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How to Buy a Conflict-Free Diamond

Posted by Kevin Ulrich on 18 December 2015

Nearly a decade ago, Leonardo DiCaprio rocked the big screen in Blood Diamond, a film about a smuggler, an American journalist and a farmer all in search of a rare pink diamond in Sierra Leone. Since Blood Diamond first raised awareness about the diamond trade – and how rebels use the diamond trade to finance conflicts against legitimate governments, exploiting local labor with deadly consequences and human rights violations – brides-to-be have increasingly opted for conflict-free diamonds. But how do you know if a diamond is truly “conflict free”? From choosing diamonds certified by the Kimberley Process to re-setting vintage rings and family heirlooms, here are three ways that savvy brides-to-be are finding the perfect engagement ring that’s also an ethically responsible choice.

Understanding the Kimberley Process

The Kimberley Process is an international system put in place to prevent the trade of diamonds that fund conflicts and rebel movements. Established in 2003, the Kimberley Process has been effective at reducing the trade of conflict diamonds by requiring the 75 member nations to set up import and export control systems for rough diamonds. However, since the Kimberley Process focuses primarily on rough diamonds used by rebel movements, critics charge that it does not address the broader range of risks to human rights posed by the diamond trade in countries like Zimbabwe. Enforcement has also been a problem. Despite an embargo placed on the diamond trade in Central African Republic (CAR), conflict diamonds continue to reach international markets. Despite these shortcomings, the Kimberley Process remains an important and effective means for restricting the trade of conflict diamonds.

Beyond Conflict Free: Ethically-Mined Diamonds

Canada is a top-source for ethically-mined diamonds and other gem stones. Diamonds mined in Canada’s Northwest Territories are mined in compliance with strict labor and environmental laws. The Canadian government works closely with local indigenous communities to care for the protected Arctic environment. In Africa, mining operations in Namibia and Botswana meet strict labor laws and environmental protections not found in other African countries.

Watch out for diamonds sourced in Zimbabwe, Angola and Cote d’Ivoire, three countries where the diamond trade is well documented for fueling lengthy civil conflicts, violence, corruption and forced labor. If you have concerns about a diamonds origin, ask for more information from the seller, including a certificate of origin.

Vintage Diamonds & Family Heirlooms

Another option savvy brides-to-be (and their grooms) are increasingly choosing are vintage engagement rings. Whether brides are having family heirlooms re-set or shopping re-sellers that offer vintage options, choosing a pre-loved ring is a wonderful way to interweave your love story with a beloved family member’s– and avoid many of the issues surrounding conflict diamonds today.

No matter what type of diamond you dream of wearing on your finger, work with a jeweler you trust who will take the time to answer your questions about a diamonds origins and mining practices. While the outcry over “blood diamonds” has pushed jewelers to adopt higher standards, it still pays to do your research. 

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Is your love in the air – or is it set in stone?

A diamond is a forever investment. Understanding the four C’s – carat, color, clarity and cut – will ensure that you make a smart selection. While some of these differences are not visible to the naked eye, they do directly impact a diamond’s overall quality and price. When selecting your perfect diamond, keep the following in mind:

Cut

A diamond’s “cut” grading measures whether a stone has maximum brilliance and sparkle– it’s what brings fire to the ice and catches your eye. Cut is different from the shape of the diamond (e.g., princess cut, emerald cut, etc.). The cut evaluation rates the diamond’s angles and brilliance, evaluating the diamond’s proportion, facet arrangement and overall workmanship quality. Diamond cut grades range from “excellent” to “poor” with the excellent rating resembling the ideal cut illustrated below.

Diamond Cuts

Clarity

Virtually all diamonds for sale today include minor irregularities or imperfections, although these imperfections are rarely visible to the naked eye. The minor imperfections in a diamond are caused by the liquid volcanic rock in which a diamond is created. While diamonds are primarily pure carbon, during the crystallization process, other nearby minerals may become trapped within the cooling mass, which in turn affects the diamond’s clarity.

Clarity is measured on a scale with grades running from “flawless” (virtually no imperfections) to “included” (imperfections heavily included). “Pure” diamonds are flawless or internally flawless; these diamonds are exceedingly rare and expensive. VVS-1 and VVS-2 grade diamonds have very, very small inclusions; VS-1 and VS-2 diamond have very small inclusions; SI-1 and SI-2 diamonds have small inclusions; and I-1, I-2 and I-3 diamonds are heavily included. Diamonds are graded under a 10X magnifying glass in good lighting by an experienced grader. The final grade is determined by how easily the grader can see the inclusions and blemishes.

Color

The “color” rating actually refers to the absence of color in a diamond. Like a drop of pure spring water, when it comes to diamonds, the less color, the better. The jewelry industry recognizes the highest quality gemstones by purity of hue. In order to demine the absence or presence of different hues, an experienced diamond grader will compare the diamond to “master stones” using artificial or natural northern daylight. Colorless diamonds are graded either D, E or F. Near colorless diamonds are graded G, H, I or J. Slightly tinted diamonds receive a K, L, M or N rating. Very light yellow diamonds are graded O, P, or Q; light yellow diamonds are graded R, S, or T; yellow diamonds receive a U, V or W grading and light fancy diamonds are graded X, Y or Z.

Diamond Color

Carat

The most well-known of the four C’s, “carat” is the unit of measurement for ta diamond’s weight. A carat is subdivided into 100 “points”; for example, a 50-point diamond is “half a carat” or “0.5 ct”. Today, many individuals also equate carat with size. Generally speaking, the higher the carat weight, the larger (and more expensive) the stone. However, color, clarity and cut also affect a diamond’s price; two diamonds of equal carat weight may have very different prices due to these three ratings.