A guide to buying ethical & conflict-free jewellery


Introduction to ethical jewellery


The importance of buying ethical Jewellery


How to find and buy ethical jewellery


The impact of the jewellery industry


Further reading and FAQs


Introduction to ethical jewellery

  • A history of diamond production.
  • What is ethical jewellery?
  • Examples of unethical jewellery production.

Introduction to ethical jewellery

In life, we all strive to make the right moral and ethical choices. Whether it’s eating free range food or using cruelty-free makeup brands, using certain types of products is important to some consumers.

The same applies when it comes to buying different types of jewellery. Just as with clothing brands or shoe manufacturers, jewellery companies have a responsibility to ethical production.

In this guide, we’ll highlight exactly what constitutes classifying an item of jewellery as being ethical, with a focus on diamonds.

A history of diamond production

The first recorded presence of diamonds in human history came as far back as the 4th century BC. Despite that, it would take until the 1400s for the substance to become popular amongst the elite of Europe.

At this point, production was exclusive to India. The Asian nation supported the mining of diamonds for nearly 300 years. But, as with any natural resource, centuries of sourcing the gem took its toll.

By the 1700s, India could no longer sustain the excessive demand being placed on diamond production. And while a small horde of the gem was found in Brazil, attention turned instead to South Africa.

With the discovery of the Star of South Africa, a new diamond rush had begun. People started flocking to the African nation in order to take advantage of this treasure trove.

star of south africa
Found in 1869, the Star of South Africa weighed in at 47.69 carats.

The modern diamond industry was born out of this era, with production rising from 1 million carats a year to 20 million between 1870 and 1920. This upward trend would continue until 2005, when the industry peaked at 177 million carats.

How are diamonds manufactured?

Diamonds themselves are formed deep underground, via a variety of natural methods. Movements of the Earth’s plates and extreme pressure (sometimes from ancient volcanic eruptions) have seen many pushed up to layers which are accessible via mining.

There are six core stages in manufacture, from the diamond being in the ground to on your finger. These are:



Kimberlite rocks serve as the primary source of diamond production. These are tested by diamond prospectors for magnetic fields which would indicate the presence of a precious gem.



Special technologies are introduced to remove items from the ground. There are a few different types of mining systems which are utilised at this point of the process, depending on where the diamonds are located. These include:


Open pit mines. The most common form of mining, used when diamonds are located near the surface

underground mining

Underground mining. When a resource is deeper underground it might require mining tunnels to be built


Marine mining. Where something is extracted from the seabed

gold paning

Artisanal mining. A non-industrial form, where local communities work together on a very basic level to recover resources



Once a diamond has been extracted, it’ll be sorted according to size and potential value. Shape, quality and colour are also taken into account. There are thousands of groups as a result.


Cutting and polishing

While diamonds look extravagant when they’re used in jewellery, they don’t come out of the ground sparkling. Experts are employed to shape and shine the precious gems so they’re fit for sale.

Cutting and polishing


Diamonds are now ready to be turned into the finished product. It’s at this point they’ll be added to the likes of rings and necklaces.



The jewellery is sold to consumers or a wholesaler. It is estimated that the value of all diamonds sold across a calendar year will n average exceed £82b across the world


Source: Swiss Gem Lab

The production method is effective, but at a cost. With such efficiency in mining and manufacturing diamond jewellery, the number left under the Earth’s crust continues to dwindle.

In recent years, a lack of sustainable manufacture has seen a dip in the number of diamonds being sourced. With the aforementioned peak of 2005, the necessity for ethical jewellery production has become paramount.

What is ethical jewellery?

It’s not natural to look at a piece of jewellery and consider its origin. But the impact which the sourcing of diamonds and other precious gems has on both the environment and mining communities can be staggering.

In order to counteract any potential harm, ethical practices have been adopted to improve both sustainability and the quality of life for those sourcing the gems. There are a number of ways in which these changes have been implemented.


Supply chain transparency.

Added impetus has been placed on ensuring each step of the diamond mining process is recorded and made publicly visible. That means tracing the origin of a diamond from the moment it’s found to when it’s used for jewellery.

So far great progress has been made in this regard, with De Beers even going as far as to create a blockchain platform which allowed them to trace the journey of any diamond from the earth to a shopfront. This guarantees only sustainable methods have been implemented.


No use of child labour.

It goes without saying that the use of child labour – especially in such harsh conditions – goes against what most people are willing to tolerate. Shockingly, mines in India and Africa sometimes use this type of workforce.

