When I got engaged, I was overjoyed for many reasons, and engagement ring shopping was definitely among them.
But I’d already decided that I couldn’t have just any ring, although not for the reasons one might think.
I had watched a Frontline TV special that changed the way I thought about engagement rings forever. I learned that the diamond trade was plagued by unthinkable atrocities—violence, child labor and living conditions akin to slavery.
With more than a million diamond miners in Africa living on less than a dollar a day, often in dangerous, unsanitary conditions, the diamond trade has been responsible for some of the world’s worst human rights violations. Rape, torture, disease and murder are real risks for miners.
And diamond mining can result in appalling environmental devastation, with abandoned pits dotting Western Africa’s landscape, attracting Malaria-infested mosquitoes as they fill with rain.
I was determined that my engagement ring not be tainted by such suffering and destruction. But as my fiancé and I began shopping, we were shocked to discover that finding an ethically sourced diamond was nearly impossible.
When I asked jewelers where diamonds came from and how they could guarantee ethical origins, they either brushed off my concerns with vague assurances—saying things like, “Trust me, that’s not a problem with our diamonds,”— or basically told me to get over it. They said, “There is no way to know where an individual diamond came from.”
Although the global community had recently tried to reform diamond mining—with an international certification system called the Kimberley Process—I learned that these new rules did little to prevent unethically sourced diamonds from reaching the United States. Adopted by 74 countries in reaction to a horrific diamond-fueled civil war in Sierra Leone, the Kimberley Process aims to stop conflict diamonds from entering the market.
But it narrowly defines conflict diamonds as those used by rebels to fund a civil war against a sitting government, and does nothing to assure that diamond miners receive a living wage and are protected from forced labor, child labor or violence.
Eventually we found a small jeweler who sold diamonds from Canada, where laws are broadly protective of workers and the environment, and I chose a beautiful engagement ring that I could feel good about wearing. But my frustrating search to find a conflict-free diamond made me realize things could and should be better within the diamond industry.
I started Brilliant Earth in 2005 with my friend and fellow business school classmate, Eric Grossberg, to impact change in the industry. Although it hasn’t always been easy, after nearly 10 years I can say we have stayed true to our mission to provide ethically and responsibly sourced jewelry. Aware that the Kimberley Process was inadequate, we raised the bar ourselves to ensure that our diamonds are ethically mined, produced, and traded. We’ve also created waves in the industry to focus on supply chain transparency and understand the importance of social responsibility.
The journey from frustrated consumer to mission-driven business owner has been a wonderful challenge, and it has been incredibly rewarding see a broader wave of change within the diamond industry as Brilliant Earth continues to grow.
By refusing to accept an industry standard that implied high quality diamond jewelry had to come at the price of environmental damage and human suffering, we have made it possible for ethically minded brides to wear jewelry they can truly feel good about.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Melissa Horton /Editor: Travis May
Photo: TelaChhe, Flickr