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Living a more ethical life has become a hot topic. The popularity of ethical lifestyle choices such as veganism has soared, as people become more aware of the dark background behind some of their favourite products and of the impact their choices are making on the world.

The jewellery industry has not escaped scrutiny – the release of the film Blood Diamond sparked a global conversation that shows no sign of dying down. People are starting to realise that diamonds have a chequered past, and that they may have unknowingly been supporting a corrupt industry. So is there an ethical way to buy jewellery?

Diamonds began as carbon atoms buried below the Earth’s crust. The combination of extreme heat and pressure caused these atoms to bond together and become diamonds. They were then pushed to the surface by a massive volcanic eruption many years ago. There are a few different ways to mine them: pit mining with machinery and trucks, underground mining, and even marine mining from the seafloor.

These mining methods can have huge consequences for the environment. Digging a mining pit destroys all wildlife and vegetation in the pit area, while the machinery and workers extend this damage to the surrounding environment.

Fortunately, the world is waking up to the devastation that we are causing, and governments in affected countries (such as Namibia and Botswana) are implementing new rules and regulations to protect against this damage as much as possible. Land restoration is a vital practice, which involves filling in old mines and re-populating them with local wildlife.

One important industry phrase to understand is “conflict diamonds”. Also known as blood diamonds, these are diamonds that have been mined in a war zone and sold in order to fund a rebellion or an invasion. Historically, some of the worst regions for conflict diamonds have been Angola, Zimbabwe, DR Congo, Ivory Coast and Liberia. Great progress has been made in some of these areas – the practice has been all but eliminated from Angola and Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the other regions, but all are taking steps towards having a fully legitimate diamond industry.

If you do want to buy diamonds, there are ways to do it ethically – all it requires is a little research. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) was established in 2003 to try and prevent conflict diamonds from entering the mainstream market. They provide official certification for diamonds by thoroughly vetting their origin, so buyers can be sure they are not contributing to the conflict diamond industry. Look for a jeweller who is passionate about ethical jewellery and who will happily provide certification to prove this.

Another way to help the cause is to support a project like Fair Diamond Mining, who aim to invest in a diamond mine in Liberia and ensure the local miners receive a fair share of the revenue. Investors in the mine will also earn money by selling the diamonds. This is a good example of a mutually beneficial business, as both miners and investors are able to profit.

Another alternative is to buy man-made diamonds, which are developed safely within the confines of a laboratory. Using the carbon seeds of pre-existing diamonds, they apply pressure and heat using modern technology rather than the weight of the Earth. The result is a man-made diamond that is virtually indistinguishable from a natural diamond. 

The diamond industry has changed for the better over the years. The more that people learn about the unethical side of the industry, the more research they do into the background of their jewels. But this shouldn’t be a reason to avoid diamonds completely – there are ethical alternatives available, so diamond lovers can still enjoy all of the beauty of the jewel with none of the guilt.