This will often resort in kids missing out on an education, in the process condemning them to a lifetime of mining work. Unsurprisingly, ethical jewellery bans the use of an underage workforce.

Despite exisiting child labour laws forbidding the practice, some developing countries will overlook the regulations. Organisations like Diamonds For Peace are working to ensure all sanctions are enforced, to prevent any further harm to the youth of third world countries.


More money and resources given back to the local community.

The government in countries which have diamond mines will often benefit from taxation on the gems, as well as profit-sharing arrangements. Mining companies also take a large percentage of the money earned.

Ethical diamonds can only be classified as such if there’s clear evidence of the local community receiving a fair and equal cut of the money being made. This can be pumped back into crucial resources like education, health and housing.

It’s hard to know for sure if the diamonds you’re purchasing are from areas where a labour force is given a fair and equal pay. As such, it’s best to turn to fairtrade institutes. They help to set up a system where those sourcing the diamonds are able to directly benefit from profits.


Recycled diamonds.

Recycling is a viable option for the diamond community. It’s sustainable because precious gems are repurposed. Using jewellery which has already been sourced means you cut out the mining process.


A limited impact on the environment.

While diamond mining is less hazardous to the environment than most forms of mining (owing to the lack of harmful substances present), it still poses a potential risk.

When ripping up large layers of the Earth’s crust, local ecosystems can be majorly disrupted. This can have a detrimental impact on wildlife, greenery and even small villages if their water system is disrupted.

In countries like Namibia and Botswana, systems have been put in place to ensure the surrounding ecosystem is protected when mining occurs. Artisanal mines are also a brilliant way of ensuring minimal damage is done to the world around us.

Examples of unethical jewellery production

But what happens when unethical practices are employed to source diamonds? Let’s take a look at some examples where immoral decisions have had a negative impact on both communities and the ecosystem.

Sierra Leone

Conflict Diamonds in Sierra Leone

Ravaged by Civil War between 1991 and 2002, the African country of Sierra Leone isone of the slowest developing nations in the world.

The primary issue stems from the use of ‘conflict diamonds’. Despite making revenue to the tune of $250m every year, widespread corruption has meant that very little of this money is returned to the communities who mine the precious gems.

The vast majority of funding for the civil war came from the money generated from selling these diamonds. With conditions which would be unacceptable in most developed countries, and a system which only sees workers paid on days when they find diamonds, the people of Sierra Leone are exploited by local-level artisanal mining companies.


Destruction of the local environment across Africa

This is a common problem which is prevalent across vast areas of Africa. Arguably the worst example of the impact to an ecosystem is the Finsch Diamond Mine in South Africa.

The crater used to source diamonds from this mine is 1,750 feet wide, with a depth of over 1,000 feet. The sheer scale of this mine has had a major impact on the world around it.

Reports suggest that diseases for both humans and animals in the local area are common. This is largely due to contamination of water supplies in the area. The disruption of the kimberlite level of bedrock has caused unnatural pollutants to enter streams and rivers, resulting in toxic elements in the water.


Child labour in mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

We’ve already touched on the unethical use of child labour in some mines. This is perhaps at its worst in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A recent study by Swedewatch highlighted that of 49 people interviewed in a local mining community, only the one denied the use of child labour. The report also called into question the morality of Swedish companies who used these diamonds in their products.

These are just some examples of the ongoing unethical practices being utilised in the jewellery industry. While progress is being made, it’s important we continue to address the ongoing issues.


The importance of buying ethical Jewellery

  • The impact on local communities
  • The impact on the environment

The importance of buying ethical Jewellery

Every time you choose to buy ethical jewellery ahead of something which has been sourced through questionable means, you’re helping in the fight. But what difference are you going to make?

The impact on local communities

The plight of mining communities hasn’t gone unnoticed. With such severe cases stretching across Africa, initiatives have been set up to ensure a fair and even distribution of wealth is given to workers.

This has been perhaps best exemplified by the Fair Diamond Mining scheme in Liberia. This has seen a reduction in the number of workers needing to work by hand, thanks to large machinery.

It has also strived to reduce “unreasonable fees”, where people are either forced to pay for the privilege to mine, or only receive a wage when they find a gem. This has allowed for greater profit share to be given back to the local community.

As a result, the people of Liberia have been able to benefit from:

  • Greater levels of housing for students at university
  • The development of local organisations to monitor a fair distribution of important amenities
  • A reduction in fees (and therefore more money for every family)

This has only become a possibility thanks to a concentrated effort to improve working conditions.

