Engagement ring diamonds have a history of being mined in dangerous, war-ridden countries. With so many alternatives for conflict-free engagement rings, there's no need to support the blood diamond industry. Here are those alternatives.

Engagement rings are a beautiful way to begin a life together as a couple, but there’s a long history to the diamond (or other gemstone) you choose—and it’s not always a good one.

In this post we’ll cover whether conflict-free engagement rings really exist and places where you can get buy diamonds and other gemstones without an ethical quandary.

What does ‘conflict-free’ mean?

Conflict diamonds, a.k.a. blood diamonds, are mined under cruel working conditions, most notably in poor African countries. Miners are subject to substandard working and safety conditions and child labor may also be used. The mines may be run by warlords who use the profits to fund bloodshed.

Diamonds or other stones that are considered “conflict-free” are certified by independent agencies that vouch for the stones’ origin.

Recently, blood diamonds have come to the attention of the world and thus the Kimberley Process was born.

The Kimberley Process started when Southern African diamond-producing states met in Kimberley, South Africa, in 2000. They discussed ways to stop the trade in conflict diamonds and ensure that diamond purchases were not financing violence by rebel movements.

The same year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that supported the creation of an international certification scheme for “rough diamonds” (blood diamonds). This is known as the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.

Currently, the KP has 54 participants, representing 81 countries.

Participants can only legally trade with other KP participants. Also, international shipments of diamonds must have a KP certificate guaranteeing that they’re conflict-free.

Does the Kimberly Process really work?

The Kimberley Process was a big step towards stopping violent mining practices. But many people have doubts as to whether or not the system actually works.

An article from The Guardian sums up the potential holes in the KP:

“The process has two main flaws. First, its narrow terms of certification focus solely on the mining and distribution of conflict diamonds, meaning that broader issues around worker exploitation–the health and safety of working conditions, the use of child labour and fair pay–are not addressed. Second, a Kimberley Process certificate does not apply to an individual stone but to a batch of rough diamonds which are then cut and shipped around the world. Without a tracking system, this is where the trail ends.”

The Kimberley Process appears to be better in theory than practice, according to this article.

Zimbabwe is one of the countries that has had the most controversy in maintaining its standing as a KP participant.

In 2010, the BBC came out with an article stating that “whenever an official from the Kimberley Process visits the diamond fields there is an upsurge in violence, whereby the soldiers victimize ordinary civilians who they accuse of illegal panning, he explains.”

Again, the KP seems to be working against itself in this instance.

These articles are from a few years back, so luckily there’s been a resurgence in the faith of the Kimberley Process.

In February of 2017, the UN met to discuss the issues with the Kimberley Process.

Angola’s representative was outspoken about his belief that the Kimberley Process does work. His only wish was that it would have been implemented sooner. He stated:

“I strongly believe Angola would not have faced a painful three decades of civil war — one of the longest conflicts in the history of mankind, mainly fueled by illicit rough diamonds — if such a powerful mechanism would have been implemented earlier.”

The Kimberley Process needs to be improved and participating countries need to be held accountable for the safety of the miners, not just the profit of the mines. But the fact that it exists at all is a step forward.

What about environmentally friendly stones?

Not only do diamonds and other gemstones have a history of human rights violations, the mines themselves can also wreak havoc on the environment. While still not a perfect system, small independent mines tend to be less horrible to the environment and the mines can later be turned into a more sustainable venture, such as the former mines in Luc Yen, Vietnam which are now rice fields.

If you’re looking for the most sustainable gemstones possible, you’ll want to look for jewelers in Canada.

Canada—The conflict-free gem capital of the world

If your diamond is from Canada, it has likely been ethically mined.

The Canadian Diamond Code of Conduct ensures that diamonds are mined sustainably and ethically. You can find diamond retailers that abide by the code here.

Canada also has the highest environmental standards for their miners. In fact, working in a mine in Canada is a very safe occupation.

Jewelers that offer conflict-free diamonds

James Allen

James Allen has long been Money Under 30’s recommended source for finding quality diamond engagement rings at an incredible value online. James Allen goes above and beyond the Kimberley Process (which they also still participate in), to offer conflict-free diamonds. James Allen states:

Although the United Nation’s Kimberley Process only covers diamonds under the control of legitimate and recognized governments, conflict-free goes one step further by rejecting diamonds from governments that trade in diamonds to bankroll their conflicts.

