What constitutes an ethical diamond? The answer is not as clear cut as one might want it to be. We often have different ideas on what constitutes ethical from the start. For some, it means not disturbing the Earth to take minerals from below its surface. For others, it’s the wages and working conditions of the people involved in the process and the impact on regional communities is paramount. A number of individuals are passionate about understanding the carbon footprint. And, unfortunately, none of this is super clear.
As I’ve shared before, there’s a dirty side to the jewelry industry. You can learn all about deceptiveness that occurs in the jewelry industry, green-washing, and more in my posts on sustainability and ethics in jewelry here. However, we are going to dive a little deeper into the different practices - specifically as they pertain to diamonds.
In truth, there aren't many practices that tick all the boxes, and there is a lot of misinformation out there and greenwashing to be sure, and yes, sometimes it feels like we are making decisions that feel like the “lesser of two evils”. So, what’s a person to do? Understanding all of your options and educating yourself on them (and from a variety of unbiased sources) is a great place to start.
In this ongoing series about ethics in jewelry I am trying to lay out all of the information as I see it, and walk you through my own decision making process. None of these options or solutions are perfect, but I feel like progress comes slowly and incrementally. The more you, as consumers, know what to ask for, the more success that small ethically minded independent jewelers like me have, the more the industry will take notice.
If sustainable and ethical diamonds are important to you, I hope this information will help you feel informed in your purchasing decision. It is one of my top priorities to source the most ethically-minded and sustainable materials possible at Fail Jewelry while continuing to educate myself in the ever-changing landscape.
What Is An Ethical Diamond?
An ethical diamond is more than just a conflict-free diamond. Conflict-free diamonds specifically refer to stones that fund civil wars.
Ethical diamonds extend to ensuring safe mining and working conditions, environmentally-conscious and restorative practices, a lack of human rights abuses, and fair wages.
In purchasing an ethical diamond, you are consciously and intentionally making sure you are supporting sustainable and ethical values in a vetted, researched, and through a meticulously tracked process (from start to finish). Truly ethical diamonds don’t look at one piece or one part of the journey of a diamond. And, the labor and environmental standards are strict.
What Is The Diamond Cartel?
What makes diamonds so valuable? It may not be for the reasons you think. In fact, diamonds are not as incredibly rare as other stones, especially in small sizes, and we are now able to create and make perfect diamonds in labs. So why are diamonds so expensive?
The diamond industry is run by a cartel that maintains control of the supply of diamonds in the market and therefore, the artificially high prices. Today, that cartel is spearheaded by De-Beers. De-Beers controls ⅔ of the yearly trade in uncut diamonds and owns half of the diamond production mines.
How does this work? The majority of the diamonds are mined and controlled through the cartel. Then, they are frequently sold through DeBeers Central Selling Organization (CSO) - which then grades and sells the mined rough diamonds for additional circulation. CSO processes 80% of the world’s diamonds to control the price.
What Is The Kimberley Process?
When a diamond is certified “conflict free” they are referencing the Kimberly Process. Unfortunately this certification doesn't mean much these days, making their conflict free claims misleading at best.
The Kimberley Process is a certification scheme established in 2003 by a United Nations resolution, following a series of reports which first exposed the link between the diamond trade and the financing of conflict. And, initially, the intentions and hopes for the Kimberley Process were promising.
It aimed to increase transparency and oversight in the diamond industry in an effort to eliminate the trade of conflict diamonds or any diamonds that would benefit rebel groups funding conflict against legitimate governments (aka blood diamonds).
However, the Kimberley Process is not working as planned.
It has several major issues. First of all, its narrow terms focus specifically on the mining and distribution of conflict diamonds. This means that working conditions, fair pay, child labor, environmental destruction, and other problems that come from diamond mining are not covered.
Additionally, the certification does not apply to specific stones - but to an entire batch of rough diamonds. This means that there is a complete lack of origin traceability with the Kimberley Process. You do know know how or where it was mined or who mined it. You can read more about the Kimberley Process and its myriad of issues here.
Today, the “Kimberley Process has failed on its own terms: corruption and smuggling are rife, and in the past few years, the system has begun to unravel further from the inside” with several partner countries actively blocking meaningful change that would address the processes shortcomings. I would highly suggest you read more about the recent descent at the Kimberley Process Intersessional Meeting.
So, if a major obstacle with the Kimberley Process is a lack of origin traceability, is it possible to fix this?
Origin Traceable Diamonds
As I have stated before, origin traceability is key to ethically mined stones. I currently only know of two origin traceable diamonds on the market today: Canadian Diamonds and a newcomer, Ocean Diamonds. What tactics are these companies using to implement origin traceability? I dig a bit deeper into origin traceability here and learn more about how Canadian Diamonds are different from others on the market here.
Ocean Diamonds, the other ethical and innovative supplier I’ve connected with, are sourced off the West Coast of South Africa. These diamonds are responsibly sourced by divers who leave minimal trace on the environment. Their diamonds have experienced an incredible journey from land to river to sea (over billions of years) and come with a certified provenance from the ocean with a location map. Their rough diamonds are shaped by nature’s forces. They also offer more traditionally shaped diamonds which are cut and polished into perfect proportions.
Can we expect companies and suppliers employing ethical tactics to grow? The future is promising, but change happens slowly.
The Future of Ethical Diamonds
Trying to change this behemoth of an industry is difficult and major players have greatly benefited its current structure, and there's just so much money invested in keeping the status quo. Consumer sentiment is pushing smaller independent companies to use their market power to meet demand and inspire change and there are a few players changing the game if ever so slowly.
Misfit Diamonds is one of these smaller independent suppliers trying to create change. They are the first diamond supplier I know of to get origin traceable Canadian rough diamonds directly from the mine to cut in unique and one-of-a-kind shapes. Until now, Canadian mined diamonds exclusively came in traditional cuts only and if you follow my designs you know that I rarely use traditionally cut stones!
Misfit is progressing the conversation of “ethical” diamonds, pushing the industry towards origin traceability and mine to market transparency while also supplying on-trend diamond cuts that their customers are asking for.
Because of their diligence and activism, I choose to buy my larger one-of-a-kind diamonds from Misfit (origin traceable or not). I view supporting them as supporting the move towards origin traceability in all diamonds - and therefore, I am supporting that work via my purchases! Are these perfectly “ethical diamonds”? I cannot accurately say yes - but as the industry evolves, I will continue to inch closer and closer to the most ethical sources available.
But, you might ask, what about Lab Grown Diamonds? We’ve got an entire post on Lab Grown diamonds coming your way next…
As you can see, supporting the growth of awareness, education, and work in the area of ethical diamonds is incredibly important to me. If finding an ethical diamond for an engagement ring, wedding ring, or personal piece is important to you, let’s talk! As a client, I’m also happy to answer any additional questions you might have to the best of my ability.
And, if you fall in love with a diamond from Misfit Diamonds, I am a preferred jeweler with them and have access to all they offer for my clients.