Colored Stone Gem Mail, a great magazine for artisans and gemstone enthusiasts, has an interesting article this month about the jewelry industry going green and two large retailers adding to the list of sellers pledged to clean gold sourcing. They aren't talking about different cleansing agents.
A diamond ring has come to symbolize love, romance and commitment. But an informed consumer needs to know that the diamond has been mined by a conflict-free source and the gold has been mined ethically.
Gold mining is one of the most destructive activities in the world and has been linked to grievous environmental, social justice and human rights violations. One average gold band generates approximately 20 tons of cyanide-infused waste that seeps into the groundwater of the land where it is mined. Gold mining has been identified as the cause of lead poisoning in children in Peru. The mines leave scars on the earth's surface so devastating that they can be seen from outer space.
The Blood Diamond is a film about diamond mining in Sierra Leona and shows how violent rebel groups sold diamonds to the western market to finance the purchase of arms. Lily Cole, the face of the most famous diamond producers, DeBeers, refused to model their stones after learning that they had evicted indigenous Bushmen in Botswana, in order to mine their land and she was followed by former spokesperson/model Iman. Diamonds have been linked to arms funding in Africa to slave labor in India and extreme environmental damage. DeBeers claim that a UN-led embargo on diamonds from rebel-held areas in Angola and Sierra Leone has eliminated the sale of "conflict diamonds" from the market. However, this only applies to traders who buy through a certification scheme, called the Kimberley Process. You can be sure a diamond with this certification has been bought from a legitimate market but it will not halt the human rights abuses and environmental costs involved with this sparkly stone.
Many eco-conscious people are following in the steps of celebrities such as Liz Hurley, Julia Roberts and Madonna, and shunning diamonds altogether in favor of semi-precious stones such as tanzanite and sodalite. A spokesperson for a large British jeweler says, "Demand for semi-precious stones has soared. We have been designing with agate, jasper, carnelian, rose. Customers are really looking for a unique style."
Millions of dollars of marketing has ensured that people think they need a diamond engagement ring. But if you still think you need one, make sure you are buying from a dealer who can tell you the provenance of his stones. Or buy from a reputable jewelry artisan and have a unique statement of your love with an amazing choice of fair-trade and ethically mined sparklies.