Designers / Diamonds / Industry

Ashley Zhang on Recycled Diamonds and Responsible Practices


As consumers grow more conscious of where their goods are coming from, fine jewelry has become a focal point of their awareness. Many shoppers concerned about the sources of their gemstones and metals are choosing vintage and antique jewelry, while some have turned to lab-grown stones in an effort to minimize their encounters with conflict materials.

You won’t find lab-grown diamonds when shopping with Ashley Zhang, but you will discover a dedicated selection of vintage, antique, and bespoke pieces. The only downside? Choosing just one.

Below, we talk with Zhang about “recycled diamonds” (a popular buzzword recently), responsible sourcing, and some customers’ objections to vintage jewelry.

JCK: Responsibly sourced gemstones and metals are increasingly becoming priorities for young consumers. Describe how your brand approaches this demand.

Ashey Zhang: The entire jewelry industry has become much more conscious of making sure better practices are in place in terms of supplying ethical and traceable materials. Over time, it has become easier and easier to work with more vendors who are conscious of this.

Ashley Zhang vintage diamond ring
Vintage ring in 14k yellow gold with 0.95 ct. t.w. round brilliant diamonds and 0.05 ct. t.w. single-cut diamonds, $2,400
Ashley Zhang Victorian old mine cut ring
Victorian ring in 14k yellow gold with 2.5 ct. old mine–cut diamond, $10,200

As many of your pieces are vintage or custom, you have the ability to offer “recycled diamonds.” What makes this opportunity so special?

Recycled diamonds have actually always been part of the jewelry industry, but jewelers and diamond dealers weren’t advertising them because they thought they would receive consumer pushback. Recycled diamonds are diamonds that have been removed from an already set piece of jewelry. Sometimes this jewelry is antique, sometimes they are much more modern. The great news is these diamonds are not contributing to any new mining or global trade, making them very ethically and environmentally friendly.

Ashley Zhang old euro cut diamond ring
Ring in 14k yellow and white gold with 1.88 ct. old European–cut diamond and 0.1 ct. t.w. single-cut diamonds, $19,600
Ashley Zhang two old european cut diamond ring
Ring in 14k yellow gold with 0.83 ct. and 0.85 ct. old European–cut diamonds and 0.65 ct. t.w. old-cut diamonds, $7,650

How would you describe to customers the differences between old-cut diamonds and round brilliants? What are the advantages to something like an old Euro–cut or old mine–cut stone?

There are two simple ways to describe how these antique stones differ from modern cuts. The first would be the open culet; the second is the faceting style. The old European–cut or old mine–cut diamonds have a much broader or chunky faceting style. This means that your sparkle is a little less brilliant but more like broad flashes of light. These more subtle flashes often make the diamonds appear whiter for their color grade.

Ashley Zhang toi et moi ring
Petite toi et moi ring in 18k yellow gold with 0.47 ct. and 0.53 ct. old European–cut diamonds, $3,800
Ashley Zhang old mine cut three stone ring
Three stone ring in 18k yellow gold with 0.57 ct. old mine–cut diamond center, 0.58 ct. t.w. old mine–cut diamond sides, and 0.09 ct. t.w. old-cut diamonds, $4,300

Have you ever had a customer worry about the history of a ring? What do you say to someone who worries their new piece might carry bad luck? (I have to ask this because when I worked in a vintage consignment store, we heard it a lot!)

I have heard this from customers! My thought is if you are drawn to a piece, I feel like it was meant for you. I have yet to feel any bad luck personally to any pieces of jewelry that I have loved.

Ashley Zhang Wren ring
Wren ring in platinum with 6.3 ct. old European–cut and 0.14 ct. t.w. single-cut diamonds, $65,500
Ashley Zhang Victorian Rosey ring
Victorian Rosey three-stone ring in 18k rose and yellow gold with 0.89 ct. old European–cut diamond and 0.4 ct. t.w. old mine–cut diamonds, $6,200

What are your thoughts on lab-grown diamonds? Would you offer them to a customer for a bespoke design?

No, we choose not to supply lab-grown diamonds. While they are much less expensive than natural diamonds, they still can cost thousands of dollars. These diamonds aren’t rare—over time I strongly feel their value will drop. While most customers aren’t looking to purchase an engagement ring to sell it in the future, I don’t think it would feel good to know how little it would be worth in a short period of time. The other factor is, lab-grown is really a marketing term for “factory-made.” Most of these diamonds are made in mass production overseas and it takes an enormous amount of energy to produce and supply them, so they really aren’t as environmentally friendly as they are marketed.
The diamond industry has made huge strides in ethical mining practices in the past 15 years. There will always be a need for improvement. While the industry isn’t perfect, we need to also look at all of our consumer good choices with the same critical standards.

Top: Ashley Zhang (photo courtesy of Ashley Zhang)

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By: Brittany Siminitz

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