Cutting Through Spin In Purchasing Your Ethical Wedding Ring

Beautiful design and a fair price are basic for any wedding ring shopper.  But these days, you might consider another important quality: a ring that even in its sourcing and production represents heartfelt love and commitment.  Many of today's gay & lesbian couples can easily relate to such foundations. 

The good news is, just because a ring is ethically sourced, it does not mean that it has to be much more expensive.  Yet if you search for ethical wedding rings, you're confronted with a plethora of options:  fair trade gold, Canadian diamonds, recycled metals, fair trade gemstones.... Greenwashing and even fairwashing are pretty prevalent.  So how do you assess the validity among companies making claims for their ethical jewelry sourcing? Here are a few points to consider that will educate you to make an informed decision. 

  • First, the most critical issue in the purchase of ethical wedding rings is that it is traceably and transparently sourced,  from mine to market. A ring is made up of components.  Ask your retailer to specifically tell you where the material comes from back to its source.  This includes everything from the circumstances at the mine to conditions of the factory where gems were cut.  The response of the salesperson to this question will reveal a lot about the values of the company.

  • Second, do your best to feel out the ethos of the company.  See if there's substance and specific information that substantiates claims.  One acid test is how they talk about 'conflict free' diamonds.   Every diamond these days that hits the supply chain is claimed to be conflict free, but in fact, up to 15% of diamonds in the supply chain are from areas where human rights abuse is prevalent.  If the salesperson tells you the diamond is from Israel or Antwerp, that is not good enough.  Those are not diamond producing countries.  As the upcoming film, 'The Ambassador' reveals, conflict diamonds are still pervasive.

    Diamond mining has an impact.  Canadian diamonds are one option, but marketing Canadian as 'conflict free,' is not entirely truthful from an environmental perspective because it does not minimize the impact of mining in the Northwest territories in Canada.   Even synthetic diamonds require industrial processes which impact the environment.   Fair trade diamonds are slated to enter the market in the late fall of 2012.  Recycled diamonds taken off old rings are also an option.
  • Third, how your ring is physically made is an important issue.  Do you want something that is mass produced or hand crafted by a designer?   The manufacturing issue is one thing that is bypassed in much of the marketing of ethical engagement rings.

  • Finally, consider the metal of your ring carefully.  All precious metal comes from the earth.  Recycled metals are a good option, but precious metals will continue to be mined regardless of how much recycled metal is used.  If you are concerned about making the purchase of your ring help to actually create a better world,  fair trade gold is now available, though only a few companies in North America offer it.   Any gold that's outside of these two options could contain dirty gold, a product seeped in human and environmental misery.

In sum, there are only a few things you need to consider, no matter where you purchase your wedding ring or engagement ring. Where does the metal come from, where does the gem come from, and how is the ring made?  It is the rare company that can answer all these questions transparently.  But those that can give you real information may be worthy of your consideration when choosing a ring that you will wear for the rest of your life.


Marc Choyt is Director of Fair Jewelry Action, an environmental justice and human rights network within the jewelry section. He is President of Reflective Images, a designer jewelry company and manufacturer located on Baca Street in Santa Fe that sells Celtic jewelry including Celtic wedding rings and unique designer conflict free diamond wedding and engagement rings.  His book on sustainable business practices, The Circle Manifesto, will be published later in 2012.