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 gemstones) you choose — and it’s not always a good one.
When shopping for your loved one, the last thing you want to do is present them with a ring that has a horrendous past. Be sure to ask questions before you make your final decision. That way your partner can have a ring they cherish for a lifetime.
What Are Conflict-Free Diamonds?
Conflict diamonds, aka 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 also be run by warlords who use the profits to fund their wars.
Diamonds or other stones that are considered “conflict-free” are certified by independent agencies that vouch for the stones’ origin. They ensure these diamonds were created responsibly.
Blood diamonds have come to the attention of the world, which is what caused the Kimberley Process (KP) to be 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 participants across 85 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 Kimberley Process Really Work?
The Kimberley Process was a big step toward stopping violent mining practices. But many people have doubts as to whether or not the system actually works.
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.”
It’s clear that the Kimberley Process appears to be better in theory than practice. 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.”
Again, the KP seems to be working against itself in this instance.
These articles are admittedly from a few years back, and luckily there’s been a resurgence in the faith of the Kimberley Process. In February 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.
Conflict-Free Diamonds vs. Ethical Diamonds
While conflict-free and ethical diamonds are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference in their meaning. Conflict-free tends to refer to avoiding supporting diamond mines in war-torn areas where terrorists control the trade.
Ethical, on the other hand, refers more to the working conditions of the mine. Some mines get Kimberly certificates, yet they still underpay their workers and give them unsafe accommodations and working conditions.
Finding a conflict-free and ethically sourced diamond should be your goal. That way you can be sure it’s free from all kinds of conflict. Thankfully, many well-known names in the jewelry industry strive to only carry diamonds that are ethical and conflict-free.
Ethical Alternatives to Diamonds
Kalahari Dream advertises itself as “the diamond with a soul.” They work with shops in Botswana to produce conflict-free diamonds. They have a stamp of approval by the Kimberley Process, but they also report that they’re ethically sourced and conflict-free. The company also uses proceeds to support Southern African communities. They donate to orphanages, help communities get safe drinking water, build secondary schools, and help provide medication to hospitals.
Recycled or Antique Diamonds
If you don’t want to support the new creation of diamonds, using a family diamond or one you purchase at an antique dealer may be a good option. Hopefully, if you get your ring from a relative, they have a paper trail that tells you where that diamond is from. If not, it can be difficult to know if that ring was ethical when it was first bought.
An antique dealer may be able to tell you about a ring you purchase from them, or they likely at least know someone who can help you determine where it came from.
Some jewelers offer what they call “blockchain-enabled” diamonds. No, it’s not a ring that only exists in the Metaverse. Instead, these diamonds have a tamper-proof record of origin, using the blockchain.
Brilliant Earth is the most well-known company to offer these blockchain-enabled diamonds. They only get their diamonds from Canada and Botswana — two places where mines tend to be more humane — and, paired with this blockchain tech, you can be sure any diamond you buy from them is ethical and conflict-free.
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 Silicon Valley, for example. Founded by a husband and wife, they do their best to design the perfect ring for every client.
Where to Buy Conflict-Free Diamonds
Luckily, much of the world has caught on to the dangers of the diamond industry. To combat the horrendous conditions, many organizations refuse to be associated with them. That means there are many choices for conflict-free diamonds and other stones.
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. Canada also has the highest environmental standards for its miners. In fact, working in a mine in Canada is a very safe occupation, but these mines are often in remote northern areas, so workers do need to be prepared to deal with the cold.
Not only do diamonds and other gemstones have a history of human rights violations, but 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 and small, independent mines.
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 is one of the big online jewelry retailers, famous for its low prices. With thousands of high-quality, conflict-free diamonds to choose from, easy customization options, and lifetime warranty, James Allen might as well be considered an engagement ring king.
- Larger selection
- Easy customization for price and quality
- Lower prices than brick and mortar
- Time-consuming selection process
- Less expert guidance
James Allen states: “Every diamond we sell is certified conflict-free in compliance with the Patriot Act, the Kimberley Process, and United Nations resolutions. Our internal guidelines exceed these government requirements: we have binding contracts with our suppliers which guarantee that the diamonds they offer to us for sale comply with all applicable laws and are certified conflict-free. We only purchase polished diamonds from sources which are members of the professional diamond trade.”
» MORE: Read our full James Allen review
Not only is Blue Nile one of the most reputable online jewelers, but they’re one of the more ethical companies.
Blue Nile is hands-down one of the most popular online jewelers — and it has been for quite some time. With discount prices and a large inventory of loose diamonds, Blue Nile offers simplicity in narrowing down your search for the perfect match to your occasion.
- Enormous selection to choose from
- Easily customizable options
- All diamonds are conflict free
- Not all diamonds offer a 360-degree view
- Can be time-consuming given selection
Blue Nile follows the the Kimberley Process and only use ethical sources of gold as well. On their site, they specifically address the issue in Zimbabwe and refuse to buy diamonds from the area.
» MORE: Read our full Blue Nile review
Equalli only buys ethically sourced gems, but they’re also dedicated to another cause — supporting the LGBTQ+ community in their right to marriage.
All their jewelry is handcrafted 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 Company
A Canadian-based company, Fair Trade Jewellery Company 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.
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. Plus, if you have any questions about the authenticity of your ring, you can email the seller and ask.
How to Ensure Your Diamond is Conflict-Free
You want to believe that you can take companies at their word, but you still want to do your due diligence to make sure your ring is truly ethical. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Always Ask for Paperwork
Any jeweler or private seller should have paperwork they can provide to you to ensure its authenticity. You’re likely paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for a ring. If you aren’t shown this documentation, walk away.
Look for More Than the Kimberley Certification
Companies that abide by the Kimberley process are proud to say they do. Only consider rings from companies who say outright that they abide by this process.
Know Which Countries Produce Ethical Diamonds
Canada and Botswana are two countries that have a number of reputable, safe mines. Other countries, such as Sierra Leone, the Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic, have a very negative history associated with their mining communities.
Don’t Pay Too Much
Just because a diamond is conflict-free and ethical does not mean it should come with a higher price tag. It’s wrong to charge a premium for humanely produced stones.
Stick with Sellers You Know Are Reputable
Are Other Stones Conflict-Free?
There are many meaningful, and much cheaper, alternatives to diamonds. But many of these precious stones are not without their own conflict.
Sapphires have been used to fund military regimes 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 middlepeople.
Equalli (see above) also offers ethical sapphires.
They may not be diamonds, but emeralds are definitely not without their own 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.
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.
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.
Just make sure your diamond has a Kimberley Process stamp of approval and that it comes from a country that has turned its diamond industry around and now operates safely.