Ethical Engagement Rings – What Does it Mean to be Conflict-Free?
By Stephanie Dore
What Exactly is the Kimberley Process?
The Kimberley Process, which became operational in 2003, is an initiative to eliminate trade in conflict diamonds (aka blood diamonds) — rough diamonds used to finance wars against legitimate governments — around the world. The issue at hand is that rough diamonds are largely untraceable and therefore have, historically, been quite easy to slip into the wrong hands. So the world took action.
There are now 59 participants, representing 85 countries (with the European Union and its 27 Member States counting as a single participant, represented by the European Commission) participating in the KP, with industry and civil society participating as observers. It runs off of what’s called the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS). According to the KPCS, participants must:
- Satisfy ‘minimum requirements’ and establish national legislation, institutions and import/export controls
- Commit to transparent practices and to the exchange of critical statistical data
- Trade only with fellow members who also satisfy the fundamentals of the agreement, and
- Certify shipments as conflict-free and provide the supporting certification
Does the Kimberley Process Actually Work?
Short answer: Sort of. The big picture is that Kimberley Process participants now account for 99.8% of the global production of rough diamonds, which is a lot by any account. Long answer is that there are loopholes to most well-meaning initiatives that can’t be ignored. While the KP does account for most origin tracing and certification issues, broader issues like labor conditions, fair pay, and land ownership do not fall under its purview. It’s something the industry is still actively grappling with and, unfortunately, there’s just no perfect answer right now. You can find alternative tracking programs like Canada’s “track and trace” model or The Fairtrade Foundation’s standards for gold mining (which is another story altogether…), but for now, the KP is still the widest regulatory action in, well, action.
How Can You Be Certain Your Diamond is Conflict-Free?
Well, when it comes to conflict diamonds, there’s really only one way to completely avoid the issue, and that’s by purchasing a lab grown diamond. And in case you’re wondering — lab grown, or lab created diamonds, are definitely 100% real diamonds. They have the exact same chemical, physical and optical properties of natural mined diamonds, only they’re made in a lab. While lab grown diamonds are often poo-pooed by industry traditionalists, they offer many benefits including price (they can save you nearly half the cost of a mined diamond), sustainability, and yes — conflict.
Thinking About Blockchain Diamond Tracing, Are You?
Well, if you are you’re definitely at the cutting edge of things, and the industry isn’t far behind. There are tech startups nipping at the blockchain bud as a more surefire way to track a diamond’s origins and worth, building a seemingly tamper-proof digital ledger for stones. Unlike the Kimberley Process, which tracks batches of diamonds from their original source into the market, blockchain has the potential to create individualized fingerprint-like records for diamonds based on their unique characteristics in a way that is much more transparent. While it’s not yet widely in use, there is the potential for it to be sometime in the future. Stay tuned.
What About Recycled Diamonds?
Recycled — or upcycled — diamonds are exactly what they sound like. Diamonds that have reentered the market after being sold. This might be diamonds bought back from someone who is upgrading their stone, antique stones that families are parting with, or any other type of natural mined diamond that is living its (second) best life. The benefits here are that it is not a diamond newly mined from the ground (but keep in mind it could have originated pre-Kimberley Process), nor does it take up the resources of creating a new lab grown stone.
So What’s Really the Most Sustainable Diamond?
Sustainable and conflict free are deeply intertwined but separate concerns when it comes to diamonds. If sustainability is top of mind, however, then recycled diamonds are — much like vintage fashion — the only truly sustainable option, as they are not using up any additional resources to live happily on in your engagement ring. However if you’re weighing mined and lab grown diamonds, here’s the drill down:
Lab grown diamonds use 250 million joules per carat. Seem like a lot? Mined diamonds use 538.5 million. But some lab diamonds, like Diamond Foundry’s, are grown with 100% renewable energy. If that’s important to you, just ask! Beyond electricity, lab created diamonds consume significantly less water per carat than their mined counterparts — 18 gallons vs. 126 gallons — and have startlingly lower carbon emissions.
Choose Your Fighter
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