Part of the Problem

Most of the people reading this blog already know the deal with diamonds: they are price-fixed by an evil cartelfund civil wars in Africa, miners are subject to absurdly bad labor conditions, mining is bad for the environment, and the social construction of gifting diamonds as a romantic gesture has oogy patriarchal implications.  Did I forget anything?

So what can be done?

1. Use an old stone. Estate (pre-owned) rings/diamonds are a popular solution to fighting the Evil Diamond Man because they aren’t price-controlled in the same way new diamonds are.  And when it comes to human rights abuses in mining, I guess the philosophy for estate diamonds is “the damage is done.”  I honestly don’t know enough about the history of diamond mining to say if labor conditions have been better at one time or another, but note that “estate” doesn’t mean anything about how old a diamond is, it just means it is pre-owned.  “Antique” generally means from the 1920s or earlier.  One reason people go for estate diamonds instead of antique diamonds is that old “center stone” diamonds are tiny by today’s standards.

2.Use a different stone. This presents two problems: first, other gemstones are also mined under worker- and environment-unfriendly conditions.  Second: whenever you read “diamonds are intrinsically worthless” (from one of my links up there) you are reading anti-puffery.  Diamonds are pretty.  Diamonds are also very hard, and very unlikely to scratch, chip, crack, or shatter.  Other gemstones are substantially more likely to be damaged in these ways, especially when worn all day every day.  Diamonds rate a 10 on the Mohs hardness scale.  Sapphires are a 9.  But the Mohs scale is ordinal, so diamonds are almost four times harder than sapphires.  A friend of mine used a garnet in her ring (7 on the Mohs scale), and after two years it is chipped.

3. Use a lab-created stone. Lab created diamonds are sometimes hard to find because of the Evil Diamond Man, and pure white synthetic diamonds are most difficult to come by.  If you want a colored stone, a synthetic diamond can be a great option.  It’s even harder than a real diamond!  Synthetic sapphires are another great option; many people actually consider them more attractive than (very pricey) natural sapphires because they have a deeper color and are inclusion-free.  I do not know if the stone creation process is environmentally friendly or not.

4. Don’t have an engagement ring. A problem with each of the previous solutions is that they are generally still perpetuate the cultural expectations that support the diamond trade.  Additionally, metal mining has its own labor and environmental considerations, but I am not educated about these considerations.  A way to avoid all of the ethical problems with jewelry is to not wear any.  Obviously, this is emotionally unacceptable for a lot of people, who’ve either imagined wearing an engagement ring or giving an engagement ring for a long time.  And it can be difficult to deal with people thinking you are “not really” engaged if there is no jewelry.

Between decided to get married and “getting engaged,” Collin and I discussed all of these options.  We ended up… buying a new diamond.  Then we took turns clubbing baby seals.

The decision was primarily motivated by aesthetics and simplicity, which I suppose exacerbates our ethical transgression.  Collin had imagined a ring with a brown center stone (brown is my favorite color and the general color scheme of my wardrobe), and decided a cognac diamond would be the best option.  Brown diamonds are abundant in the earth, but they only recently started to be marketed as beautiful and be cut for jewelry.   Because they have a short history as jewelry stones, finding a synthetic or pre-owned brown diamond would have been difficult.  So he bought a new diamond.

And yes, I feel guilty about the diamonds on my ring sometimes.  We tried to educate ourselves, and then ended up making a knowingly unethical decision.  But the other thing I learned in trying to educate myself is that there aren’t any easy, simple, completely corrective solutions to the trouble with diamonds.  I realize choosing the least ethical of many imperfect options isn’t a defense.

But let me be very frank: I drive a car that runs on gasoline. I buy clothes from H&M and other retailers that use sweatshop labor.  I desperately prefer incandescent light bulbs to CFLs.  My diamond ring is far from the start or finish of my consumption of products that support wars, exploit workers, and destroy the earth.

Can we still be friends?

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14 responses to “Part of the Problem

  1. Viki Diedrich

    i love you for ever and like i said before all ways, always …….and always

    and Collie loves kitties

  2. Can you please continue blogging even after the wedding? I do enjoy reading it so! You have a great voice for this. Intelligent, honest, well thought-out, vulnerable, funny…

    This subject has interested me for a while now. IF Joe and I decide to get married, I’ve told him I don’t consider myself to be a diamond kinda gal. I just don’t see myself wearing one. I don’t wear traditional jewelry in general.

    If he does want to get me an engagement ring, I’ve suggested he could get me his birthstone — but I guess it’s topaz, which is not particularly thrilling. I’m thinking at this point it may make sense to just skip the engagement ring altogether.

