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The Guide to Ethical and Sustainable Jewelry

The Guide to Ethical and Sustainable Jewelry


There’s no doubt about it: over the past few years we’re more ethically-conscious than ever before. We all strive to do the right thing; whether that’s eating less meat, recycling our waste, or using our cars less. 

If you’re about to buy new jewelry, you may be wondering how to make sustainable and conflict-free choices when selecting a piece. Like all manufacturers, jewelers are looking at new and innovative ways to move to ethical production. 

The mining of diamonds is understandably big business, and there are some things to watch out for when considering ethical versus unethical diamond jewelry. 

In this handy guide, you’ll find some helpful advice on how to distinguish between ethical and non-ethical diamonds, and what to look out for when choosing your diamond jewelry. 

First off, it’s worth explaining how diamonds are manufactured.

Diamonds themselves start life deep underground, and are formed naturally. Kimberlite rocks are one of the main sources of diamonds, but they can be found in other types of rock, too. 

Once a source has been identified, mining begins. Special technologies and types of mining are used to extract the valuable rocks from the ground, such as open-pit mines, marine mining and artisanal mining. Then, a sorting process takes place, to sift out the precious stones. 

Next, the rough diamonds go through a rigorous polishing and cutting process, to turn that dirty lump of rock into the sparkling diamond you’re used to seeing today. Experts shape and shine the gems so they’re ready to sell. 

At this point, diamonds will usually be sold wholesale to large retailers who will then add the precious stones to any jewelry, like rings, earrings and necklaces. 

It’s no surprise that diamond mining is big business. However, diamonds are a natural substance – and, like all-natural resources, they’re finite. In recent years, a combination of overmining and lack of sustainable manufacturing practices led to a drop in the number of diamonds on the market. 

Finding quality ethically-sourced diamonds

The good news is that the demand for ethically sourced diamonds continues to grow. Many international retailers and independent stores alike are now paying close attention to not only the quality and cut of the stones, but their origin, too. 

The origin of your diamonds

When selecting a diamond, you’ll want to find a retailer that knows the origins of their stones. Ask them for proof of where the diamonds were mined, and whether ethical practices were followed. For premium stones, a certificate of authenticity, as well as details of its origin, will be made readily available to you, so don’t be afraid to ask!

Child labour 

Ensure your retailer of choice does not supply diamonds that have been mined using any form of child labour. While such practices were made illegal in the UK many years ago, this isn’t the case in every country. Child labour is still legal in many of the countries where diamond mining takes place, so do your research to ensure no children were involved at any stage of the supply chain. 

Supporting local communities 

Photo by Stephanie Braconnier

Some diamond suppliers go one step further and invest heavily in giving back to local communities. The diamond mining industry, while incredibly lucrative, can have a serious impact on the villages and towns in which it takes place. While the governments in countries which mine diamonds do usually benefit from taxation, the benefits are rarely seen by local communities. 

It can be tricky to find out whether the diamonds you’re about to buy have been sourced ethically, and that the workers receive fair and equal pay. If you’re still left wondering, look out for diamonds endorsed by fairtrade institutes you can trust. 

Environmental impact

The Guide to Ethical and Sustainable Jewelry
Photo by Tobias Tullius

There’s no two ways about it – diamond mining, just like other forms of mining, does have a negative impact on the environment, thanks to the heavy machinery used to carry out the excavation required. The act of moving large layers of the Earth’s crust can disrupt ecosystems, affect wildlife and can even contaminate the water supply. 

Some countries such as Botswana and Namibia have made a commitment to protect the areas in which diamond mining takes place. 

But what about second-hand and recycled jewelry?

A fantastic way to make an sustainable jewelry choice is to opt for second-hand or recycled jewelry. There are hundreds of reputable jewelry stores that specialize in upcycled jewelry, both online and on the high street, so do your research to find one that you can trust. 

If you’re about to make a big diamond purchase such as an engagement ring, we recommend getting the second-hand piece checked out by a diamond expert first. They’ll be able to verify the quality of the stone, and ensure you’re not paying over the odds for your chosen piece. 

How can I find ethical jewelry in my area?

Unfortunately, there is no way to tell if a diamond has been ethically sourced just by looking at it. It may be tempting to select the most sparkly diamond in the jeweler’s window, but we urge you to do some research before buying to find out where your diamond came from, and how it was mined. 

Buying a diamond is not a decision that should be taken lightly. After all, they’re one of the most precious stones that money can buy. Take the time to research your jeweler to find out whether they typically follow sustainable and ethical practices when sourcing diamonds. You may find they advertise this information on their website. If not, don’t be afraid to ask. 

If you’re still unsure, reach out to the Responsible Jewellery Council. They’ll be able to tell you whether your jeweller of choice really is as ethical as they say. 

Finally, try to avoid regions of the world known for unethical practices. Places like Zimbabwe, Angola, Ivory Coast and Liberia are some of the worst areas, and should be avoided where possible. In contrast, countries like Australia, Canada and Namibia have a great reputation for their mining practices.

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