, more and more couples are now looking at ethically sourced engagement rings.
And rightly so. For years the diamond trade, most notably in Africa, has been marred by unethical practices and human rights abuses, ranging from unsafe mining conditions, child labourers and conflict diamonds illegally traded by rebel groups for weapons and money. Coloured gemstones have also been entangled in world conflicts, too – for example, recent reports have said that famed Burmese ruby mines are being used to fund genocide in Myanmar.
"It's wonderful that as a generation we are increasingly aware of the importance of sourcing, but sadly it is still incredibly hard to guarantee an engagement ring is 100% ethical,” says Laura Kay, Owner & Creative Director of Tomfoolery London.
One of those brands attempting to reshape the industry is Fenton & Co. Specialising in coloured-gemstone engagement rings, the brand’s unique approach not only includes the ability to customise and purchase a ring online, but also to know what exactly has gone into creating the ring.
“When sourcing our gemstones we looked at countries that are leaders in the mining industry, in regard to sustainability and ethical practices. We then decided to tell our customers directly about the sourcing process and explain why we're sourcing gemstones from some countries and not others,” says Laura Lambert, Co-Founder of Fenton & Co.
While Laura admits there are still unethical and dangerous mines being operated around the world, there are also countries where mining is well regulated.
“Ethical mines are often either run by an international company that has shareholders and is holding itself up to a certain level, or it’s being run by a community in an artisanal way, akin to agriculture. “
Top tips for buying an ethical ring:
Make sure your diamond is Kimberly Process Certified
The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (often listed as KPCS) works with NGOs around the world to reduce the number of conflict diamonds.
Do your research and ask questions:
No doubt you’ll be doing plenty of research to find your engagement ring. As part of the process, ask the store or designer about their supply chain and whether their gold has come from a Fairtrade mine, or, if it's a coloured gemstone, whether it has been sourced by Gemfields. The more questions asked, the more likely brands will pay attention to their supply chain.
A great way to avoid adding demand to the world’s stone supply chain is to buy a vintage ring, or have a family heirloom redesigned in a new setting. A great place to look for vintage engagement rings is Burlington Arcade in London. A lot of stores within the arcade can redesign old settings as well.
Consider man-made diamonds
Another way to guarantee your stone has been ethically sourced is to buy a lab-grown diamond. Grown in a laboratory environment which replicates the exact conditions that produce natural diamonds, manmade diamonds can have the same physical, chemical and optical properties at a more affordable price.
Ethical engagement brands to know about
Fenton & Co
Fenton & Co is a female-founded UK brand focusing on unique rings using colourful gemstones. With the mission 'to make the luxury jewellery sector more transparent, accountable and accessible,' Fenton & Co take great care over where it sources materials and is also refreshingly open about the supply chain on its website.
Tiffany & Co
As one of the most famous luxury jewellery brands, Tiffany & Co is leading the way when it comes to sustainable and responsible practices. When it comes to diamonds, the brand goes beyond the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme with its own chain of custody controls, sourcing the majority of its rough diamonds and metals directly from mines they can vouch for or else using recycled stones. The brand also lists a number of sustainability reports and code of conducts on their website.
Another brand going above and beyond the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme is Brilliant Earth. Based in San Francisco, Brilliant Earth offers diamonds that have been carefully selected for their ethical and environmentally responsible origins. Sourcing diamonds from Canada, Botswana or Russia, the mines they use are known to minimise environmental degradation, maintain safe labour practices and support community development.
For something slightly more unique, London-based jewellery brand GFC Jewellery by Nilufer has released the Seraphina Collection, created in collaboration with Gemfields. The collection combines contemporary designs with responsibly-sourced Zambian emeralds, Mozambique rubies and Zambian amethyst.
New York based jewellery designer Shahla Karimi has recently collaborated with Diamond Foundry, America’s leading producer in lab-grown diamonds, to design a bridal collection that's handmade in New York using recycled-gold and lab-grown diamonds. The stones are 100% anatomically the same as mined diamonds but are created aboveground in San Francisco with proprietary Solar Technology.