Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Diamonds, Conflicts, and Putting a Ring On It*

* Because every mention of rings must, for the rest of eternity as we know it, reference Beyonce.


This past Sunday, Nathan and I visited some local jewelry stores, to see what was out there as far as wedding rings go. We'd talked about rings on and off, and over time I found myself visualizing something very different than I had expected. Namely: bling. 

Here's the thing: I did not want, and thus did not receive, an engagement ring. I'm not a huge jewelry person, and I'm usually adorned with nothing more than cheap, dangly earrings. Engagement rings have an uncomfortable connotation for me - the idea that a man marks his territory with a sparkly diamond - plus, after nine years and two dogs, Nathan didn't have to get me a ring to prove that he was serious about marriage. And finally, we're broke. Engagement rings, like everything else wedding related, are expensive. I figured one ring - a wedding ring - would be more than enough. I don't regret this decision.

And yet, when we walked into the first jewelry store, the woman behind the counter somehow coaxed me into trying on a few sparkly diamond rings. As soon as that first diamond slipped on to my finger, I knew we were in trouble.

Vintage diamond ring from Etsy.

As much as I am not a big jewelry person, as much as I don't need a diamond, I realized that I liked the sparkle. That I want something different from what I would usually default to - that a simple silver or gold band would disappoint me. I'm not talking anything huge or obscene. In fact, the ring I liked the best was the smallest - 1/4 carat band, channel set, with a row of the tiniest diamonds. It was simple and elegant and beautiful and most of all affordable, and oh, how I wanted it. 

Hammered gold.

But nothing is as easy as it seems, especially not when it comes to wedding planning. As I admired the pretty ring on my finger, I asked the woman a few questions about the diamonds. Where did they come from? Were they conflict free? What kind of guarantees did this ring come with? Because while I was entranced by the sparkle and glitter, I'm still a dirty hippie deep down. I didn't want an indulgence on my part to mean death and torture for somebody else. 

The woman then told me about the Kimberley Process, which was established in 2003, and monitors all the diamonds that enter the market. "Every ring you see in a store today," she assured us, "is conflict free." 

This sounded great - a little too great. So as soon as I took the ring off my finger, I went home and got to Googlin'. I quickly discovered that while the Kimberley Process aims to regulate the diamond trade, it's far from a perfect organization. It follows a very narrow definition of "conflict free," so while the diamonds may not have funded a civil war, they could still have contributed to other forms of violence and cruelty. The Kimberley Process also doesn't require diamonds to be traced back to their mine of origin, doesn't audit diamond buyers and sellers, and does little to monitor smuggling of diamonds into the market. Basically, while the Kimberely Process is a step in the right direction, it is certainly no way to guarantee that "every ring you see in a store today is conflict free."

Conflict-free diamond band.

So what does a someone who wants a beautiful and sparkly piece of jewelry to commemorate a lifetime of love and commitment do? A few things. I said goodbye to all the rings in the stores, and turned my attention to websites that specialize in conflict-free, sustainably harvested diamonds. The best one I've found so far is Brilliant Earth, which has an easy-to-navigate website, a range of styles and gems, and a sound mission that aligns with my morals. The last band pictured above is very close to the ring I fell in love with at the store, but it's a bit more expensive.

Another option is to go the vintage route. I am more inclined to buy a diamond of questionable origin if the diamond in question is second-hand. That way, I wouldn't be directly supporting any sort of violence or treachery. Etsy is a great place to look for vintage jewelry, and I plan to visit a few antique stores in town next time I have a chance.

Of course, there's the issue of the diamond, period - why bother, when diamonds have such a dark and terrible history? When one of the main reasons we're taught to desire diamonds is because of clever marketing from ring manufacturers? When a diamond ring is unnecessary, indulgent, and fiscally irresponsible? Why, indeed? 

I can't really answer that question, because I'm still trying to figure it out myself. I will say that I don't need a diamond - I'd be happy with any kind of gem that sparkles and feels right on my finger. I do want something that will stand the test of time, that will remain lovely and elegant until my old age. I want something simple and understated, so that I will not get sick of it in ten or twenty years. I want something that represents the love Nathan and I share. Diamonds feel like the obvious choice, for a hundred fucked up reasons, but that doesn't mean the ring I choose will have one. It just means it's something I'm considering, and considering a diamond means considering a lot more than just a sparkly ring on my finger.

* Note: none of the rings pictured in this post are ones I tried on. They're just rings I like - click the images for Pinterest links.

** Also, Nathan is looking for a ring as well, but he didn't want to try any on - he still has no idea what he wants and didn't want to feel pressured by salespeople.

