Day 117 / 365

Most of us haven't ever considered that a piece of jewelry like an engagement or wedding ring, given with so much love and positive intention, could have a story of intense violence, worker exploitation, and environmental devastation behind its creation.

But the truth is that most jewelry, wedding or otherwise - unless practices are clearly stated by the company - is created in an alarmingly negative way.

Remember in 2000 when hunky homie Leonardo Dicaprio put on a South African accent and depicted, through the power of film, the human cost of the diamond trade in Sierra Leone? That film was called Blood Diamond for good reason, and though it brought attention to developing the ‘conflict-free’ classification, the story doesn’t and didn't end there.

All mined minerals, whether it is silver and gold, stones, diamonds or otherwise, are found in the earth and the extraction of these minerals and stones comes at a price to the planet and her inhabitants.

The mining of minerals involves stripping the surface soil and using chemicals which cause soil erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity and contamination of the soil and both the ground and the surface water. 

Producing one single gold ring can produce up to 20 tons of mine waste, releasing mercury and cyanide into the water systems of the surrounding areas. Causing irreversible harm to humans, wildlife, and the soil. It is one of the main causes of rainforest deforestation. Mining for gold utilizes surface mining in which a virgin rainforest is cut down. The soil is then dug and sieved to find the gold. Miners use mercury for this process because it is magnetized to the gold. The people who mine gold are paid slave wages as well, about $1.00 per day for their efforts.
Silver comes as a byproduct of industrial mining for other metals such as copper, zinc and gold. A small percentage comes from silver mines. Industrial mining, according to the ‘Dirty Metals: Mining, Communities and the Environment’ report put out by Earthworks and Oxfam, 10 per cent of the world energy, arsenic emissions, cyanide and mercury poisoning, child labor and human rights abuses as well as vast environmental damages are caused by industrial mining.

85% of diamonds come from Africa. Zimbabwe makes up to 10-15% of the world's diamonds, which help fund a brutal dictator and are tainted by violence and corruption. Sierra Leone’s now abandoned mining pits have become breeding grounds for mosquitos and other water-borne diseases. The average diamond in an engagement ring requires the removal of 200 million to 400 million times its volume in rock. There is an estimated 1 million diamond miners in Africa who perform back breaking work yet live in extreme poverty, earning less than $1.00 PER DAY, 25-46% of which are children. In Angola, soldiers brutally abuse unlicensed diamond miners, engaging in torture, rape, and murder, the United Nations has found more than 21,000 cases in Angola alone. Even diamonds certified as “conflict-free” by the Kimberly Process are tainted by horrific human rights violations.

Mining for gemstones is also a problem, as they are extremely hard to trace. Mining of precious stones funds regimes and organizations associated with repression and human rights violations. At the moment, mining of gemstones is often done with dynamite, which is dangerous, damaging the stones and the people who mine them.

Like slow fashion, the responsibility of industry change doesn’t lie in the customer alone, though each purchase is a vote against the violence, worker exploitation, and environmental devastation the industry causes. You’re going to pay about 10-15% more for an ethical wedding ring, but if you look at it as the investment piece it truly is, an investment in your relationship with your partner and an investment in your relationship with the world, 10-15% more isn’t all that much. Afterall, if we’re in a position to spend thousands of dollars on rings, we’re in a position to spend a couple hundred more.

Below are some brands who examples of the type of change the industry needs to see and be:

Handcrafted in their work/live studio in New York City, their jewelry collection is created with exquisite ethical materials like recycled precious metals, recycled heirloom diamonds (originating from the US or AU), and recycled gemstones. Each one is made by standards that our great-great-great-grandparents would approve of as they pay attention to their creations in a way that has since been lost, hand-drawing every design and hand-picking every gemstone paying careful attention in every stage of its creation.
Where To Buy?

(from her site)
As the premier sustainable fine jewelry collection, MONIQUE PÉAN raises awareness of art, culture and global environmental issues through design. MONIQUE PÉAN is known for its sculptural and structural one-of-a-kind pieces and unique materials and is committed to partnering with artisans around the world to support traditional craftsmanship. MONIQUE PÉAN pieces are handmade by master artisans in New York City using sustainable materials sourced globally through fair trade initiatives. Proceeds from MONIQUE PÉAN sales contribute to global philanthropic organizations which provide clean drinking water and basic sanitation to people in developing countries.
Where To Buy?

Uses recycled gold and platinum for its Canadian creations and fair-trade diamonds mined by Pride Diamonds in Sierra Leone. Their high-quality jewelry originates from pure sources and is harvested using socially responsible practices. They also donate a share of their profits to communities which have been ravaged by the jewelry industry.

This collection of jewelry is created using recycled sterling silver, gold-sourced form a Green Certified refinery with incredible environmental standards, Leland Slag which is made from the stone material created while refining ore in Michigan auto plants, and Raspberry Nickel which is made from the leftovers from shuttered US zipper factories. They also use upcycled stones as much as possible, along with antique tribal and reclaimed charms.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Photos:  S. Kind Co.