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The true cost of diamonds

The true cost of diamonds

The classic rule when buying a diamond engagement ring is that it should cost 3 months salary. When the rule emerged it was great news for diamond sellers like De Beers, which is probably why they invented it in the first place, with the support of a huge advertising campaign of course.

That campaign by De Beers is more than 50 years old now. Nobody really cared much about the massive environmental impacts of extracting gemstones from the ground back then. Talk about your personal carbon footprint was unheard of. And it would be many decades before the true horrors of the blood diamond trade would be brought to mainstream attention.

But we live in a different world today. And as a seller of diamond jewellery, we can't just ignore the potential impact that our business does on the world and the people in it. We're making improvements to our practices every single day which you can read about here, but here's some of the uncomfortable truths about diamond mining that we can't in good conscience shy away from.

It takes 237,000 acres of forest to offset the carbon produced by even the most CO2 friendly mines

Naturally, digging a giant hole in the earth using heavy machinery is going to take a lot of energy. But knowing the exact impact is tough, because most mines aren't exactly in a rush to publish, or even track their carbon emissions.

However the Ekati Diamond Mine has done just that. They're one of the lowest carbon producing mines in the world, and have been nationally recognised for their efforts in cutting CO2 emissions.

As one of the most CO2 friendly mines on the planet they released 198,899 tonnes of greenhouse gasses per year between 2016 and 2018. Offsetting that carbon footprint would require a forest twice the size of Leeds. And that's ignoring all the other environmental impact mining has.

We're a big advocate of lab grown diamonds. Whilst these diamonds take a lot of energy to produce, it's around 80% less than even the best diamond mines. And naturally there's no direct impact on landscapes and wildlife.

Diamond mining is responsible for some of the deepest man made holes on the world

The impact of mining on the landscape is devastating, especially in cases of open pit mining which requires massive amounts of earth to be moved on the surface of the earth, as opposed to underground digging.

The Mir mine in Siberia has been operating for more than 60 years and is over 525 meters deep. It's actually a no-fly zone because the downdraft has already caused several helicopter crashes.

The now dormant Kimberley Diamond Mine is 42 acres wide and 215 meters deep. And it was dug with pickaxes and shovels by around 50,000 workers between 1871 and 1914.

In fact, most of the biggest holes in the planet are the result of diamond mining. And what happens when the mine's resources exhausted? Well, they're kind of just, left there.

Forced labour and child workers are still used in diamond mining to this day

When somebody asks us how common child and slave labour is in the diamond industry, we truthfully have to answer "we don't know".

We know for a fact that it happens, because the Human Rights Watch organisation routinely uncovers the issue. But we can't be sure the exact extent of the issue. We can't go up to the window of a high-street jeweller and say with any degree of certainty that there were no human rights violations involved in stocking their displays.

We can't say that because the world's biggest suppliers of diamonds tend not to disclose the mine of origin when they sell their raw diamonds to cutters and retailers. Instead they'll 'aggregate' diamonds from multiple mines into batches. With multiple mines, with wildly different labour standards, all being mixed in together we just don't really know where most diamonds come from.

Many of these mines exploit local populations and child labour. Human Rights Watch have documented cases of child labour in diamond excavation in Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, the Phillipines Tanzania and Zimbabwe. They found additional examples of forced labour during their investigations, a full report of which you can read here.

De Beers, one of the largest sellers of diamonds insist they provide "complete and unequivocal assurance" that it's diamonds are responsibly sourced, but doesn't provide the mine or country of origin for individual diamonds.

Blood diamonds are still prevalent around the world

It's been almost 20 years since the true extent of blood diamond trade hit the mainstream consciousness. Since then, world governments have come together to try and stem the trade which primarily involves the use of diamond mining and trading to fund armed conflicts, primarily in developing nations.

The Kimberley Process was implemented in 2003, issuing certificates to batches of mined diamonds to attest to them being free of blood diamond style trading. However, the definition used by the Kimberley Process is very narrow, only really being applied to the financing of rebel militias and not extending to other groups.

Controversy arose after the scheme's formation when exports we're authorised by multiple mining companies operating in the Marange diamond fields of Zimbabwe, an area which the Zimbabwean army forcibly occupied in 2008 resulting in the deaths of over 200 miners.

This led Global Witness, a key contributor to the scheme, to leave the scheme in protest. Multiple key figures also resigned from the organisation following large amounts of Kimberley Process certified diamonds entering the market from the Marange region.

The truth is, the Kimberley Process is flawed. Once a batch of diamonds is exported from the country of origin it's next to impossible to track it's origins. Kimberley process diamonds are sold in batches from multiple sources with little to no audit trail.

Some commentators even say it allows the industry to operate in a more opaque manner because mining companies can use the scheme as a convenient smoke screen to continue operating in.

What can you do as a consumer?

The real burden for improving the diamond trade rests on the industry itself and regulators. But history has shown this to be ineffective up to this point. At Nightingale we're trying our best to do our part, recommending the use of lab grown diamonds in our rings.

Failing that, the mined diamonds we do sell all come from mines which go above and beyond current standards imposed by the Kimberley Process and environmental guidelines. But honestly, we're a small player in a multi-billion pound ecosystem.

As a consumer who cares you can start by asking jewellers where their diamonds come from. Which country, organisation and mine. The majority of the time, they won't be able to answer, at which point we'd recommend you look elsewhere. We'd love it if you got in touch with us, but any truly ethical jewellers is fine in our eyes.

You can also explore mined diamond alternatives, with lab diamonds being our recommendation. Additionally, making use of recycled metals can also minimise the environmental impact involved in extracting more materials from the earth.

We've published a full guide for buying ethical jewellery, so for further reading follow this link.

Why Nightingale sells mined diamonds

If you've browsed around the site, you'll notice we sell mined diamonds. And given everything we've talked about above, that might surprise you. When we first opened our doors we thought long and hard about offering these to our customers.

Our decision to sell mined diamonds came down to the simple fact that despite lab diamonds being an infinitely more ethical choice, demand for mined diamonds isn't going to disappear overnight. Our inclusion in a BBC segment on lab diamonds perfectly illustrated this, with a member of the public remarking they wouldn't consider a lab diamond over mined "because, a diamond is a diamond".

Lab grown diamond sales are growing fast, but the awareness isn't where it needs to be yet. And every fully traceable mined diamond we sell from Nightingale means one less being sold by another provider who offers zero accountability for the human and environmental consequences.

If we ever reach a point where lab diamonds become the go to choice for the general public over mined, we'll be one of the first to remove them from our business!

Further reading

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