Conflict-Free Diamonds: 11 Rings That Use Them Beautifully

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    Conflict-Free. Chic. Done.

    I feel like we’d all be wearing hemp, bamboo and organic clothing if the options were more stylish, plentiful and well-priced. Likewise, those in the market for a diamond engagement ring would prefer that said diamond be ethically and sustainably mined—for some couples this is the most important concern of all—but the idea of a lab-created diamond isn’t always the sexiest-sounding option. There has to be an easier way to get some reassurance about the origin of the diamond you’re buying.

    Some good news: The World Diamond Council believes that more than 99 percent of diamonds now hail from conflict-free sources and are traded under the UN-mandated ​Kimberley Process. One such source is Rio Tinto, which sounds like an exclusive nightclub, but is actually one of the world's major diamond producers through its 100 percent control of the famed Argyle mine in Australia and 60 percent of the Diavik mine in Canada.

    It’s not like you can buy your diamond directly from Rio Tinto, though, so the task then becomes finding a jewelry designer who works with conflict-free diamonds, ideally with a strong aesthetic, ensuring an engagement ring or wedding band that’s as chic and distinctive as it is exemplary of humanitarian and eco-friendly values.

    Enter Diamonds With a Story, a design partnership between Rio Tinto and top-tier jewelry designers Jennifer Dawes, Suzanne Kalan, Matthew Campbell Laurenza and Sandy Leong. Each designer has created a bespoke collection featuring natural white, gray, silver, champagne, cognac, and brown diamonds exclusively from Rio Tinto’s Argyle mine. I had the pleasure of curating a dozen or so pieces that could moonlight as an engagement ring or wedding band and each design ticks all the boxes: ethical, uniquely beautiful and well-priced (many options clock in at less than $1,000). Take a look!

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    Look 1

    18k gold Vine engagement ring with a rose cut diamond center stone and full-cut diamond accents, $2,750, Jennifer Dawes Design for Diamonds With A Story

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    Look 2

    18k gold Vine band with opaque diamond and pavé-set light brown diamonds, $1,265, Jennifer Dawes Design for Diamonds With a Story

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    Look 3

     18k gold and diamond Vine band, $825, Jennifer Dawes Design for Diamonds With a Story

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    Look 4

    18k gold Crown stacking ring set with 32 diamonds, $2,290, Matthew Campbell Laurenza for Diamonds With a Story

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    Look 5

    18k gold Blenheim Palace ring set with 84 diamonds, $4,460, Matthew Campbell Laurenza for Diamonds With a Story

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    Look 6

    18k gold Garden stacking ring set with 49 white diamonds, $2,170, Matthew Campbell Laurenza for Diamonds With a Story

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    Look 7

    18k gold Rain ring with light brown diamonds, $400, Sandy Leong for Diamonds With a Story

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    Look 8

    18k gold Rain Bezel ring with white diamond center stone, $650, Sandy Leong for Diamonds With a Story

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    Look 9

    18k gold Rain Bezel ring with brown diamond center stone, $650, Sandy Leong for Diamonds With a Story

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    Look 10

    18k rose gold Triple Stone Band with three champagne diamonds in Starburst Settings, $700 Suzanne Kalan for Diamonds With a Story

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    Look 11

    18k rose gold band with champagne diamonds in Starburst Settings, $850, Suzanne Kalan for Diamonds With a Story

    Wait…do you know the basics of buying an engagement ring? Here’s the least you need to know (head here for more in-depth engagement ring shopping tips, and lots of style ideas).

    Set a Budget
    Figure out how much you can afford to spend before you shop. You’ve heard that the standard guideline of what to spend is two months’ salary—but this is also a “rule” that the diamond industry created (and has been marketing since the 1930s). Research conducted by The Knot in 2014 puts the average cost of an engagement ring at $5,855. But I see great-looking diamond rings going for $3,000-ish all the time.

    Understand How Diamonds Are Priced
    Reading The Four Cs of Diamond Buying is a great place to start. The trick is to juggle this criteria, downgrading some “Cs,” and upgrading others until you arrive at a price point you’re comfortable with. Before you hit the stores, browse online diamond and jewelry retailers for an idea of what engagement rings cost and how far your dollar will take you. It’s helpful to have this as a frame of reference—no one wants sticker shock, and this preliminary recon takes the edge of a little bit.

    Get a Handle on Her Style
    Platinum or gold? Classic or contemporary? Opulent or understated? Brand-name or indie? Look at your partner’s jewelry—if it’s lots of silver, you can go with a platinumengagement ring (or one in white gold, which is less expensive); if it’s yellow gold, there’s your answer. When it comes to the design details, her wardrobe is your best clue.

    Lots of black, gray, Helmut Lang and Vince? Keep it simple and unadorned. Lots of lace, floral patterns and RED Valentino? Go romantic (filigree styles, pavé diamond accents, vintage-inspired designs). Lots of Prada? Better go upscale. Of course, you can avoid all this guesswork if you shop for engagement rings together.

    Know Who You’re Dealing With
    When it comes finding a reputable jeweler, ask for recommendations from friends and family. Failing that, if there’s a designer you like, their website should have a list of stores in your area. The more you know about the Four Cs, the more productive your interaction with the salesperson will be. If you like him or her, that counts for a lot, too. If you get a bad vibe, get out of there. And this is important: Do not buy any diamond of any kind unless it comes with a grading certificate from a gemological laboratory such as the G.I.A. And definitely find out what the return policy is before you hand over your credit card (or wad of cash as the case may be—you often get a better deal that way).