To say that engagement ring shopping is hard is an understatement. Whether you're looking to purchase one for yourself or your partner, there are seemingly endless variables to consider. First, there's style; the perfect ring should suit the wearer's personal aesthetic now — and 20 years from now. Then, there's budget. And, of course, there are the traditional four Cs to help determine a diamond's quality. We've all heard of cut, color, clarity, and carat size. But there's one more C that's equally, if not more, important to help guide your search: conflict-free.
Luckily, there's no need to be overwhelmed by this ambiguous fifth C. Those once-elusive conflict-free diamonds have become more and more attainable as jewelry brands redefine industry standards and call for new values. Paving the way is Vrai & Oro, a direct-to-consumer LA-based jewelry brand who launched Vrai & Oro Wedding, a line of sustainable and conflict-free engagement rings, to address this shift. With the brand's help, we broke down exactly why going conflict-free is such an important factor to consider.
WHAT DOES "CONFLICT-FREE" EVEN MEAN?
"Engagement rings are often the first diamond most people purchase, which means they really focus on what the seller is telling them to prioritize," said Vanessa Stofenmacher, founder and creative director of Vrai & Oro. And in most cases, she explained, that priority is on the four Cs. "The origin of the stone can become an afterthought. Besides the fact that slight differences in the color grading and clarity are often unnoticeable to the naked eye, we’d love people to begin truly questioning the traceability of their diamond. We believe consumers should be less focused on the specs and more focused on the source."
"Consumers should be less focused on the specs of a diamond and more focused on the source."
So, what determines whether a diamond was sourced from conflict-free circumstances? According to Stofenmacher, the industry labels a diamond as conflict-free if no one went to war to possess and sell the stone. But she was quick to point out that this definition still leaves quite a bit up for interpretation, including mining conditions, humans rights issues, and environmental effects. "After realizing the lack of transparency in the traditional industry, we knew we had to find a better way — something we could 100 percent stand behind. Diamonds change hands so many times, and there are so many middlemen involved in the process that it's nearly impossible to track." The solution for Stofenmacher and her team was sustainable, California-grown diamonds that are traceable from start to finish. "Conflict-free at Vrai & Oro means no compromise in the quality, the source, or the conscience of our diamonds while providing complete traceability from seed to polish."
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
By eliminating the mining process completely, opting for a sustainably cultured diamond reduces the human and environmental toll of the industry as a whole. There are no unfair labor practices, poor working conditions, or carbon footprint. You have peace of mind knowing your diamond was created ethically and responsibly.
But it's about more than just the ethical benefits — it's also about initiating industry-wide change and creating higher standards for the future. "We love that modern consumers are questioning traditions, from the food we consume to the products we purchase," Stofenmacher noted. "By demanding transparency, we’re forcing the traditional ways of business to change for the better, creating a more sustainable future one step at a time."
"By demanding transparency, we’re forcing the traditional ways of business to change for the better, creating a more sustainable future one step at a time."
Of course, the monetary benefit of going this route can't be overlooked, either. We learned from Vrai & Oro that, traditionally, jewelry is marked up eight to 10 times between the manufacturer and the consumer. Cutting out the amount of times a diamond changes hands means no retail markups — you're not paying for middlemen costs, import expenses, or designer inflation.
All in all, a sustainably grown diamond not only represents forward thinking and awareness, but is also a transparent and honest representation of love.
WHAT DO WOMEN THINK?
Curious about what our own POPSUGAR staffers thought of conflict-free diamonds, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that a few not only own or have purchased one themselves, but wholeheartedly stand behind their value.
"I took a class in college that focused on the political economy of the diamond industry, and I was appalled," managing editor Mandy Harris mentioned. "I was pretty fired up and talked to my husband (then boyfriend) at length about it. When we started talking about marriage a couple years later, it was really important to both of us to go conflict-free. I enjoy that my ring has sentimental value and makes me happy while also knowing that it was ethically and sustainably sourced," she said of her round-cut diamond inset into a white gold band.
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Front-end software engineer Julie Driscoll agreed. When it came time to purchase a ring for her partner, they decided to go with a conflict-free rose gold infinity ring. "It was rewarding to feel like we made a more informed and ethical decision in exploring conflict-free diamonds," she shared. "If I eat eggs from free-range, pasture-raised chickens, why not put that same consideration into a product whose procurement might affect human lives, too? When there is a more ethical route to acquiring an object, particularly a luxury item, it’s worth considering. It brought joy to us both, knowing that our love could be coupled with this 'goodness.'"
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For senior social media strategist Lisa Peterson, securing an ethically sourced solitaire diamond to sit on her gold band was a big priority. "We didn't want our celebration to come at the expense of anyone else," she said of her and her fiancé. "There are so many options out there that are equally ethical and beautiful! Plus, so much about the wedding industry can be all about increased consumption — the very least we can do is try our best to consume responsibly."