Giving or receiving jewellery is often part of important celebrations and significant milestones like weddings, engagements, birthdays, or anniversaries. Besides being beautiful these pieces can express love, commitment, and many other meaningful things.
Unfortunately though, the reality of jewellery production is anything but joyful – full of corruption, human rights abuses, and environmental destruction. No one would say they want a special occasion like an engagement to contribute to such horrible things… so does this mean giving up your ring dreams? 💍 Don’t worry! There are ways you can still have those special pieces without supporting the harmful practices.
But first, what are the problems?
Maybe you’ve heard of “blood diamonds” or “dirty gold“, these names represent major issues in jewellery production and supply chains.
The mining of diamonds and precious metals can involve child labour, forced labour, and abusive conditions. Groups fighting for control of mines, theft, and workers/communities trying to stand up for their rights has resulted in incredibly violent conflicts and torture over diamonds and land. It’s a lucrative and corrupt industry with little protection or concern for the safety and welfare of those involved.
Mining also has a terrible impact on the environment, from destroying the Amazon rainforest to polluting water systems with toxic chemicals. On average mines need to process about 1 tonne of rock for every 1 gram of gold (a wedding ring can use anywhere from 2-12 grams) and diamonds are much higher – requiring about 50 tonnes of rock per 1g and only about 35% is actually gem quality. Pit mines can be so large they’re even seen from space.
A diamond pit mine in Russia – it looks alien and is hard to imagine the scale.
“Conflict-Free” isn’t a Guarantee
Due to movies like Blood Diamond people are more aware of the ethical issues surrounding diamonds and look for conflict-free alternatives. The Kimberley Process was set up to stop trade in conflict diamonds but it’s not solving the problems, smugglers say it’s easy to get around and hasn’t stopped the black market. Conflict diamonds are “naturalized” to develop a new provenance, Global Witness interviewed diamond traders smuggling diamonds from the Central African Republic who say it’s an “open secret”, they “mix [trafficked diamonds] with other stones, get the right papers, and send them on their way”.
Brilliant Earth, a company who is often promoted as an ethical option and goes so far as saying their diamonds are “beyond conflict-free” was even found to have suspicious diamonds. An investigation into their “Canadian” diamonds found they actually have a shady chain of custody with the diamonds they looked into likely having an unknown origin.
So what can you do?
Buy secondhand! You probably already know that I’m a huge advocate for secondhand shopping. It’s incredibly environmentally friendly because nothing new is made and no new resources have to be used/extracted. You also aren’t supporting companies with unethical and unsustainable practices, or with jewellery, corrupt, damaging, and violent supply chains. Plus it’s a lot more affordable and who doesn’t like to save money?
There are lots of places you can buy secondhand or vintage jewellery either in person or online through sites like Etsy. I especially like looking through the jewellery at antique markets.
Finally, there’s a lot of jewellery just sitting around
How many of us have jewellery that was gifted or passed down which is never worn and just sits hidden somewhere slowly tarnishing? Like with our closets we tend to reach for the same pieces. I know things like jewellery can be difficult to let go of, but if they aren’t being used or appreciated isn’t it better to give these pieces new homes? Plus you can spend the money you make re-selling them on something you’ll actually get a lot of use from! It’s a win for everyone and the earth. 🌎
Alternatively you can also have old pieces remade or reworked into something you’ll actually wear. I think a lovely way to do this for wedding rings is use old gold jewellery from both sides of the family to have melted down and made into new rings. 💚
There are a lot of different ways you can still have those beautiful and special pieces but also with the comfort of knowing you aren’t supporting the dark and destructive industry practices.
NOTE: this post has been updated to remove the previous brand partnership since there were some issues with my comment about Brilliant Earth.