How I got my conflict-free engagement ring, and why it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be

Not so long ago, I got on one knee and proposed to my girlfriend while holding a diamond ring. Like my girlfriend, I wanted the diamond to be pretty, conflict-free, and pure. The process of finding something that she truly deserved? It wasn’t as easy as I had hoped.

PRETTY

Kriste's Ring

Well, ok, that was easy.

 

CONFLICT-FREE

When I first told my dad that I wanted to start looking for a ring, I knew absolutely nothing about what that process would be. Honestly, I wasn’t even completely sure what the difference was between an engagement ring and a wedding ring. Dad, amused at how little I knew about this tradition, took me to my first jewelry store so that I could become more acquainted; since, at this point, even the internet couldn’t help me. I needed an expert.

One thing I absolutely wanted was a conflict-free diamond (conflict diamonds are those sold in order to fund armed conflict and civil war). I’d rather not get on one knee and implicitly ask my girlfriend: “Hey, I’m funding a war for a symbol of our love. Will you marry me?”

As I shopped around Jared (I know, I went to Jared. Didn’t leave with anything, though), the store I visited with my dad–that, along with a few shopping mall jewelry stores, and my friends’ uncle’s shop–they all assured me they had conflict-free diamonds. I probably spoke to 8 diamond retailers individually. I started to pick up the trend: Americans demand conflict-free diamonds, and diamond retailers respond accordingly. So why didn’t I just stick with the first retailer I found? Well, the diamonds all came from the wrong place.

 

PURE

If there is one company name you should think of when you think of diamonds, think De Beers Jewellery. I’ll let Adam from College Humor ruin everything you thought you knew about engagement rings and diamonds, so I don’t have to.

Short Summary: De Beers monopolized the diamond market and made us all buy into it.

Longer Summary: At one point, De Beers existed as a “Central Selling Organization” that controlled around 80% of the supply of diamonds from mines around the world. De Beers secured a large majority of these diamonds, and held onto them so they would eventually become ‘rare’. Diamonds aren’t even rare. De Beers just did that to raise their prices (and we paid for it). Once De Beers had control of the diamond market, the company spent millions of dollars running campaigns like “A Diamond is Forever”, getting us to believe that we need to spend two months salary on an engagement ring, and teaching us to worry about the 4 “C’s” of diamonds: color, cut, clarity, and carats. All of this was made up by De Beers so that we would spend a lot of money on a rock that, while pretty, isn’t actually worth the amount of money that we paid for it.

So, when I called around to all those jewelry stores that told me they had conflict-free diamonds, they also assured me that I wouldn’t be able to find a diamond that wasn’t involved with the company De Beers. They all tried to find non-De Beers diamonds, but were unsuccessful. I even sent one gentleman from Farah Jewelers in Columbus on a month-long mission to find me the conflict-free diamond of my dreams, meaning one that was not from De Beers. He was also unsuccessful.

Maybe the individual diamonds from those stores were “conflict-free,” but they still came from the same company that created the conditions for diamonds to become conflict diamonds. Buying from De Beers felt like supporting a company that destroys acres of trees in the Amazon, but hosts local tree-planting initiatives and calls then calls its practices ‘environmentally friendly’. I couldn’t settle for that answer.

After digging online for some time, asking my already-married brother about his search, and talking with all the jewelry store owners, I found this diamond mine in Australia called Argyle Mines.

Argyle Mines specialized in colored diamonds, especially pink diamonds. In 1996, this mine decided it’d had enough of De Beers, and rebelled against its father company. Now, Argyle Mines is owned by the Rio Tinto group.

In my mind, if Rio Tinto supported a mine that rebelled against De Beers, then I’m in support of that company. That, and it’s a conflict-free mine (other than the conflict it got into with De Beers). Problem was, I just couldn’t buy (or afford to buy) their pink diamonds. So, instead, I dug a little deeper, and found some other mines that are owned by Rio Tinto.

I discovered that Rio Tinto has a diamond mine in Western Canada called the Diavik mine, and that Diavik Mine sells their product to a company that’s not owned by De Beers–Brilliant Earth!

Brilliant Earth sells their diamonds online, and, since I felt like an expert on diamonds at this point, I figured I didn’t REALLY need to buy a ring from a retailer. Looking around a bit more on Brilliant Earth’s website, I came across this beautiful line: “De Beers does not own either the Diavik or the Ekati mine,” both of the Canadian mines that supply Brilliant Earth with its diamonds. So that’s where I got the ring! Looks like I’ve got you beat De Beers.

It wasn’t about sticking it to “the man” though, but rather my journey was about finding something that embodied how the two of us could be truly be happy. Looking back, the search probably could have been easier if I wasn’t so set on buying from a retailer to begin with, but I had this idea in my head of what i was supposed to do to find the right ring. I was supposed to be romantic, and be in shock of the beauty of the diamond at the retail store like all the ads tell me to be. Now, I know that it’s okay to buy a diamond from an online store, if that online store can actually tell me where my diamond is from.

If you’re searching for an engagement ring, and perhaps find yourself starting out as clueless as I was, hopefully this information from my experience can help in your endeavor. No matter how frustrating the process of seeking truly conflict-free with my engagement ring choice, in the end, it was all worth it if I could make Kriste (and me) happy.

Kriste and Vytukas Lauren's Wedding