The Foundry Journal

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The Foundry Journal

Millennials Want Conflict Free Engagement Rings

October 15, 2015

In the News

Style Guide

Millennials Want Conflict Free Engagement Rings

October 15, 2015

Diamond Industry

Millennials Want Conflict Free Engagement Rings

October 15, 2015 BY Ritu Raj IN Style Guide

Say what you will about millennials, but those artisanal beer drinking, fixed gear bike riding, crossbreed dog owning, environmentally conscious hipsters are changing the jewelry industry for the better. They want ethically made, conflict free engagement rings, and they’re willing to pay more for them. 

New Consumer Ethics

According to Jewelers’ Circular Keystone Magazine, millennials want “transparency, [and] demand authenticity and ethical business practices” from jewelry brands in a way that their parents and parents’ parents didn’t. If they spend money on a luxury item like a pair of earrings or cufflinks, “they carefully consider brand reputation” before purchase. Since millennials are already more likely to purchase jewelry than baby boomers, jewelry companies are forced to consider ethics and practices in an effort to accommodate changing preferences.

Certainly, jewelry ethics were already shifting before millennials grew into their wealth and buying patterns. The Kimberley Process Certification scheme was established in 2003. Ethical Metalsmiths, a nonprofit that advocates for sustainable practices and mining transparency, was founded in 2004. Still, the millennial drive for sustainability ethics and socially conscious philosophies has certainly played a part in the expansion of the industry.

The Failure of the Kimberley Process

But wait, aren’t all engagement rings conflict free? Not exactly. Recently, journalists have started reporting on the failures of the Kimberley Process, whose goal to eradicate conflict diamonds from the world’s diamond supply has largely failed. The Guardian even argues that “the Kimberley Process is a perfect cover story for blood diamonds,” since many consumers believe that all engagement rings contain conflict free diamonds. Moreover, the Kimberley Process doesn’t guard against inhuman labor practices or subpar mining conditions – only the sale of diamonds that fund rebel insurgencies. Hence, even a Kimberley Process certified diamond may not be “ethical.”

That’s why millennials are digging deeper. “I don’t want a symbol of our union to also be associated with chaos and controversy and pain,” explains Max Rodriguez in the article “Blood Diamond” for TIME. When Rodriguez decided to propose to his long-term boyfriend, Michael Loper, he shopped for rings with ethics in mind, eventually choosing a synthetic alternative over a mined diamond. Admittedly, at 34, Rodriguez is on the far end of the millennial age bracket. However, as more and more millennials enter the marrying phase of their lives, it’s likely that engagement and wedding rings in particular will come to be desired for their ethical properties as much as for their beauty.

The Role of Ethical Jewelers

“My customers seek me out,” says Jennifer Dawes, owner of the sustainable and ethically conscious Dawes Design. “Consumers are concerned about the environment now. For millennials, the prestige comes from knowing you have something that nobody else has. It’s about ‘I got to meet a designer in their studio and this is their philosophy.’”

millennials

Green Jewelry designers are a favorite among millennials.

As a result, independent jewelry designers like Dawes, as opposed to huge conglomerates like Tiffany & Co., may soon rise to the forefront of the jewelry industry. Not only does Dawes source recycled gold and ethically mined or synthetically grown gems, but she also maintains green practices within her studio. Her rings aren’t just ethically made, but the whole process – the story of the ring – is free of the “chaos and controversy and pain” that Rodriguez first cited as a reason for buying conflict free engagement rings.

A Potential Problem

If there’s a fly in the ointment, it’s the persistent fear that millennials will abandon their commitment to ethical, sustainable jewelry and conflict free engagement rings once, if ever, they cease to be hip. One of the most consistent criticisms against Generation Y is that their activism is inauthentic – something crafted to impress their peers rather than driven by a real desire for change. While there’s probably some truth to this, the boomers who first circulated the insult failed to consider the value of peer pressure in a world whose resources are fast depleting. Regardless of whether millennials buy ethically sourced jewelry for themselves or to impress others, the trend towards conscious consumption is certainly a positive one.

 

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