Ethical Diamonds: Who’s Using Them, Where to Get Them, and Why Customers Want Them



Up until a few months ago, traditional diamond engagement rings were a staple for Tara Silberberg, owner of The Clay Pot, a jewelry boutique with locations in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Nolita neighborhood of Manhattan. Lately, however, Silberberg has noticed a change in what customers are requesting. “We have four engagement rings in production now with lab-grown diamonds because the girlfriends want an ethically sourced stone,” she says.

Silberberg has been selling Canadian diamonds, which come with guaranteed conflict-free sources, since the 1990s. But after reading a recent New York Times article about lab-grown diamonds, she began to consider the man-made products. The lower cost of lab-grown stones—they sell for about 30 percent less than natural mined diamonds—makes them especially appealing to young couples in the market for wedding jewelry.

Silberberg has become such a believer in the emerging lab-grown category that she’ll soon unveil lab-grown loose diamonds from the Leonardo DiCaprio–backed startup Diamond Foundry, which approached her for an exclusive New York City partnership. 

“We’ll have a display in-store that will sit alongside our mined stones so customers can see the difference,” Silberberg says.

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Stacked pavé scale earrings in 18k gold with 0.96 ct. t.w. ethically sourced diamonds; $4,225; Lisa Kim, Los Angeles; 818-572-7928; lisakimfinejewelry.com

Natural Selection

Lab-grown diamonds are just one way for consumers to acquire stones with guaranteed responsible origins. Ethically sourced diamonds can also refer to natural mined diamonds from Canada, Australia, and other places in the world with Kimberley Process (KP) documentation ensuring conflict-free status; recycled diamonds (from, say, Hoover & Strong’s Harmony line); and secondhand stones bought from consumers. 

While ethical diamonds remain a niche item, a growing community of jewelers is drumming up support to make them more available at retail. Consider Kristen Drapesa, founder and CEO of Ecohabitude, an online retailer of eco-friendly lifestyle products including diamond jewelry. According to Tatyana Acuna, a public relations and marketing associate for the company, the site was born out of Drapesa’s frustration at not being able to find responsibly sourced jewelry. “She wanted to make a place where people could obtain these products,” Acuna says. “They were strangely hard to find.”

That’s hardly news to Todd Pownell of TAP by Todd Pownell in Cleveland. The designer began incorporating recycled diamonds from clients’ old pieces into his work long before the 2006 film Blood Diamond magnified the issue. He found comfort in the company of like-minded jewelers from the Society of North American Goldsmiths and Christina Miller, cofounder of Ethical Metalsmiths, a Richmond, Va.–based advocacy group that counts designers Judi Powers and Sarah McGuire as members.

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Earrings in oxidized silver and 18k yellow gold with inverted 1.1 cts. t.w. recycled diamonds; $2,156; TAP by Todd Pownell, Cleveland; 216-773-8277; tapbytoddpownell.com

Now, however, a growing momentum behind sustainable and ethical jewels has made them more available than ever. Designer Lisa Kim, for example, sources newly mined ethical diamonds from a dealer who also scans parcels for synthetics and from dealers with stakes in the mines where the stones originate. 

“I create pieces to inspire joy and don’t want it to come at the expense of a group of people in another part of the world,” says the Los Angeles–based jeweler, adding that she’s convinced that responsible sourcing makes a difference to consumers. “I bring up ethics because I want them to know, and it usually encourages them further into the sale.”

When McGuire started buying diamonds in 2007, she would ask her vendors about the origins of their diamonds, but they looked at her like she “had three heads,” she recalls. Now she buys recycled diamonds from Hoover & Strong and is considering turning to Niccolò Bella, a Nashville, Tenn.–based supplier that sells stones that are “traceable, recycled, and cut and polished in responsible centers,” according to its website.

“Every part of mining is dirty, so whatever we can do to improve transparency and get people asking questions is better for everyone,” McGuire says.

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Rings in Hoover & Strong 18k recycled gold with 0.22–0.31 ct. conflict-free diamonds; $1,245–$2,385; Sarah McGuire Studio, Chicago; 773-327-8870; sarahmcguire.com

Consumer Relations

Of course, the big question for many retailers is: Are consumers willing to pay a premium for ethical diamond jewelry? Chrysa Cohen, owner of Continental Jewelers in Wilmington, Del., thinks yes, and offers an anecdote by way of explanation: About 10 years ago, a 20-something client looking for an engagement ring asked Cohen about guaranteed non-conflict stones. The retailer acknowledged that even though a small percentage of diamonds came from conflict areas, the KP certification scheme combined with assurances from her trusted suppliers ensured that the diamonds she sold were non-conflict. 