The impact on the environment

Any form of mining (however ethical) will have some sort of impact on the environment. The use of machinery will disturb a natural habitat, and can have a detrimental effect on the lives of those who live there.

As such, there are two methods employed to combat this issue.


Energy conservation

A great deal of energy is required to power the machinery needed to unearth diamonds. In some cases, this means resources which aren’t renewable (such as coal) are being drained.

In order to counteract the problem, new focus has been placed on ensuring energy sustainability is taken into account when mining. This has perhaps been exemplified by a number of organisations, all of whom are trying to do their bit to sustain resources:

rio tinto

Rio Tinto

This company owns two major mines, both of which face extreme contrasting weather conditions. Extreme heat is hard to deal with in Western Australia, whereas temperatures can reach minus 40 degrees celsius in Canada.

Rather than relying on non-renewable forms of energy to power these mines, Rio Tinto instead make the most of these natural conditions. They use the powerful winds of Canada to power 9.2 megawatt turbines, while hydroelectricity is employed in Australia to keep the facility running smoothly.



This company has managed to reduce their energy consumption by as much as 4% in one year. This has largely been thanks to a switch to gas fuel for vehicles, as well as the introduction of new equipment which is far more energy efficient.



Petra have made a myriad of changes to their setup. They’ve introduced LED bulbs, heat pumps and solar heating systems. All of these innovations are part of an initiative to manage the use of energy more efficiently.

Source: Diamond Producers

These actions have come as a result of higher demand placed on the value of ethical production. As we place more importance as a society on the need to conserve the environment, industrial companies like these are reacting.

But it’s not just adopting a greener approach which will play a part.


Man made diamonds

There has been a recent surge in the number of diamonds which are being created artificially. Again, this has proven a popular option as a direct result of growing concerns over sustainability.

The process for growing diamonds is simple, but effective:

step 1

Diamond seeds (small fragments recycled from other diamonds) are added to a growth chamber.

step 2

The chamber is closed, and a ball of superheated gas is generated inside it.

step 3

The heat inside the chamber is cranked up to anywhere between 900 to 1,200 degrees celsius.

step 4

At this point, methane and hydrogen gases stick to the seed. This causes carbon to form and grow on them. They’ll be left at this stage for anywhere between 3-4 weeks.

step 5

Seeds are monitored via the use of technology. This allows the producer to know when to remove the seed, helping them to optimise the exact characteristics of the gem.

step 6

The diamonds are removed from the machine. At this point, they’re shaped like cuboids, with rough edges. They need to be cut and polished before they can be sold.

Not only do these diamonds bypass the destructive mining process, but they can even be produced exclusively via solar power.


How to find and buy ethical jewellery

  • Advice for spotting unethical jewellery
  • Buying different types of ethical jewellery

How to find and buy ethical jewellery

The best way to fight the ongoing use of immoral and unethical production in the diamond industry is by ensuring the products you’re buying are sourced ethically.

If you’re someone who doesn’t buy jewellery often, or just someone with a limited understanding of the ethics of the industry, it can be tough to know where to start.

You may want to make a difference, but are unsure how to best go about that. Let’s look at the steps you can take to do your part.

Advice for spotting ethical jewellery

There’s no way to simply look at a diamond and identify it as an unethical product. Unlike with fake items, there’s nothing physically different about something which was produced via immoral methods.


Research the jeweller

Make sure you do some background reading before you purchase any diamonds. You’ll want to find out if a jeweller has a history of dealing with ethically produced materials.

It may be that they advertise this fact. If not, look for reviews of their products online. Some strong signs that they’re a jeweller you can rely on include if they:

  • Fund projects in communities where they source diamonds
  • Support initiatives which champion the fair production of diamonds
  • Openly promote the fact their gems are sourced ethically

If you’re still unsure about a specific jeweller, then get in touch with the Responsible Jewellery Council. They monitor suppliers, ensuring they comply with the best business standards when it comes to ethical production.


Speak to them before buying

Having a chat with a jeweller is a good way of understanding whether they’re offering products which are ethical. They should be able to answer any basic questions you have regarding the origin of the items they’re selling.

Make sure to be firm. If the responses they’re giving are vague (saying you should simply trust them at their word), start looking elsewhere. You should be able to find evidence they’re complying with strict sanctions set out by fair mining initiatives.


Avoid diamonds from noted areas of conflict

As discussed, there are certain regions of the world where war and other conflicts have played a huge role in the production of diamonds.

