Ethically Sourced Diamonds


How does one begin to find and purchase an ethically-sourced diamond? The first step is finding a guide to navigate you through the ethical waters. This can be as easy as choosing a jewelry professional who shares your concerns, has researched the complexities, and whose inventory and services reflect that combined concern and research. A jeweler's willingness to educate you through the buying process is a good sign that they care about these issues.

Here we offer our introduction to the ethical sourcing of natural diamonds. The options include Kimberley Process ("conflict free") diamonds, Canadian, Australian, and South African ("least likely conflict") diamonds, estate diamonds, upcycled diamonds, and antique diamonds.

So, first, we’ll talk about what conflicted diamonds are. Then, we’ll go on to explain ethical diamonds, which can address issues of earth-friendliness as well as humanity. By guiding you through the diamond options available to you, you can make an informed decision. And we're here if you need to know more. Truly.

It seems many of our guests became aware of conflict diamonds when they viewed the movie, “Blood Diamond.” The movie was released in 2006…but interestingly enough, the diamond mining industry had already addressed the issue by 2002 and had implemented an international, unmandated solution on January 1, 2003.

At the beginning of the movie, words on the screen explain that the portrayed story is "historical in nature," since the Kimberley Process had already been put into action. But, no one remembers that part…

Diamonds are dug from mines or culled from riverbed gravel in 20 countries. In Africa, the significant producers, in descending order by quantity, are: Botswana, South Africa, Angola, Namibia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone. A very small percentage of the total supply from those countries originate in areas controlled by rebels, and therefore evade monitoring. They sell these diamonds and use the money to buy weapons and fund illicit and violent activities. Therefore, they are called "conflict diamonds." They enter the legitimate supply chain in clandestine ways at an early stage, between the time of extraction and the point at which they are processed.

Contrary to popular belief, the diamond industry responded to the issue of conflict diamonds way before the “Blood Diamond” movie even began production. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was put into action on January 1, 2003. At the time, approximately 4% of the world’s diamond production was from a conflicted source. Today, the conflict percentage is approximately 1%.

Since the “entry to market” of conflicted diamonds happens between mining and cutting, the Kimberley Process begins immediately after mining. All rough diamonds are transported to Government Diamond Offices, where the source of the diamonds is checked to ensure they are conflict-free.

The diamonds are then placed into tamper-resistant containers that are sealed; and issued a government-validated Kimberley Process Certificate. Each of these certificates bears a unique serial number. There are 74 countries that have implemented the principles of the Kimberley Process and have it enshrined in their national law. Only these countries may legitimately export or import rough diamonds.

Then, on to the wider market--where rough diamonds are consolidated. Once diamonds are imported into one of the 74 Kimberley Process participant countries, the government customs office, in conformance with its national procedures, checks the certificate and seals on the container.

Any rough diamonds without a government-validated Kimberley Certificate or that are unsealed are turned back or impounded by Customs. [And unlike what is stated on The Knot website, it is at this point that the Kimberley Process Certificate ceases to move onward. From this point forward, the diamonds’ status as “non-conflict” is guaranteed through standard language found on invoices provided by the selling party to the buyer party. A retailer does not have access to a Kimberley Process Certificate to show you!]

Once a diamond has been legitimately imported it is ready to be traded, cut and polished and set into jewelry. Several companies may be involved in this process. Each time the diamond changes hands it must be accompanied by a warranty on invoices stating that the diamond is not from a conflict source. This is called the System of Warranties. Manufacturers/traders are required to audit these System of Warranties statements on their invoices as part of their annual audit process and to keep records for 5 years.

Retailers are responsible for ensuring that the diamonds they stock and sell carry a conflict-free warranty. The System of Warranties does not require the warranty to appear on the consumer's receipt. But by implementing measures for greater supervision, compliance, and accountability through the System of Warranties within the diamond trade, consumers can 99% assured that the diamonds they buy are from sources that are free from conflict.

In the end, this issue comes down to a certain amount of trust, plus perhaps a leap of faith. At Alara, we do not take offense if our adherence to the Systems of Warranties, combined with our long-standing relationships with highly-established, large-scale cutters doesn’t allay your fears about possibly becoming the owner of one of the 1% of diamonds that are conflicted.

If you need to be shown our invoice (with certain info redacted), in order to see the System of Warranties statement from our supplier, just ask. Unfortunately, as a matter of practicality and source-protection, your assurances will stop there, because the cutter will most likely not share the certificate or warranty that came from “upstream.”

