Have you ever wondered why diamond rings are the typical symbol of marriage and for how long? I hadn't really until I realized recently that I don't prefer wearing mine and started to look for an alternative symbol of our marriage. Americans buy the super-sparkly stones because "a diamond is forever" and you want something that will last "as long as you both shall live," but are they really the only material that will not crumble in 50+ years? Meghan O'Rourke at Slate writes an interesting article on the history of diamond engagement rings and how a cunning diamond company created an advertising campaign in the 1930s that made diamonds the standard symbol for everlasting love in America. Diamonds are the hardest natural gemstone but there are also many other durable stones that can last a lifetime. They might get a few scratches along the way, but personally I am a fan of texture and character.
In researching the history of diamond engagement rings, I also discovered how their production can cause harm to people around the world and the environment that they live in. The miners of the precious gems receive extremely low wages with many in Africa earning less than a dollar per day and lacking basic necessities. Almost half of diamond miners are African children between 5 and 16 years old who work in dangerous conditions where landslides threaten their lives. Additionally, there has been much bloodshed (about 3.4 million deaths) over territory that contains diamonds as well as many other brutalities inflicted by the rebel groups fighting. Careless diamond mining has also caused soil erosion, led to deforestation and forced populations to relocate as their environments are torn apart.
All of these frightening facts about diamonds do not even account for the metal rings that we put them on and the social and environmental injustices that happen in the mining of new materials like gold. Reading all of this, makes me not want any kind of ring at all for the moment. However, despite the sadness surrounding the production of wedding rings there are ways to responsibly choose them if we so desire. Here are some ideas:
1) Buy vintage or second hand rings
2) Buy diamonds that are clearly tracked back to an ethical source
3) Opt for a more unique, less conflict-loaded gemstone
4) Choose pieces made out of recycled metals and stones
5) Buy locally made and found (if vintage) rings to avoid adding more harmful gasses to our atmosphere that are released in the shipping process.
I've collected some of my favorite responsibly-made rings from around the world so you can hopefully find one close to you!
Gold & Rose Cut Labradorite by Belinda Saville | Sydney, Australia
Belinda creates simple, modern and organic designs that highlight the beautiful textures found in nature. I love the flecks in this labradorite stone and how she uses 100% recycled metal in this piece.
Married by Lichen & Lychee | Seattle, Washington
This ring is so beautiful in its simplicity and seamless use of two different metals. Lichen & Lychee explains that "when a jeweler talks about marriage, we often mean the permanent joining of two metals." This would be such a neat reminder of the bond we have with our loved ones, knowing that we will always be there for each other. Practically, I'm also drawn to it's versatility in that you could wear either the gold or black side facing up depending on your mood or outfit.
The Wanderer in jet black by Wild & Arrow | Stockholm, Sweden
What I love about this Swedish artist is that she aims to take care of the Earth in all of aspects of her business. She doesn't use any toxic chemicals in her production process and uses reclaimed materials whenever possible. This piece is made entirely from recycled brass and a reclaimed glass stone.
Direction Pointed by Heavy Meadow | Vancouver, Canada
Heavy Meadow uses all recycled sterling silver in these simple stacking bands. Two loved ones could each have one that fit together like a puzzle when nestled up. These are really affordable and I think it would be neat to use them to symbolize marriage and "going in the same direction together."
Natural Diamond Slice by Alexis Russell | New York, New York
Alexis Russell uses 100% recycled gold in this elegant piece with a conflict-free diamond slice on top. It is a creative angle on the classic diamond engagement ring being both the material of a diamond and a diamond shape. The simplicity of this ring would also stand the test of time and could be passed on for generations.
Silver Oxidized Halo by Firewhite | Durham, England
I think this ancient looking piece by Firewhite might be my favorite. The English artist uses recycled silver to construct this style, and then hammers each one with a natural stone to give it a tumbled rock-like texture. She also uses biodegradable gift wrap which is wonderful! Matching halo bands would be a beautiful reminder of each other and your shared love for simplicity and nature.
Send me your thoughts! Do you have any other ideas on how to demonstrate your love and loyalty in an earth-friendly and beautiful way?