    Is it bad that I’d rather continue wearing my jumbo costume jewelry rings instead of an engagement or wedding ring?

    • If getting you an engagement ring is important to Joe (Collin was really into it, which kind of surprised me), maybe he can get you a engagement jumbo costume jewelry ring? If Joe doesn’t care, and you don’t care, you don’t need a ring. [People will not doubt the “realness” of your engagement to Joe. They will say things like, “What were you waiting for?”]

      Also, thanks for the kind words and I’m glad you are enjoying reading!

  3. 1) Yes. Yes, we can.

    2) This was a well-put post, as per usual.

    3) The beau has a t-shirt that says “Stop clubbing baby seals.” And it has a drawing of seals dancing at a club.

    4) And um, don’t tell anybody else, but… I have a new diamond too. And it’s, um, white. HO SNAPZ.

    • 1. Yay!
      2. Thank you.
      3. That is the greatest t-shirt EVER. (Clubbing baby seals is my go-to evil deed, which I stole from my dad.)
      4. I must admit I am relieved I’m not the only blogger out there with a new diamond in her ring.

  4. As you know, I have an antique. It felt better than buying new, but who can really say? I doubt seriously that conditions were BETTER at mines in the 1910s and 20s. Somehow progress doesn’t ever seem to travel backward. It’s sort of like wearing your great- grandmother’s ivory brooch. Yes, the damage is done, but the elephant still died.

    And yet, we live in a society that prizes possessions far more than human rights. This makes me sad, but doesn’t stop me from buying my kids’ clothes at Target. They need clothes. I can’t afford American made because the cost of our labor is so crazy high.

    Oh, and the flourescent bulbs are filled with mercury, so they may use less elecricity, but they’re filling our landfills with toxins. Everything is a tradeoff.

  5. I have to delurk to say two things:

    1. When my manfriend and I started looking at rings, I heard a LOT about the Kimberley Process from various jewelry salesmen. Unfortunately for them, my job involves copious amounts of time in Shitty African Countries ™, and the only thing that flows faster than the oil is the paperwork, which can appear from nowhere and appear to say many different things at once. (There is nothing quite like laboring over a catering contract in the middle of rebel-held territory. Who the hell do you think is going to enforce that shit? Judge Judy?) So I think even “clean” mined diamonds have their issues — but so does everything else, as you so eloquently pointed out.

    2. My friend crush is unmoved by your confession. We all make compromises, as I am reminded daily when I blow my hair out, get in my car, and drive to my job in the suburbs. I used to be a lesbian anarchist with a mohawk! Sadly, I think that Growing Up involves a lot of realizing that your 19-year-old self would totally stage protests against you. It just comes down to you and your partner and what works at the time. No judgment!

    • Hello! I must say, “Growing Up involves a lot of realizing that your 19-year-old self would totally stage protests against you” should probably be printed on postcards and sent to every recent college grad. It’s too true.

  6. My engagement ring is a lab-created sapphire set in an antique diamond setting from my mother. And now, I am considering a wedding ring with “ethical” diamonds and recycled gold from an independent jeweler for my wedding band. The contradictions astound, particularly from someone who never wanted an engagement ring (his insistence) and who refused to wear new diamonds (oops on the wedding band, perhaps?) But you know what? I’m tired of every wedding thing being a battle and a symbol. Perfection is impossible and the wedding symbolism seems to match better with my aspirations than my everyday reality, so I’m not entirely sure anymore what I’m trying to prove. All I know is that I fell in love with a little ring design and I want it. And I’m focusing on the other aspects about the wedding band that make me feel good, including the very pretty handmade design from an independent artist.

    I club baby seals every morning because I’m an American and I gobble up an inordinate amount of the world’s resources. I work at fixing it, but sometimes I also just need to say “good enough is good enough”

    • I am also kind of throwing my hands up in surrender when it comes to the wedding band: there’s a band that is designed to curl up into the contours of my engagement ring, and I want it so badly. It’s more expensive than I would otherwise choose, and it has diamonds in it, which on top of the ethical problem goes against the Jewish tradition of having wedding bands “unbroken” by stones. But it’s so pretty, and it is so hard to imagine any other band with my engagement ring.

      Also I had never even heard of recycled gold before I started reading wedding blogs. Responsible consumerism is a pretty heavy order.

  7. Clubbing baby seals made me laugh out loud (in context, of course). I love the brown diamond. Love.

    I’m against engagement rings (not for other people, just for myself) because I have a hard time seeing it as anything but “Hi! Look at me! I’m engaged! I win!” even as I know that most people don’t wear it that way. Just one of the 349,498,887 wedding traditions that are not personally meaningful to me.

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