Thursday, May 29, 2008

Diamonds: A Girl's Best Friend . . . or, Frenemy?

Some full disclosure: I love diamonds. They mesmerize me. I have caught myself staring at a random woman's ring finger many a time. I love how diamonds sparkle in the lowest of light (the lower light, the better, actually). I love how little rainbows almost zoom out and about - in my mind's eye, it is almost magical. Really.

Although the modern obsession with diamonds was, as is often told, created by DeBeers in a really impressive marketing campaign in the 1940s, diamonds have been valued for many centuries all over the world. I recently bought a Russian language book (getting in touch with my cultural heritage) about the treasures of the czars in Russia. Holy Toledo, did they have some sparkly things!

The Great Imperial Crown was made for the Empress Catherine II the Great's Coronation in 1762. The crown is set with 5,000 selected Indian diamonds (some Russian sources state this number as 4,836) and and number fine, large white pearls.

And another crown.

This is a portrait of Catherine the Great . . . just dripping with diamonds.

This is a great website for more information on famous diamonds throughout history.

Alas, we all have heard about the problem with diamonds - Leonardo DiCaprio's movie, Blood Diamond, brought mainstream attention to the issue of "conflict diamonds". Specifically, the issue is that diamonds have been used as currency to fund brutal conflicts - esp. in Africa. The Kimberley Process, which has been promoted as a way to make sure that consumers get conflict-free gems, is actually a process that is regulated by the diamond industry itself - by people who profit off of diamond sales. On one hand, it makes sense for them to focus on this process - many activists and organizations have called on the diamond industry to take more responsibility for the impacts of the diamond industry on mining countries. But, then again, many consumers could care less. Most people don't even think about it and jewelry sellers respond in kind. If you walked into a local jewelry store and asked them what proof they had about the origin of their diamonds, most stores wouldn't give you a good answer. However, the process is a great start toward using diamonds to help the people who mine them. But, many say that it is almost impossible to guarantee where a diamond is coming from b/c many are smuggled out of countries to be sold on the world market. It kind of makes sense. They are small, easily hidden.

What do you think? I am not comfortable with the situation enough to feel good about purchasing a new diamond (and I am hoping to be purchasing a diamond soon . . . cross my fingers). Although, I might be swayed by Brilliant Earth, a company that sells only conflict-free diamonds — mining them from Canada, where a third party regulates, monitors, and tracks the gems.

Also, I thought a post from Wendy Brandes, a jewelry designer who writes a very entertaining blog, was informative on the whole issue (but remember, she is a jewelry designer who uses diamonds in her designs). Find it here. The one thing that I disagree with her about is the issue of "vintage" diamonds. If you buy a vintage diamond, you are not fueling any new conflict or war. Plus, although there were probably many atrocities happening in diamond mining 25 years ago, they didn't have the kind of guns they do now. And definitely not 45 years ago. Or 70 years ago. (Although we must remember that the simple machete created lasting damage in the Sierra Leone war.)

On to happier thoughts. So what are you going to do if you love pretty, sparkly diamond things, but your conscience is telling you "no, no. no!"? Well, I just came across the Ross Simmons Estate Jewelry site and it is great. There are some beautiful pieces from a range of decades - 1900s to 1990s - and a wide range of prices. You can click on any of the pictures for a close-up. And the best part - they are all pre-owned, so no new resources are going into the mining and manufacturing of your ring (and no new conlficts being funded). Very green chic. Here are some of my favorites:


Meghan said...

You certainly did find gorgeous estate jewelry.

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C5 company offers gorgeous, sustainable alternatives to the traditional jewelry industry. Jewelry is made from recycled metals and either lab-created or ethically sourced gems (depending on what the client wants).

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WendyB said...

I certainly agree that with vintage diamonds you don't fuel any new wars, but they certainly might have come directly out of the old ones. Basically you're operating on the "ignorance is bliss" principle with that. I do think people should be more informed about what wars are actually ONGOING, as I find many people think wars that have been over for years are current events.

Anonymous said...

Those are beautiful vintage pieces and I also agree with you about buying vintage diamonds. Another site you may want to look at if you are in the market for diamonds is

Sal said...

Lab-grown gems are a great option for those of us wary of diamonds, both new and vintage. My dear friend and superfab jewelry designer Karin Jacobson has a wedding line that utilizes Palladium and Moissanite. Neither material puts people or natural resources at risk, and the designs are MARVELLOUS!

Rings here:

Info on the materials used here:

Righteous (re)Style said...

Sal -

I was really excited about Moissanite a few years ago when it was first introduced. The only thing that I don't like about it is that when Moissanite reflects light, it often has a greenish tinge, while real diamonds have the full spectrum of colors, which makes them so beautiful. Plus, from the ENVIRONMENTAL perspective, buying vintage saves all kinds of resources apart from the social issues that we have been talking about reading about.

Wendy - LOVE your blog, btw. And I don't disagree with you - we don't know what kind of conditions vintage diamonds were mined under. However, we do know that they were not such a hot commodity until the 1950s or so (the DeBeers marketing campaign was initiated in the late 30s), and that was mostly in the US. So, I think we can assume that since the demand was fairly low, they were probably not causing much commotion (outside of the general environmental impacts of artisanal mining). Also, buying used or vintage is better from the environmental perspective in that no new resources are expended to create the piece.

Sal said...

It's true: Moissanite can be tinted green. I've heard it can go a bit yellowish sometimes, too. I'm never able to tell the difference, but then again, I just get distracted by the sparkly. ;)

I see your point about vintage items not sucking up resources at all, but I feel like lab-grown gems are a good alternative for those who want something wholly new and personal. Sure, you can re-set a vintage diamond if you don't dig the original setting ... but that'll take up resources, too, since most jewelers won't melt down/re-use old gold. So if someone wants a custom piece, a lab gem setting may have a similar environmental impact to rejiggering a vintage piece.

Marissa said...

Agree about vintage jewels. They are always so much more unique looking anyway.

Now, onto your heritage! Russians are so awesomely gaudy. Diamond-encrusted Mercedes, anyone? Ahh, I miss Moscow and all of its eccentric millionaires throwing fairs!

Righteous (re)Style said...

Marissa - oh yes, the gaudiness of the Russians! I swear, I can spot a Russian tourist within 15 feet. No wonder the country is going to total sh*t - diamond encrusted Mercedes do not a stable economy make.

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