The Ugly Side of Gold and Diamonds—and Finding Truly Beautiful Ones

loose-diamonds-recently-purchased-engagement-rings-300x240pxWhile gold and diamond jewelry is beautiful, it comes with a dark side that they don’t show us on commercials. Before just looking in the jewelry case, consider this:

“In Sierra Leone, Angola, the Republic of Congo, Liberia and the Ivory Coast the sale of conflict diamonds continues to thrive for many reasons. Rebels make large profits because they use free labor–They threaten villagers at gunpoint, forcing them to dig for diamonds. If villagers refuse to follow soldiers’ orders, their limbs are amputated as punishment. Rebels sell the diamonds on the black market for less than other diamonds. Therefore, wholesalers make a bigger profit. The rebels use the money gained from the diamonds to fund wars.”[1]— CNN

The UN has established the Kimberley Process to identify conflict-free diamonds that were obtained legitimately, however this does not prevent sale of unethical diamonds.

And mining the earth for gold is equally perilous, for the environment and surrounding communities. The Smithsonian has reported:

  • The majority of the world’s gold is extracted from open pit mines, where huge volumes of earth are scoured away and processed for trace elements.
  • To produce enough raw gold to make a single ring, 20 tons of rock and soil are dislodged and discarded.
  • Much of this waste contains mercury and cyanide used to extract the gold from the rock, and the contaminated soil runs off clogging rivers.
  • Air quality is also compromised by gold mining, which releases hundreds of tons of airborne elemental mercury every year, as well as sulfur dioxide.[2]

There is a No Dirty Gold campaign to raise awareness, and fortunately there are companies making jewelry from recycled gold and diamonds.

One such company is Brilliant Earth—they make wedding rings and high end jewelry from sustainably and ethically sourced gold and silver, and diamonds from Canada, South Africa, Botswana and Russia. It’s stated mission is to cultivate a more ethical, transparent, and sustainable jewelry industry and to go above and beyond the Kimberley Process.

  • Suppliers adhere to strict labor and environmental standards and can demonstrate a complete chain of custody for their gemstones.
  • To reduce the demand for additional dirty gold mining, we only use recycled gold and platinum. The precious metals come from secondary sources and are refined to ensure that they are identical in quality to newly mined metals.
  • The company has funded a mobile school in a mining community in Congo to offset the negative effects of the mining and offer hope of other economic opportunity for students.

Everyone has a choice—we can purchase some of our most meaningful and expensive jewelry from the nearest jeweler without asking important questions about the impacts each piece has caused, or we can choose to seek out companies that strive to make the effort to do right by people and the planet.

[1]  http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-881410

[2] http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/environmental-disaster-gold-industry-180949762/?no-ist