While there are schemes which have seen a fair and ethical production of diamonds, you’d be wise to steer clear of gems which have been sourced from these places.

Some of the worst areas for conflict diamonds include:

DR congo
DR Congo
ivory coast
Ivory Coast

In contrast, if you’re looking for nations who currently have a more respectable reputation, you can turn to the likes of Canada, Australia, Namibia and even Sierra Leone.

Buying different types of ethical jewellery

But it’s not just diamonds which you can source ethically. If you’re after another precious gemstone, there are ways you can find an option which doesn’t impact anyone in a negative way.



Owing to its popularity, gold is a metal which is commonly bought for the purposes of jewellery usage. Fairtrade gold is a fantastic option for anyone looking to guarantee ethical practices have been used in production.

When you purchase gold with the Fairtrade Gold stamp you’re making sure the miners in question were given a fair cut. Workers and local communities are able to reinvest this money into:

  • Education
  • Medical care
  • Environmental projects

Gold, much like diamond, can also be recycled. Jewellers have been doing this for thousands of years, so you can rely on them to work on the gold without causing surface damage.



Platinum mines used to be Faitrade. However, after many of these were bought out by non-fairtrade corporations it’s considerably harder to source where the metal is coming from. As such, it’s best to use recycled platinum. Make sure you’re purchasing this from an accredited source like SCS Global Services in the US.


Coloured gemstones

Gems like emeralds, rubies and sapphires follow a fairly similar process to diamonds. It’s important that a supplier can show you a clearly traceable, transparent supply chain.

There are loads of ways they can prove the gems in question are ethical, with some of the best including:

  • Images from the mines themselves
  • Cutting facility details
  • Mining licenses
  • Disclosure certificates

There are alternatives akin to those of diamonds:

  • Lab grown gemstones
  • Gemstones with a clearly traceable supply chain
  • Gemstones which have been recycled

Utilise any of these options if you’re unsure of how production was carried out.

Ultimately, when it comes to finding jewellery which you know you can trust, it’s a case of asking questions and making sure you have faith in the supplier. Unless you’re 100% sure, never buy.


The impact of the jewellery industry

  • Actions and sanctions taken
  • Fairtrade schemes
  • How ethical diamonds are changing the future of the diamond industry

The impact of the jewellery industry

There’s been significant action taken both in and outside of the jewellery industry to try and stop unethical production. Let’s explore some of the steps which have been taken.

Actions and sanctions taken

There have been steps taken to try and stem the tide of unethical jewellery manufacturing. These have largely laid out ways in which those working in the mines are given more of a fair and equal treatment.

kimberley process

The Kimberley Process

The Kimberley Process (KP) was set up in 2000, and is a United Nations-backed organisation who strive to ensure the production of conflict diamonds is eradicated.

Since their creation, they claim to have stopped 99.8% of global production on these kinds of diamonds. They ensure strict standards are met via the use of a certification process. Any product with the KP stamp of approval has been rigorously checked, and manufacturers must provide information such as:

  • Transparency on the transport of the diamonds
  • An exchange of statistical data
  • Obvious adherence to national legislation on export, import and internal controls

As of writing, there are 54 participants who adhere to the strict sanctions laid out by the KP. Leadership is decided by an annual vote, with a vice chair appointed (ready to step in and take the reigns for the following year). In 2019 India are chairing the organisation, with Russia sitting as the vice.

global witness

Global Witness

Global Witness (GW) are not solely focused on the diamond industry, but do their bit to expose the use of unethical and harmful practices. Rather than enforcing legislation themselves, GW work to hound out bad practices and bring them to the public knowledge.

It’s for this reason they serve to work as more of an unofficial partner to the KP, working alongside them to point out mining companies which aren’t maintaining ethical practices.

In fact, it was GW who broke the news of how a rough trade of diamonds was funding the civil war in Angola in 1998. This in turn led to the first meeting of the KP organisation a couple of years later.

They use a number of methods to bring these problems to the forefront, including:

  • Secret undercover filming, catching people in the act
  • Satellite imagery and drone footage
  • Data analysis to spot any anomalies and investigate further
  • Anonymous sources from within the middle of the situation

As the organisation continues to grow, more and more examples of unethical diamond production will be brought to light.

Fairtrade schemes

Running alongside these larger initiatives are smaller schemes which have been created with the goal of providing fair payment to workers. They focus primarily on artisanal mining – an area which is harder to monitor owing to relatively little jurisdiction placed on it.