James Allen goes this step further, exceeding government requirements. They “have binding contracts with [their] suppliers which guarantee that the diamonds they offer are conflict-free. [They] do not purchase polished diamonds from sources which are not members of the professional diamond trade.”

In addition, James Allen is the exclusive online retailer of CanadaMark Diamonds. CanadaMark diamonds are specially certified as being mined in Canada and are considered the highest standard when it comes to “ethical diamonds”.

Learn more about James Allen or shop rings now.

Special James Allen Promotion: 25% Off Sale* (Exclusions apply).

Brilliant Earth

Brilliant Earth criticizes the Kimberley Process (while still participating) and takes even more steps to ensure their jewelry is “beyond conflict-free.”

The really are conflict-free all-around. They’re environmentally conscious, only get their gems from ethical sources, and they offer LGBT friendly engagement rings.

Etsy

If you’re considering purchasing anything else other than a diamond, Etsy is full of private sellers who make their own rings out of wood, platinum, and more.

These you can be sure are conflict-free since the rings are homemade, and often much cheaper than traditional engagement rings.

Blue Nile

We’ve written about Blue Nile before in our guide on How To Buy An Engagement Ring Online. Not only are they one of the most reputable online jewelers, but they’re one of the more ethical companies.

They follow the Kimberley Process and also only use ethically sources gold as well. On their site, they specifically address the issue in Zimbabwe and refuse to buy diamonds from the area.

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Equalli

Equalli only buys ethically sourced gems, but they’re also dedicated to another social cause—supporting the LGBT community in their right to marriage.

All their jewelry is hand crafted and ethically mined. They independently source sapphires directly from 24 mining locations around the world, and the profits from the stones go right back into community projects.

Fair Trade Jewellery Co.

A Canadian-based company, Fair Trade Jewellery offers a variety of diamonds and gemstones that have gone through a thorough audit process to ensure they’re ethical.

They are also the first jeweler in North America to use Fair Trade gold for their bands. If you’ve seen Fair Trade coffee and cocoa, that’s the same company that certifies their gold.

Are other stones conflict-free?

There are many meaningful alternatives to diamonds—especially due to the expense that comes with them. But many of these precious stones are not without their own conflict.

Sapphires

Sapphires have been used to fund military regime’s in Myanmar (formerly Burma) for many years. While the government is no longer controlled by militia groups in Myanmar, there are still serious safety hazards in the mines.

The Natural Sapphire Company is the best provider of ethical Sapphires. They work with responsible landowners who mine with minimal environmental damage. They then cut the material right in their own factory, eliminating the middlemen.

Equalli (see above) also offers ethical sapphires.

Emeralds

Despite the picture we used for this article, emeralds are definitely not without their conflict.

Colombia is the emerald capital of the world and has constantly been under attack from rival families who want to control the mines.

Brilliant Earth and the other jewelers mentioned above offer conflict free emeralds as well as diamonds and other gemstones.

Gold

Many of the jewelers above only use gold that is ethically mined as well as diamonds. Gold is what makes up a majority of the ring itself—so you shouldn’t forget that it has its problems too.

Fair Trade Jewellery (see above) is the only North American jeweler that offers Fair Trade certified gold.

** these are just a few other gemstones that have a history of issues, and now ethical alternatives. There are many more and you should always do your research before buying any gemstone.

Consider synthetic gemstones

Want to avoid the conflict of diamonds and gemstones altogether? Don’t buy them. These days you can get man-made gemstones that look identical to the real thing—and they’re cheaper!

These engagement rings are also more sustainable, considering that there’s no mining involved. In addition, the companies that create these synthetic stones are great employers. Take Ada Diamonds, a startup in the Silicon Valley, for example. Founded by a husband and wife, they do their best to design the perfect ring for every client.

Summary

The diamond and gemstone industry is rife with problems, but as conflict diamonds have come to the surface and now get more media coverage, there are plenty of jewelers that offer ethical, conflict-free engagement rings.

Shop now: See conflict-free diamonds from James Allen

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About the author

Total Articles: 104
Christopher Murray is former Senior Editor at Money Under 30. Chris received a BA in English Literature and Gender Studies from Smith College. He now lives in Maine with his husband where he spends his free time watching reruns of The X-Files and dreaming of traveling in a refurbished VW Bus while writing the next Great American Novel.