The number of shoppers seeking a more ethical or sustainable choice for their diamond engagement ring is on the rise. These conscientious couples want to dig deeper into diamond alternatives and hope to select an engagement ring that aligns with their personal values. Sadly, the diamond supply chain can be vague at best. And some certifications, including the Kimberly Process, are not all they tout themselves to be. While a truly ethical or fair-mined option might not yet exist on the market, there are some methods of diamond acquisition that you can feel a bit better about. One of these options is to purchase an antique or post-consumer diamond.
In addition to their reduced environmental impact, antique diamonds are seriously beautiful and filled with personality. Antique diamonds offer a distinctive visual experience with how their hand-cut facets play with light. They are also rarer than the modern day cuts on the market. And best of all, antique diamonds can be a more economical alternative to a modern-cut gem of the same quality, who often carry a premium price tag if their shape is currently “on trend.”
Here to unpack the details of what it means to purchase antique and post-consumer diamond is Jared Holstein of Perpetuum Jewels, a New York and San Francisco based wholesaler and a SCS Certified Responsible Source for post-consumer recycled diamonds.
Post-consumer recycled diamonds are stones were owned by members of the public and have reentered the supply chain, be they 300 years or 3 years old. The term antique is generally applied to items at least one hundred years old; stones cut in the 1930s and 40s still exhibit antique cutting styles even if they’re not quite one hundred years old, so can be considered vintage.
It’s a fair bet that almost all antique diamonds are also post-consumer. Getting into semantics, there’s a difference between recycled and post-consumer recycled, which is why both percentages are listed on the wrapper when you buy a ream of copy paper. There are diamonds sold as recycled which were never owned by a member of the public.
Our post-consumer recycled diamonds and colored gemstones, be they antique or more modern, are certified as such by SCS Global Services, an environmental auditing firm. In order for SCS to certify our stones as 100% post-consumer recycled, we had to first become a Certified Responsible Source. Qualifications include verified supplier screening and risk assessment practices, commitment to ethical and transparent business practices, measurably reduced environmental impact over time and regular audits. The certification process is lengthy, the volume of ongoing records collection and required documentation intense, but we feel it’s worth it.
Having also been buyers, we were tired of always having to take people’s word regarding the origin of the stones they were selling. Every certified post-consumer gemstone or parcel we sell has a unique identifying code, and on stones over a half a carat, this number is laser inscribed onto the girdle as well as printed on the SCS Certified Certificate that accompanies each of them.
Part A: Post-consumer diamonds have the smallest carbon footprint (almost none) of any diamond you can buy, making them the most environmentally sustainable option-- no diesel-guzzling machinery tore open the earth to find them, no electricity was pulled into a chamber to grow them. The most efficient diamond mining or synthetic diamond growing operations still imbue each stone with sizable carbon footprints or other environmental baggage.
Part B: The inherent charm of antique cuts, their individuality, that they are steeped in history-- frankly this is what keeps the diamond business interesting to us. Antique diamonds sparkle differently than modern cut diamonds and when you see one in person, their unique romance and character is palpable. Old cuts, which were cut to different proportions than modern diamonds, offer superior light performance in many real world lighting conditions (dimly lit restaurants, etc.) because they were designed to perform well under candle, oil and then gas and early (dim) electric light. Think larger pops of color and light as opposed to the more discoball effect of modern cuts.
Old cuts also often “face up” with better color than their modern equivalents, meaning a client concerned with how white their diamond looks can either spend less money for the same look, or get into a larger stone for the same amount of money.
Unlike newly mined or manufactured diamonds, antique stones are truly rare and only growing rarer. Botswana alone mines more diamonds in one month than the entire world produced in 1900. And stones cut before diamonds were discovered in South Africa in 1866/67 are infinitely more rare still, because they came from the much scarcer alluvial deposits in Brazil, Borneo, or much less likely, India.
Diamonds have always been reused— they’ve been precious since people started setting rough octahedron crystals in medieval jewelry and they’ve always been the hardest gemstone on earth, so they tend to stick around. Many of the world’s diamonds, indeed some of its most famous and historic diamonds, have been recut multiple times, over multiple centuries and traded across several oceans.
Post-consumer diamonds come from a variety of sources including estates, businesses like jewelry stores and pawn shops that buy diamond jewelry from the public, precious metal refiners, auction houses, etc.
The Baby Boomers, the first generation to fully buy into the idea that diamonds should be an integral part of the engagement/bridal process, are starting to pass on and they’re not going to be buried with their jewelry. Diamond jewelry gets passed down in families, sold, or reimagined, and so some percentage is always going to re-enter the market.
Although diamonds are extremely hard, they can and do show wear, and they can chip and fracture. We work with a master diamond cutter in New York for stones that need restoration or repolishing, such that their original glories are restored.
If you are concerned with making sure you know what you are getting, regardless of where you buy your diamond or whether it’s new, old, natural or synthetic, you should look for stones whose attributes (color, clarity, etc.) are independently verified by a reputable gemological laboratory. We use GIA (Gemological Institute of America) to grade our diamonds and AGL (American Gem Laboratories) to grade our color stones, as they are the respective “gold standards” in a landscape filled with labs that produce reports of varying and often troubling quality.
Something to buyers should be aware of is that given the resurgence in popularity of antique diamonds and cuts, they are being newly manufactured and sometimes misrepresented as antique. When a GIA certificate reads “Old Mine Brilliant” or a stone is sold as an antique cushion, only the cutting style is being described; it could have been cut a week prior from diamond rough mined a month before that.
The short answer is yes, the long answer is yes and decide for yourself. A diamond described as “Conflict Free” in the jewelry industry means that it complies with the Kimberly Process Certification scheme instituted in 2003. So per that definition, yes, we do sell diamonds that were sold to the public after the creation of the Kimberly Process as compliant “conflict free” stones, have re-entered the market and are now also SCS Certified post-consumer recycled.
I encourage your readers to explore how narrowly the Kimberly Process defines the word conflict; diamonds labeled “conflict free” are unfortunately often anything but. The Kimberly Process, while a step in the right direction, has allowed for continued government-sponsored violence. We can’t know under what conditions antique stones were mined a century or more ago, but they avoid association with the modern “blood diamond” conflicts.
In response to the inevitable industry refrain diamond mining does indeed provide a necessary source of income for workers and communities in some of the most disadvantaged countries on earth. But much, much more of these diamond’s value needs to stay where the stones come out of the ground, doing substantive good there. There are some promising-sounding development diamond initiatives on the horizon. In the meantime, we are happy we can provide environmentally sustainable and beautiful, unique stones.
All images featured in this post are courtesy of Perpetuum Jewels and feature diamonds available for purchase. Please contact me if you'd like to know more about any diamonds seen here!
I am so thankful for Jared taking the time to answer my questions and giving my readers a great insight into the benefits of antique diamonds. I believe these gems are steeped in character, be it from the mystique of their past lives, or the personality in their facets, they are perfect for customers seeking diamond that is not mainstream. Using post-consumer diamonds bodes well for our environment too; Antique and post-consumer diamonds are the most sustainable option on the market, since no new mining or production has to occur. There will never be a diamond option with less environmental impact.
I am grateful for the work of companies like Perpetuum Jewels who aim to make our industry a more transparent and humane place. (It helps that they always share gorgeous diamonds with me too!)