Diamond Developing Initiative

The Diamond Developing Initiative (DDI) employ a number of techniques to guarantee local mining communities benefit from the hard work they’re putting in.

The DDI utilise a number of methods to make the lives of local african villagers that little bit better. They:

  • Adhere to the rules and regulations set out by the KP.
  • Work with local governments to register all miners (including diggers, auxiliary workers and traders). Thisidentity adds legitimacy to every miner, and helps to keep them better protected.
  • Organise minors into associations. This provides workers with the chance to learn how to improve both mining methods and labour conditions. This gives them the chance to market what they own.
  • Provide everyone with a clear means of improving their quality of living. This includes giving them better access to clean water and an education.
  • Certify diamonds are being sourced ethically through the Maendeleo Diamond Standard certification.

Recent projects have included helping with the spread of the Ebola crisis, as well as providing workers with more efficient machinery.

fair trade

Rapaport Fair Trade

Rapaport Fair Trade are a little different in the sense they dedicate a lot of their time to better educating the jewellery suppliers themselves, on top of helping mining communities.

They have a very clear mission statement:

  • To ensure diamonds and other precious gems are not responsible for any forms of human rights violations or environmental damage
  • To ensure diamonds and other precious gems are responsible for positive growth and empowerment in communities who mine the diamonds
  • To educate all people within the jewellery industry, such as consumers, activists and students

Founded in 1978, the RFT is one of the oldest establishments of its kind. They were again a hugely influential factor in the forming of the Kimberley Process. Like most organisations of their kind, they focus on making the exportation process as transparent as possible.

How ethical diamonds are changing the future of the diamond industry

The world is a very different place to what it was even a few decades ago. With growing awareness of how our actions affect the world and the people around us, the added impetus placed on being ethical practices has had an impact on the diamond industry already.

But how is the face of the sector going to change?


Wide scale blockchain usage

As alluded to earlier, blockchain technology has already been trialled by De Beers for tracking the transportation of diamonds. The early success could see a massive difference in how it’s approached heading forwards.

It might be the case that all suppliers start using blockchain to keep on top of where their shipments came from and if they were sourced ethically or not. It could even become the norm for consumers to use specialist ID to look up the exact journey themselves on an online database.


Pressure from consumers

People are taking more of an interest in where their products are sourced from. Environmental views in particular have changed drastically in recent decades.

It would have seemed unthinkable for a nation like the US to place a green lifestyle ahead of economic growth, but a recent study found 70% of Americans thought it was a more pressing issue.

With such a drastically different view of the world around us, it stands to reason that the cry for ethically produced diamonds is set to only grow stronger.


Promotion of ‘fake’ diamonds

A natural by-product of that has been greater value placed on the development of lab-grown diamonds. While some would argue they can’t compare to the real thing, by comparison they offer a very environmentally positive solution. There’s now a clear market for people who are willing to invest in something other than the natural product.

Regardless of where the future is headed, we can be sure that ethical products are going to have a huge impact on it.


Further reading and FAQs

  • FAQs
  • Useful links

Further reading and FAQs

If you’d like to learn more about the ethical diamond trade, be sure to consult these handy FAQs and useful links.


There have been steps taken to try and stem the tide of unethical jewellery manufacturing. These have largely laid out ways in which those working in the mines are given more of a fair and equal treatment.

Are man-made diamonds the same as ‘fake’ diamonds?

No. Fake diamonds are created artificially from products which don’t contain the same genetic makeup as an actual diamond. By contrast, those grown in a lab start off life as actual diamond seeds. The finished product has the exact same physiology as the natural thing.

Do lab diamonds lose colour over time?

Lab diamonds have all the same properties as those found in the ground. Because of this, they don’t lose colour or fade as time passes.

Do ethical diamonds cost more?

Sometimes they will and sometimes they won’t. It depends on a number of factors, like ease of production, who the wholesaler is and the size of the diamond. Prices vary like they do for non-ethical products.

Useful links

Check out some of this further reading to understand more about the ethical diamond mining industry.

CIPs analyse the use of blockchain in diamond mining:

Diamonds For Peace examine what they’re doing for child labor:

Fairtrade provide a guide for how to effectively buy gold:

The Kimberley Process was set up to ensure fair treatment for miners across the world:

The Responsible Jewellery Council ensures a business operate via responsible and certified standards:

Statista look at the amount of diamonds which get sourced via a year-by-year breakdown:

The Swiss Gem Lab provide a comprehensive rundown of the diamond mining process: