Peace of Mind: 4 Sources For Ethical Diamond Rings

During this time of the year, your Facebook feed is probably inundated with engagement announcements. And most of them will have a photo of the bride-to-be beaming with her diamond ring.

Diamond engagement rings are so ubiquitous with romance that it's easy to get swept away with the fairy-tale idea of it all. However, even fairy tales have their dark moments, à la Brothers Grimm. The diamond trade is rife with human-rights abuse and heavy environmental damage. You will read many diamond-ring-buying guides that talk about the five C's, but few will address the ethical issues. To avoid contributing to any abuse, here are some options for ethical diamond rings.

1. Lab-grown diamonds

Did you know that a lab-grown diamond ring, also known as cultured diamond, is virtually indistinguishable from mined diamonds? Not only that, but they are also cheaper than mined diamonds and can cost about 20 to 30 percent less. Read more about them here.

2. Ethically sourced diamonds from a few countries

Yes, you can still get ethical diamonds from certain areas in Africa and other parts of the world if you do your research carefully. It's crucial to do your homework because a lot of the unethical diamonds get mixed in with the clean diamonds.

Consider sources that rely on industrial diamond digging, because their mines are too deep for artisanal diggers who can only dig for diamonds near the surface. These artisanal miners tend to work under unsafe conditions and are paid very little. Canada, Russia, and Botswana are other examples of countries with deep mines. You can also reach out to programs that support the rights of these artisanal miners to see where you should buy your diamonds. One such organization is Diamond Development Initiative International, a nonprofit that works to protect the human rights of artisanal diggers and to limit environment damage.

Check with the retailers to see if they have the proper certification, and probe them with questions. There are certain jewelers that have a great reputation for ethically sourced diamond rings, such as Brilliant Earth, so do research to find out who they are.

3. A family hand-me-down

Often there are heirloom rings that are handed down in every generation. You could continue with that tradition and even customize the ring to suit current styles. There's nothing more personal and meaningful than a ring handed down to you by someone you love.

4. Antique rings

Similar to the hand-me-down, antique engagement rings, especially the ones that are older than 50 years, are another consideration. It's a great choice for a one-of-a-kind and charming ring. Do your research to make sure the antique rings you're looking at weren't encompass engagement rings that were bought the year before or new rings that are made to look antique.

But keep in mind . . .

Some of these choices have their pros and cons. "By going to artificial diamonds, or Canadian diamonds, or some other kind of diamonds, what are you doing for the Africans? All you're doing is driving the price of those diamonds down, so they get less than they got before," says Ian Smilie, director of the Diamond Development Initiative International. "Artificial diamonds make you feel better because nobody has been hurt, but they don't do anything for the guy that is digging those diamonds in the Congo and will continue to dig them as long as there's a market. There will be a market, even if artificial diamonds doubled, tripled, quadrupled. Even if there was a huge increase in artificial diamonds, those diamonds out there would still be dug and the artificial diamonds would drive their price down. From a developmental point of view, it would just hurt people."