With February in full force, the hopeful dreams of spring blooms and warmer temperatures aren’t the only things floating in the air. Everyone’s favorite winged, diaper-wearing archer is at it again this Valentine’s Day, piercing both the love skeptics and the love saturated with equal amounts of courage and passion.
It’s not just conversation hearts and chocolaty confections being doled out to loved ones — an estimated 6 million love-struck Americans are planning to propose or are expecting a proposal on Valentine’s Day, according to one CNN report. That’s great news for couples looking to celebrate their love and seal their commitments, and even greater news for the titans of the jewelry industry, who are expecting an estimated $4.4 billion worth of sales in silver, gold and diamonds.
But succumbing to cupid’s potent charms doesn’t have to mean falling prey to the social and environmental costs associated with many fine jewels and precious metals. The gem trade is plagued with financial civil wars, pervasive brutality and potential chemical spills from harmful mining practices. This guide to eco-friendly engagement rings — covering everything from conflict-free diamonds to environmentally safe metals — is a good place to start when shopping for that perfect symbol of sustainable love.
If you’re set on diamonds, seek out ethical origins
Although the four C’s (cut, clarity, color and carats) are generally viewed as the biggest factors in shopping for a diamond, it pays to consider the O (origin) as well. Origin is key when looking for an ethical diamond, as diamonds are mined everywhere from Botswana to Banff, with each location holding firm to their own mining practices. For example, while adults and children are being massacred in diamond fields across Zimbabwe, Canadian diamond workers are given generous working conditions under strict environmental standards. Ask your jeweler about the origin of your diamonds. If they can’t produce any materials specifying the origin, look for certifications such as conflict-free, fair trade and Kimberley Process — a system that documents more than 99 percent of the diamonds from mine to market to ensure that each stone has been mined from legal, traceable channels.
For a sentimental and sustainable option, consider vintage
Surprising your loved one with your grandmother’s heirloom gem or a great estate-sale find adds a personal touch to any engagement, and the gesture is even more romantic when you consider the low environmental impact involved in choosing a pre-existing ring. In fact, diamonds mined before 1880 predate most harmful mining practices, which makes an antique gem an even more dazzling statement. Heirloom rings can easily be resized, and sometimes even restyled, so look for a jeweler who specializes in vintage services.
Continue the circle of sustainability by choosing recycled metals
Metal mining has devastating impacts on the environment, with more than 20 tons of ore required to produce enough material for a single gold band. Chemical spills are rampant, and safety standards for mine workers are often poor to despicable. Luckily, many jewelers and craftsmen and women are reducing the demand for dirty metals by recycling everything from gold to platinum to silver. Try to find a vendor who employs vapor emission cleaning systems that prevent contaminants from being released into the air. Sites such as Etsy.com offer great options; you can proclaim your love while helping the environment and supporting local artisans.
Man up to the idea of a manufactured gemstone
Aside from the beautiful fact that synthetic diamonds, such as cubic zirconium, are a fraction of the cost of a real diamond, these little lab-grown gems shimmer just as brightly as their costly cousins. Stars like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow proudly wear their synthetics as a crystal clear statement about their green views.
Opt for eco-friendly alternatives
Eco-friendly rings have a luster that outlasts the momentary magic of an engagement. Selecting a sustainable ring is a romantic gesture, no doubt, but it can also make for a truly dazzling display. Gorgeous eco-options range from sea glass set in polished bentwood to hand-forged recycled gold inlaid with pearls or river stones. Another great alternative is to add some color with gemstones. Certain stones, such as emeralds and rubies, are governed by stricter labor, trade and environmental standards and make a bolder statement on a bride’s ring finger than a traditional option.
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