The Kimberley Process, like any commercial regulation, can have loopholes and minor failures. If you want absolute assurances that the diamond you are purchasing was not part of a scheme that funded terrorism or “blood diamonds,” unfortunately no recently-mined diamond qualifies. Every diamond-producing and diamond-cutting country has measurable issues with diamond smuggling, money-laundering, or Kimberley Process fraud. [FATF Report, “Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing through Trade in Diamonds,” October 2013.]

According to that same report, the nations most likely to be a source of conflict-free diamonds are South Africa, Canada, and Australia. Again, these sources are “most likely” conflict-free, but that cannot be 100% guaranteed.

That said, this is all about your comfort. And in order to be able to address the comfort of a wide spectrum of people, we have excellent sources for South African, Australian, and Canadian diamonds. Most Canadian diamonds come with additional provenance paperwork that builds confidence in many guests' diamond choice.

A number of our sources offer premium and patented cuts that will show a level of sparkle that few get to experience.

As you have probably reckoned, deciding to purchase any of the above “less common options” comes with a higher price tag. Granted, one cannot put a price on shopping one’s conscience. But it is simply a fact that without the economies of scale that work within the more traditional diamond market, the expense involved in bringing these diamond options to market is passed on to you. Don’t use pricing data on traditionally-sourced diamonds if you are considering an alternative source…you should expect to pay a bit of a premium, just because of simple supply and demand.

So how can you buy a diamond today and be 100% assured of its conflict-free status? Luckily, there are multiple options: antique, upcycled, and some estate diamonds all qualify as conflict-free. As a bonus… no additional mining need occur to acquire them!

To begin, Alara buys old diamonds from the public as a first-hand source of ethically-sourced diamonds. And by “old,” we mean Old European-cuts and Old Mine-cuts, which were cut between 1700 and 1920. Their production predates not just the modern conflict, but other conflicts that came before. Usually, we leave these diamonds in their original cut form (because they’re super cool!), but we have an unbelievably talented US-based diamond cutter partner who can recut them into modern cuts, as well...depending upon what our guests are grooving on.

Since these diamonds are antique and have been worn with love over the years, a skilled, artisan diamond-cutter can polish out all the nicks, chips, and scratches one might have. For example, we at Alara Jewelry are partnered with American Diamond Cutter, Maarten de Witte. Maarten has over forty years experience in the gem trade and is a GIA Graduate Gemologist and Master Diamond Cutter who holds two patented diamond cuts of his own. You can trust your antique diamonds will be in good hands with Maarten. Below, you can see the magic Maarten preforms!

So, you don't have a family diamond and we don't have what you want in stock? Jewelers with the right connections can help you source an antique diamond. We at Alara have several of those connections, and we invite you to stop by to learn about your options.

While they are not old enough to qualify as antique, some are old enough to predate conflicts. However, depending upon when they were cut, many diamond-cuts during the non-conflict time period are found to be unattractive to jewelers and consumers alike. As a consequence, certain estate diamonds are devalued on the market. This makes them a great option for the price, but how do you get around the unattractive cut? Enter diamond upcycling!

With diamond upcycling, you have the lower-priced estate diamond re-cut into a modern cut, or maybe into even a different shape. As mentioned earlier, you will want a jeweler with a strong relationship with an artisanal diamond cutter who can expertly re-work and beautify the diamond.

Upcycling is an interesting process, and a diamond, once re-cut, can be certified through a third-party organization. If you are interested in an upcycled diamond, you can either purchase one from an independent jeweler who sells certified upcycled diamonds, or you can have a jeweler who works directly with a third-party certification company to upcycle a stone purchased on your behalf.

Upcycled diamonds are conflict-free, eco-friendly, beautiful, and kind to humans.

All of this is just scratching the surface, but jewelry professionals that take ethical sourcing seriously are ready to help you learn as much as you want to know. We welcome any and all follow-up questions.

Lab-grown diamonds are obviously conflict-free, since there is no mining involved in their coming to market. Above and beyond their conflict-free status, we know there's a lot of talk about how "green" lab-grown diamonds are.

Like so many things that are new, it takes a while to discover the nuances to claims such as the eco-friendliness of lab-grown diamonds. So, in the name of giving you all the information: research shows that the energy involved in the production of a lab-grown diamond results in a carbon footprint not far different from a mined diamond.

Alara sells both white and colored lab-grown diamonds, grown by both the CVD and HPHT methods.