“We rely on them,” Cohen told the customer, referring to diamond dealers. “This is an industry of trust.” She ultimately closed the sale.

Fast-forward to today, and Cohen is expanding her inventory of ethical jewels, including pieces by Powers, who pays a 25 to 50 percent premium for ethical diamonds and passes that on to her retailers. 

Asked at a spring trunk show if consumers took issue with the cost of Powers’ jewels, Cohen answered with a confident “no.” The caveat, of course, is that the designer was at the trunk show, sharing her story. “That’s why people buy jewelry—the story with the emotion attached to it,” Cohen says.

For Ecohabitude’s Acuna, who met Powers at a retail-facing holiday sale in 2014, price had little to do with her decision to buy the designer’s ethical jewels. Acuna’s fiancé gave her a Powers necklace as a gift, and Acuna custom-ordered his engagement ring (yes, she proposed!) with the word home in Morse code on the interior shank and a diamond on the exterior. 

Great products “make you want to shop—especially when they are ethically sourced and sustainable,” Acuna says.

A kindred spirit lurks in Lisa Witter, an activist, writer, and speaker who has purchased several pieces—two pairs of earrings and an oversize bracelet—from Powers. While pricing figured into her decisions, it was not the most important aspect of the sale. “My purchases were driven by the sustainability of the product, the beauty of the product, and Judi as a woman entrepreneur,” Witter explains.

“Price is an issue, but something I can overcome when I know the story, the artist, and the purpose.” 

Top: Bob Moorman of Carroll’s Jewelers in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., shows comparable lab-grown and mined diamonds. (photo: Tribune Content Agency LLC/Alamy)

Inset: Kapoor earrings in 18k gold with 0.06 ct. t.w. Harmony recycled diamonds; $550; Judi Powers, Brooklyn, N.Y.; 718-571-9049; judipowersjewelry.com (photo: Gurvitch Images)

 

9 Places to Buy Ethical Diamonds

Whether they’re manufacturers, designers, or miners, these suppliers can guarantee the origins of their stones. —JH

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Harmonic ring in 18k recycled pink gold with 0.63 ct. t.w. champagne-color diamonds; $2,300Sandy Leong for Diamonds With a Story, NYC; 646-725-3336; sandyleongjewelry.com

1. Hoover & Strong
Hoover & Strong offers Canadian-origin stones and recycled diamonds to the trade; the latter are sold through its Harmony division. (North Chesterfield, Va.; 800-759-9997; hooverandstrong.com)

2. Niccolò Bella
This business-to-business company deals in mined diamonds that are traceable, recycled, and cut and polished in responsible centers. The firm sources its melee from Canada and Australia and has it approved by the Jeweltree Foundation and/or Origin Australia. (Nashville, Tenn.; 866-535-0917; niccolobella.com)

3. Rio Tinto
The Anglo-Australian mining giant offers responsibly sourced colorless diamonds from its Diavik mine in Canada and brown, gray, and some colorless stones from its Argyle mine in Australia. (New York City; 484-753-2193; riotinto.com)

4. The Raw Stone
This B2B and B2C firm sells ethically sourced rough diamonds and finished jewelry with certificates of origin. (San Francisco; 720-360-0626; therawstone.com)

5. Inspira Diamonds
From Down Under, this wholesaler provides ethically sourced diamonds with a traceable chain of custody. (Wangara, Australia; 61-89-408-1116; www.inspiradiamonds.com)

6. Pure Grown Diamonds
The lab-grown-diamond manufacturer sells sustainably made diamonds available in pink, yellow, and colorless hues. (Iselin, N.J.; 866-799-8885; puregrowndiamonds.com)

7. Diamond Foundry
Made famous by investor Leonardo DiCaprio, this lab-grown-diamond manufacturer has teamed up with designers and retailers to promote its freshman collection of loose diamonds and jewelry. (San Carlos, Calif.; 888-250-8129; diamondfoundry.com)

8. Stuller
The behemoth of suppliers boasts Canadian-origin melee as well as lab-grown diamonds, and guarantees that its mined diamonds comply with Kimberley Process standards. (Lafayette, La.; 800-877-7777; stuller.com)

9. Rio Grande
Among the supplier’s offerings: moissanite, Australian Silvermist (gray) diamonds, and KP-certified stones from companies that meet Responsible Jewellery Council standards. (Albuquerque, N.M.; 800-545-6566; riogrande.com)

PLUS:
Charles & Colvard
Man-made silicon carbide, aka moissanite, is a colorless stone ethically sourced from a lab in Tarheel territory. (Morrisville, N.C.; 877-202-5467; moissanite.com)