When it comes to choosing wedding jewels, the famous 4 Cs are being joined by a fifth one: Conscience.
Increasingly, ethics are playing a part in a couples' choice of wedding jewellery as brides-to-be not only want to look good but also feel good about the origins of the jewels they are wearing.
In the US, there is a wealth of choice when it comes to ethical jewellery, from traditional diamond rings to more unusual engagement rings.
One of the biggest and best-known ethical jewellers is Brilliant Earth, which was set up nine years ago to design and sell ethically produced engagement rings and other fine jewellery. The company uses only ethically sourced metals and gemstones, all fully traceable back to the original source, as well as recycled gold, silver and platinum. It also sells a selection of vintage rings - another, often overlooked way of staying true to your ethical principles as well as securing a truly unique piece of jewellery.
As the first Fairtrade certified jeweller in North America, the Fair Trade Jewellery Company has grown rapidly as consumers' interest in ethical jewels has increased. Robin Gambhir, CEO and co-founder, says: "We are a design-centered company; the ethics and responsible sourcing is a given. Nobody would buy our products if they weren't beautiful and well made."
Its Sirius Star ring features the rarest of all Canadian diamonds, which has been cut to maximize its brilliance and sold under the tagline "The World's Brightest Diamond". A truly stunning ring, it is made to order and available in sizes ranging from 0.33 carats to 1.25 carats. For a more contemporary take on the engagement ring there are the Fair Trade Jewellery Company's Tension-Set rings. A marvel of beauty and engineering, the central diamond appears to defy gravity as it is held in place between the two ends of the ring using compression technology.
Award-winning ethical jeweller Monique Péan recently launched her first ethical engagement rings. Each of the 20 rings in the Mineraux bridal collection is made from recycled platinum or gold and set with antique diamonds. A pioneer in stylish sustainable jewellery, the collection features unusual diamond cuts, including the trillion, waterfall and rose cut, and is available exclusively at Barneys New York.
New York City based jewellery designer Barbara Polinsky, founder of Barbara Michelle Jacobs Fine Jewellery, attributes the rising demand for ethical accountability in jewellery to consumers increasingly questioning the social and environmental impact of the choices they make. "We're experiencing a wonderful eco-social-ethical consciousness awakening and it's only natural that consumers think about jewellery - where it comes from and what goes into making it."
She adds that with the growth in the ethical jewellery industry, customers are presented with more options than ever when it comes to buying ethically mined stones and recycled precious metals. "Incorporating antique or pre-owned gemstones is another great option. It's a beautiful way to minimise the environmental impact of new jewellery, and they often come with a romantic back-story. In celebrating an engagement or any other occasion, we need to make sure that our gift doesn't come at the price of others' suffering." Whimsical and playful yet elegant and powerful, Barbara's jewels are inspired by nature as well as the idea of imperfections, which adds depth and character to her unique pieces.
Working from his studio in North Carolina, Geoffrey D Giles uses only 100% reclaimed and recycled metals paired with conflict free diamonds and ethical gemstones, all sourced through renowned ethical supplier Hoover & Strong. "Using this supplier really makes me feel better about what I do," says Geoffrey. "I have found that [the ethical element] is a really important consideration for a lot of younger couples looking for wedding rings." His one-of-a-kind pieces, crafted primarily in gold, reference a minimal industrial aesthetic with a combination of bold geometric forms, clean lines and attention to surface detail.
Choosing an ethical engagement ring does not mean compromising on design, as the beautiful rings by the likes of McFarland Designs and Alexandra Hart clearly demonstrate.
Tamara McFarland uses 100% recycled metals supplied by Hoover & Strong as well as ethically sourced gemstones to create her beautifully textured rings. Recognising that the term 'ethical' can be somewhat subjective, she believes in offering complete transparency to her customers and shares all information she has about the origins of her materials. Tamara's commitment to sustainability extends beyond the jewels themselves - as far as possible, all boxes are made from recycled materials, and she also donates a percentage of sales to charity.
San Diego-based Alexandra Hart describes her nature-inspired jewellery as capturing "the delicate balance of the bold and sculptural with the sensual and graceful". As a member of the Board of Directors of Ethical Metalsmiths, Alexandra has been working to promote socially and ecologically responsible business practices to artists and consumers since the launch of her business in 1995. "Socially responsible practices, I believe, are the responsibility of both designers and consumers. As a designer working with rare materials, I have important choices to make about sourcing in order to protect the future use of these resources."