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Put an ethical ring on it: how to buy an engagement or wedding ring with a clear conscience

While carat weight, clarity and colour are all important considerations, increasingly consumers are considering the origin and ethical integrity of their ring.

26 January 2014

An engagement ring is arguably the most important piece of jewellery a woman will receive, so it goes without saying that a great deal of time and thought are put into choosing the right one. 

While carat weight, clarity and colour are all important considerations, increasingly consumers are also thinking about the origin and ethical integrity of the jewellery they are buying. 

Considering that Fairtrade and Fairmined gold only arrived in the UK two years ago, it is already a thriving industry with a growing number of jewellers embracing the cause. 

A good first port of call is The Fairtrade Foundation website, which has a list of jewellers who sell engagement and wedding rings made with Fairtrade gold. Many independent jewellers are creating stunning ethical designs, while established names such as Stephen Webster and Garrard are giving their customers the option of choosing Fairtrade/Fairmined gold. As an ambassador for Fairtrade and Fairmined gold, Stephen Webster has visited goldmines in Peru to witness working conditions first-hand.

US-based website Brilliant Earth also offers a vast range of ethical engagement rings, including an Antique and Vintage section. It is worth bearing in mind that buying a secondhand ring is also a viable option for those taking the ethical route. 

Founded in 1996 by Fairtrade campaigner Greg Valerio (now co-ordinator for Fairtrade International's gold programme and author of Making Trouble: Fighting for Fair Trade Jewellery), CRED was the first UK jeweller to launch ethical engagement rings and wedding bands. Alan Frampton, who bought the company a couple of years ago, has a background in the fresh produce industry and is dismayed by what he describes as the "inertia" of much of the jewellery industry when it comes to implementing a sustainable and traceable supply chain. 

"When you buy a banana for 18p it will say on the label which country, and even which farm, it comes from so it is an outrage that you can buy a ring for several thousands of pounds and [the retailer] can't tell you where it comes from."

Made from Fairtrade gold or recycled platinum, all of CRED's engagement and wedding rings are created and hand-finished in the UK. The online store also stocks other designers that share the company's vision: to create striking contemporary jewellery made from the finest ethically sourced precious stones and metals. 

Named after founder Penny Payne's grandparents, Olive & Reg aims to bring together the very best ethical jewellery designers. Now in its third year, with nine jewellers on board, the online boutique offers engagement rings by Jessica Poole and Oria Jewellery. 

Penny advises consumers to do their research thoroughly when shopping for an ethical engagement ring. "Be really aware of what you are buying and don't compromise on the quality. Look for smaller companies that are offering ethical jewellery as well - Jessica Poole's work, for instance, is amazing."

Working out of her London studio, Jessica Poole has been making ethical jewellery under her own name since 2008. Her offbeat designs, such as the 18ct gold Wide Twist Ring set with a sparkling slash of pavé diamonds, appeal to customers looking for a contemporary alternative to the traditional engagement ring. 

Ingle & Rhode was one of the first fine jewellers licensed to sell Fairtrade and Fairmined jewellery. Set up in 2007, the company initially concentrated on creating bespoke designs for clients. While this is still the bulk of the business, more recently they have added an off-the-shelf line of 15 classic designs, available in certified Fairtrade or recycled gold and platinum. Set with conflict-free diamonds from Canada and Australia and ethically sourced sapphires from Sri Lanka, the stunning selection of rings includes a range of styles spanning vintage, Art Deco, classic and contemporary.

Co-founder David Rhode says that the negative publicity surrounding some sections of the gold and diamond mining industries has led consumers to increasingly question the provenance of the jewellery they are buying.  He says the single most important thing is to ask the jeweller about the origin of both the metal and the stone. "If the materials have been ethically sourced, the retailer should be able to answer that in an immediate and direct way."

Click here to view all the jewellers who sell engagement and wedding rings made using Fairtrade gold.



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