18 comments:

  1. I didn't get my first solitaire until our 5th year anniversary. I told Kreg from the beginning I didn't care for diamonds and it wasn't important. For our 5th yr anniversary Kreg wanted to get me a diamond so I finally agreed I would go look with him. When that solitaire slipped onto my finger I was hypnotized! One day in the car, I was watching the rainbows come off my diamond from the sun and I watched it glitter and shine. Kreg sounded a little hurt when he said, "I thought you didn't like diamonds. I would have done this from the beginning if I knew you really liked diamonds." I told him that I had no clue I would diamonds this much. It had transformed me into part raccoon by it's brilliance. :)

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    1. I now know exactly what you mean! It's easy to say you don't like diamonds when you've never worn one. That sparkle is hard to resist! :)

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  2. I've thought about this before, too. My humanitarian, anti-consumerist hippie side is very concerned about not contributing to the effed up diamond industry, but I do want a sparkly pretty engagement ring - doesn't have to be fancy, but I would like one. I've basically come to the same conclusion as you, that I would either get one from Brilliant Earth or a vintage ring.

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    1. Neat! I'm glad to know that there are other dirty hippies out there who also like sparkly things. :)

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  3. We went through this exact same process. Neil sold his house and used the money to buy my ring. I was racked with guilt not only for the purchase that I didn't feel worthy of, but the ethical nature of diamonds in general. I'm a cheap earrings girl myself, and I still feel vulnerable whenever I wear it.

    Do what you feel is right, and don't get sucked in by the process or what people tell you marriage and weddings should or shouldn't be.

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    1. Thanks, Jessica! Nathan asked me if I was worried about being judged if I didn't get a diamond ring. I said, no! I'm worried about being judged if I DO get one! :)

      So far we're doing okay by going with our gut, but I definitely feel pulled in a few directions, mostly because of family. Still, wedding planning has been (mostly) fun, so I guess I should consider myself lucky!

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  4. Chrissy,

    Any choice you and Nathan make will be the right choice. M proposed with a green zip tie. Sometimes I still wear it.

    Hope all is going well. Love your girls (and rooster)!

    Jen

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    1. A green zip tie! I love it. Nathan proposed with a handwritten letter, which I will keep forever and ever.

      And I am sure we'll make the choices for us. It's just figuring out what those right choices are that's tricky. :)

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  5. I really enjoyed reading this post. It shows that there is some truly beautiful and kind jewelry out there!

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  6. I like when you do wedding posts because they are a breath of fresh air compared to most people!
    http://catbirdnyc.com/ has some pretty and different rings and the description states if they are conflict free, which I think is pretty cool. I also really like going the vintage route, especially because you can sometimes find nice diamonds for really cheap.

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    1. Thanks for the kind comment, and for the link! I like writing wedding posts, but I try to make them a little different from the deluge already out there. So glad to know someone appreciates it! :)

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  7. Love Love Love this post! I am a new reader but I am quickly becoming a huge fan. I couldn't agree more with this post! Although getting engaged is probably a wee way off for me, it's nice to consider options (and so good to see Brilliant Earth ships internationally!). Thank you for such a great post.

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  8. John proposed with a ring that his dad had given to his mother on their anniversary, the day before John was born. I don't think I would have let him buy me an engagement ring. My engagement ring is honking big (for me, anyway - I've seen MUCH bigger) and is the kind of thing that snags and gets caught on things if you use your hands a lot. Since I knew I wasn't going to be wearing the engagement ring very often, I looked for wedding bands that sort of 'matched.' I really only found one but fell in love with it. It has a single small emerald and two teeny tiny diamonds. John decided he wanted a thick wedding band that matched the Celtic knots in my wedding band so he had one custom-made from raru.com - their site could use some work but we were really pleased with the product and the ring came in a niiiiiiice box.

    I wish more people cared about where their diamonds come from.

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  9. A beautiful and thoughtful post, my dear. You'll find the right ring for you. May your compassion in making that choice inspire you to build a compassionate marriage! I like the tone it sets for this next phase of your relationship.

    And oh lordy, that Beyonce song! I can't say I'm a fan, but I do kinda like how you used it in your post title :-)

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  10. THANK YOU for talking about ethics and diamond ! I bookmark the site in reference, I don't believe in mariage, but a ring is always a beautiful symbol.

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  11. You definitely gave us a few points to think about! I’ve always viewed engagement rings as the beginning of the promises made in the wedding vows – unconditional love and faithfulness. As for the point on the stones, there are other alternatives to diamonds that will give you just as much sparkle. I suggest looking up moissanite rings. They’re not diamonds, but they sparkle and shine just as much although they do have a tendency to be a little cloudy. They’re also a lot less expensive and definitely conflict-free.

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  12. I totally understand the issue regarding diamonds and ethics, and I applaud you for sticking to your morals! As Jeffrey mentioned, there are stones that are perfect substitutes for diamonds that give the same sparkle and also address the issue of where they come from. I’m sure you’ll find the perfect one when the time comes. I really like that conflict-free diamond wedding band in the picture you posted! The design might be simple, but that’s what makes it so elegant. Rings don’t always have to have big stones to look beautiful, and this is a perfect example of that.

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