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Ethical jewelers seen as doing 'the right thing’

12 december 2016

The American bridal jewelry industry is worth around $12.5 billion, and the engagement ring industry on its own is valued at about $7.7 billion. These two parts of the market are by far the most important and are very much the bedrock of retail jewelry sales. The average cost of engagement rings is estimated at anywhere from $3,000-$6,000.

Given the ever-increasing popularity of ethically produced goods, it comes as no surprise that the bridal market should also be one where consumers are searching for a ring with a difference. “Many businesses out there are trying to do the right thing and be ethical,” said an American diamantaire.

“An engagement or wedding ring marks the beginning of a lifetime of commitment so many couples also want to mark that with a ring made honestly and without any exploitation – either of workers or the environment,” she added.

Above all else, ethically made jewelry fulfills consumers’ requirements for complete transparency. And, looking to achieve business success with social impact, Brilliant Earth co-founders Eric Grossberg and Beth Gerstein became involved in the diamond business just after graduate school. And Gerstein’s long search for a conflict-free engagement ring persuaded her that ethical was the way to go.

The business colleagues say they were surprised at how often they encountered people in the jewelry industry “wishing the ethical issues around sourcing would just go away, rather than addressing them head-on. They saw blood diamonds as a PR risk to be managed rather than a real problem to be solved.”

Doing their research thoroughly, they launched the San Francisco-based company in 2005, hoping to bring about social change in developing countries, as well as promoting transparency in the jewelry industry through responsibly-sourced jewelry.

Grossberg and Gerstein were touched by a conversation with an activist from the Democratic Republic of Congo, with whom they’re currently working through their non-profit arm. “He talked about how these gemstones, which are symbols of love and joy in affluent countries, too often don’t benefit the people in mining communities, who live in extreme poverty,” they said.

So far, they have financed two community centers in Congo in partnership with a local a non-profit body which is dedicated to sustainable development and environmental protection in the region.

Although the company started out as a partnership between the two entrepreneurs, it has expanded into a community who love fine jewelry but also are committed to change. Brilliant Earth is made up of jewelry designers, sales associates, gemologists, and others – all working to create and sell beautiful jewelry that customers can feel good about wearing. “Our customers, too, are part of our community,” the company’s website states. “It is with our customers' help that we are cultivating a more humane jewelry industry, one stunning piece of jewelry at a time.”

The firm says it is committed to four main concepts: ethical sourcing, quality, service and community. “At Brilliant Earth, we are dedicated to socially and environmentally responsible sourcing. Our carefully selected 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. These precious metals come from secondary sources and are re-refined to ensure that they are identical in quality to newly mined metals.”

As part of its mission “to transform the jewelry industry, we work in partnership with advocacy groups to promote awareness about conflict diamonds, dirty gold, labor and mining issues, and environmental concerns. We also donate 5 percent of our profits to directly benefit communities harmed by the jewelry industry”.

“Brilliant Earth believes that high-quality, fine jewelry need not come at a great human or environmental cost. Brilliant Earth provides the highest quality jewelry originating from pure sources and harvested using socially responsible practices. Brilliant Earth provides education about the social and environmental issues affecting the jewelry industry and identifies ways to help. Brilliant Earth supports underdeveloped communities ravaged by the jewelry industry by donating a share of our profits,” they say.

“Aware consumers make informed choices. We work with nonprofit agencies to provide comprehensive and objective information about our industry. We believe that through their purchases, our customers will drive the future of the jewelry industry. We believe in promoting socially responsible business practices that respect human beings and the environment. We endeavor to treat all individuals with respect, both inside and outside the company.”

The firm has also donated money to the Diamond Development Initiative’s (DDI) Tukudimuna Child Labor program, an initiative that aims to bring child mining to an end. The program is making headway in its effort to end child mining in the DRC and to create a model for other organizations to build upon in the future.

“All over the world, there are hundreds of thousands of poorly paid children laboring in dangerous diamond mines. With regular exposure to chemicals, disease, and hazardous mining structures, the health and well being of child miners are at serious risk. Without education or access to other opportunities, they are likely to remain in these mines for the rest of their lives. The Tukudimuna pilot program aims to remove Congolese children from diamond mines and provide an attuned infrastructure that will help foster them into higher education and better economic situations."

Another company that promises ethical, conflict-free diamonds is Houston-based Do Amore. With the purchase of every ring, the online-based startup helps provide access to clean water for somebody in need in partnership with actor Matt Damon’s by co-funding a water well.

Do Amore founder and CEO Krish Himmatramka said the inspiration for the business came when he proposed to his girlfriend. Himmatramka was surprised by how a symbol so significant in US culture made such little positive impact on the people and place it originated.

“When couples get married, it’s the happiest day of their lives,” he explains. By giving back to the community from which these diamonds came through Do Amore’s water initiative, “the ring becomes more than a symbol; it’s a positive action for others … changing the lives of others forever, as well.”

The company, which was established just three years, and whose name in Latin means “I give with love,” has helped hundreds of people access clean water, and says 51 percent of their net profits have gone into giving water (the remaining 49 percent has been reinvested into Do Amore). “It’s about how many people we’re helping, that’s always the goal we’re oriented towards.”

“Do Amore is committed to the environment and as part of this commitment, we are proud to use recycled precious metals,” Himmatramka said. “In fact, at all times, at least 80 percent of our rings are made from 100 percent recycled precious metals that come from suppliers who do not deal with the international mining community. Mining of precious metals can be environmentally destructive, and many mines operate with a disregard for the indigenous peoples and humane practices.”

“One of the bright spots regarding the precious metal mining industry is, a campaign that supports the efforts of groups working to end dirty gold mining practices, and has a set of golden rules for retailers to abide by. We are proud to have joined the No Dirty Gold campaign since the day we were founded.”

The diamonds the firm uses are also conflict-free. “In addition, we impose strict contract requirements on our suppliers that go beyond the Kimberley Process.”

All Do Amore rings arrive in an environmentally friendly box. The boxes are handmade from Jarrah wood by a small family-owned business. The wood is sourced from a sustainable forest in Australia that integrates the perpetual growing and harvesting of trees, with the preservation of biodiversity, soil, water, and air quality for generations to come.

“Every Do Amore ring is made in the United States. This ensures a high product-quality. Furthermore, the United States has strict labor and manufacturing laws that means safer working conditions, and more environmentally-friendly processes,” Himmatramka added.

By our Israel correspondent Abraham Dayan