First of all, beware of greenwashing
It’s no secret that demand for sustainable and socially conscious products is increasing globally. Businesses of all sizes realise this and some of the more unscrupulous ones are using it as an opportunity to cash in.
You’ll have heard this referred to as ‘greenwashing’, the act of giving customers the false impression that their products are environmentally and socially responsible. And the diamond jewellery industry is one of the worst offenders.
You’ll hear claims that because diamonds are certified ‘conflict-free’, they’re completely ethical.
You’ll see press releases from international mining companies telling you how they support the communities where they operate, despite those communities still not having access to running water after decades of diamond mining.
Even the organisations responsible for preventing the sale of blood diamonds are ineffective.
Instead of relying on the claims sellers, we recommend that buyers stick to a few golden principles to help guide their hunt for an ethical diamond.
Finding ethical diamonds - The 3 golden rules
1 - Always know the origin of your diamond
You can only know a diamond is ethical if you know where it comes from.
Diamonds graded by the GIA (a worldwide authority on diamond grading) can include an origin report which lists the country where the diamond was mined and the company that did the mining.
There are strict requirements for diamond shipments to qualify for this report, such as packages being sealed when they leave their country of origin, and only opened by an authorised inspector of the GIA to ensure diamonds from bad sources getting smuggled in with good ones.
2 - Look for transparent supply chains
Most diamonds swap hands countless times before they make it into a jeweller’s window display.
The mining companies sell their rough diamonds to manufacturers who cut and polish them, they then sell them to wholesalers who further sell them to smaller suppliers and so on.
During this process a particular diamond can cross several different countries and middlemen, all of which the end consumer has no information on.
The opportunity for exploitation here is massive.
More ethical companies have invested heavily to create closed supply chains which don’t have these issues, the gold standard being the CanadaMark scheme run by the Dominion Diamond Corporation.
This scheme means that every diamond that comes from their Ekati, Diavek and Gahcho Kué mines (some of the most responsible in the world) in Northern Canada can be traced right back to their source.
3 - Know the real definition of ‘conflict-free’
The term ‘conflict-free’ is sometimes used interchangeably with ethical, but the real meaning is very restrictive.
Conflict, or blood diamonds, only refer to diamonds which are used to fund armed rebels intent on overthrowing a recognised government. It doesn’t cover anything else.
So when a country's army seizes control of a diamond mine through violence against their own citizens, this doesn’t count as a conflict diamond.
The Kimberley Process, who regulate conflict diamonds, also don’t concern themselves with forced or child labour. Or environmental issues. Or unsafe working conditions.
Truth be told, the standard for conflict-free is so low that it should be largely ignored when it comes to ethical diamond sourcing in favour of stricter standards.
Sources of ethical diamonds
Each jeweller will have their own definition of what ethical diamonds are, but in our opinion they need to tick the following boxes:
- There should be no exploitation of workers through any part of the supply chain. That includes the mining, cutting and shipping of the diamond.
- The local communities and countries where diamonds are mined should materially benefit from their extraction.
- Sustainable schemes should exist to minimise the environmental impact created by diamond mining. These schemes should be open to third party scrutiny and be able to demonstrate their effectiveness.
These bullet points are fairly basic, but there’s not many places that can hit them. We’ve fully vetted 3 which we rely on, 4 if you include lab diamonds.
All of the sources below can be used in our ethical engagement rings, just get in touch for more details!
Canadamark diamonds come from three mines run by the Dominion Diamond Corporation. When they opened their mines in the northern territories of Canada they also built their very own certification scheme to ensure maximum visibility through their supply chain.
Ekati diamond mine, in the northern territories
Their environmental standards are also second to none making them a very popular choice amongst ethical consumers.
Because of the very high standards of Canadamark diamonds you will find they have a slight price premium compared to other sources but most buyers find the peace of mind well worth it.
Botswana is a true success story when it comes to diamond mining. Unlike other African countries, they've really seen the full benefit of their sparkling natural resources.
Jwaneng diamond mine, courtesy of Debswana
In 1966 they were one of the poorest countries on the planet, but by 2035 they're aiming to be a high income nation. This is all possible because the Botswanan government gets around 80% of the revenue from diamond mining through taxation and joint ownership of their mines.
The diamond industry pays for schools, healthcare, infrastructure and environmental schemes such as wildlife reserves. Additionally, they maintain extremely high safety standards to keep their workforce as safe as possible whilst mining.
Lab grown diamonds
Lab grown diamond rings are becoming a very popular choice for people wanting an ethical diamond in their engagement ring.
Lab diamonds are grown by replicating the high pressure environments where diamonds grow naturally. This is done entirely in a high tech lab, removing the need for huge mining operations.
You can read the full guide on lab grown diamonds if you like, but it's important to know that not all lab diamonds are created equal.
All diamond laboratories use massive amounts of energy to grow their diamonds but only a few work to offset that energy with green initiatives. We source all our lab diamonds from the USA which are certified sustainable by an independent organisation.
Sri Lanka (honourable mention)
An article about ethical gemstone suppliers wouldn't be complete without mentioning Sri Lanka.
Gemstone mining using traditional panning techniques
They've been at the forefront of ethical mining practices since the early 1900s, shunning the use of modern practices in favour of keeping the jobs of 70,000 miners stable using traditional mining methods.
They also tightly regulate their supply chain and ensure mining operations need to clean up the mine pits before they are formally closed down.
We've included them as a honourable mention on this list purely because they're mostly known for other ethical gemstones as opposed to diamonds. Nevertheless, they're superb ethical values has more than earned them a place in this list.
Final tips for ethical diamond buying
If we could condense all our knowledge into a few quick tips, this is what they'd be. Regardless of all the information that gets thrown at you when you're browsing, just remember these points and you shouldn't go wrong.
- If you're set on buying a mined diamond, make sure it includes a diamond certificate and at least has a country of origin listed. It's more likely that your diamond will be ethical if you get it from one of the countries mentioned above.
- For lab diamonds, ask where it was manufactured and what verified green initiatives the lab has in place. If your chosen jeweller can't give you that information, look elsewhere.
- Choose a jeweller who puts effort into their ethical sourcing.
- Don't assume that conflict-free diamonds are ethical.
- And our best tip? If you're looking for an ethical engagement ring, just get in touch with Nightingale. We'll give you comparison prices for all of our approved diamond sources and you can choose the one that best suits your own standards. We can even do completely bespoke ring designs!