Eco-Friendly and Ethical Engagement and Wedding Rings

by - Tuesday, April 03, 2018

diamond engagement ring after a proposal on machu picchu

The engagement ring is the first big purchase on the way to Marriedville, and no matter which partner does it, it makes for a very daunting buy- what if you pick something they don't like? How can you figure out what he or she would wear everyday of his or her life without giving away the surprise?

The ring's symbolic connection to marriage is a long tradition through multiple cultures- ancient Egyptians were buried wearing rings. That's how far back it goes. In 1477, Archduke Maximilian in Austria gave one of the first recorded diamond engagement rings to his lady Mary of Burgundy (the diamonds in this ring made an "M"- well-played, sir). The diamond supply shot up in the 1860's when they are found in South Africa, and DeBeers owned the vast majority of these mines and diamonds by the 1880's. Tiffany's market's their setting in the 90's, and by the early 20's, the diamond engagement ring is completely ubiquitous and expected. The tradition of the ring was co-opted into something very different, and it made some people a lot of money.

Some people point to wedding rings as particularly old-fashioned, marks of ownership and patriarchy. .Of course, lots of people don't follow this tradition exactly anymore, but even if you forego the engagement ring, shopping for rings is probably going to happen somewhere in the journey to the altar. The engagement ring has come under particular fire for good reason, but you can participate in a way that works for you with a little creativity.

from Sarah Murray Photography
So, we all know that diamonds and jewelry are one of the most environmentally friendly and highly ethical industries out there, right? That's why the term "Blood Diamond" exists- to reference how little blood is shed for diamonds? Isn't that what that movie is about? A lot of hugging? Snow White's dwarves?

Alright, so maybe not. Diamonds and jewelry are notoriously unethical and unsustainable. Not only are those giant honking engagement rings totally unwieldy (how do they not get caught on everything?), they also are epically wasteful. Conflict diamonds (or diamonds mined to fund insurgencies and violence) are shockingly common, and the rush to make money on these gemstones means a lot of diamonds come with an ugly history long before a ring hits a finger.

Debeers has a shocking monopoly on the industry, treats their people disgustingly, and definitely belongs at the table of Nestle's evil capitalist villians. I mean, these guys are actively and intentionally despicable, and if you are buying a new diamond without doing your research, you are most definitely giving them your money.

But you want to propose to your partner or you are shopping for wedding rings- what do you do?

You could just not wear a ring- marriage as ownership is certainly outdated, though I can say I still really like wearing rings with the Boy. I feel like it is a symbol of partnership, like a team jersey, but you can do this a million ways, so do what works for you.

You could go the tattoo route, but that is a dangerous game, my friend. Tattoos tempt fate something awful.

Or, you can buy rings, but go about it differently. A big price tag or a big rock doesn't necessarily mean big success in marriage, so you can go about it a different way. Just last week, Mila Kunis said that she and her husband bought their wedding rings on Etsy for 90 dollars each. I am willing to bet they got them at such a great price because the metal was recycled. Other celebrities are starting to boast engagement rings with alternative stones. I have a hunch non-diamond engagement rings are not only on trend, but on the rise.

The diamond ring set is not the only way to celebrate. Be creative and come up with something meaningful to you.

Want to buy rings in a more ethical and eco-friendly way? Stay out of Kay Jewelers, Jared's, all those mall places that are trying to sell you diamonds at the cheapest possible price. When you prioritize new, easy, and cheap as a consumer, you are inevitably sacrificing ethical making and eco-friendly shipping in the process. But every kiss does not begin with K. And most people could care less if you went to Jared's. Skip that nonsense.

You are way better off buying a more original ring with a smaller diamond (because really, that's a pain in the butt) but a less horrible history. That's an investment worth keeping forever.

So, if you want to buy a ring but steer clear of all the nastiness that comes with it, here are some choices.

1. Get Something Secondhand

brilliant earth vintage engagement ring
from Brilliant Earth
If you are going to get a diamond, get a vintage/ antique/ or freaking pawn shop one.Just buy your diamonds used, whatever term you want to attach to it.

 DeBeers still owns a shocking percentage of all the diamonds in the world (so much so that they actually hoard them to create scarcity and protect themselves against their grossly mistreated miners), and the best way to get a diamond without giving them their money is to get them used. Bottom line.

These diamond rings have a reputation for lasting forever (thanks James Bond), but people and marriages don't last forever. So at this point, there are SO many rings already in the world, waiting for a spruce and a new finger to live on. There is so much vintage jewelry in the world. Some of it could be heirlooms in your family or you can find jewelry in most antique stores. Start your search at jewelry stores nearby that have antique or vintage options available, in conversations with your parents, even in the jewelry you might already have.

Buying used means that the jewelry hasn't traveled such a far distance, and you can feel confident that you aren't funding the horrors of the diamond industry by buying a new diamond. Metals can also be recycled, so you can find tons of recycled rings out there. It means something is getting re-used, which is always a more eco-friendly choice than others.

vintage flower shaped engagement ring
from spring thaw
If you can't find something just browsing stores or old jewelry boxes, Brilliant Earth (we will talk more about them later) has the most drool-worthy vintage rings ever.  Etsy also has a huge collection of antique rings to browse through (you can also narrow the search by putting in "solitaire antique ring" etc). This one from Spring Thaw is from the 1800's, and it could be perfect for someone (though they have some gorgeous solitaires as well). If I had it to do over again, I think I would direct The Boy to these rings, because they feel so special and they are so much more ethical. That being said, if you are patient enough to check local sources first, you might find something for an amazing price as well, and you are supporting your local economy.

2. Go for a Different Stone

Other stones come with other problems, so you still need to do some research, but in general, you will do better for price, ethics, and eco-friendliness if you steer toward something more original. Just skipping the diamond can make any choice a little bit better,

This is one of those eco-friendly choices that is also way better for your pocket and your life. If it doesn't really matter a lot to you (or the person you are proposing to- but be clear on that), you can save the money and put extra hundreds or even thousands of dollars into your honeymoon. That's a big deal, and you will have a ring that most likely doesn't look like anyone else's.


Moissanite was discovered in the 1860's and confused with diamonds, and this gemstone has only been in the jewelry market since 1998. It has that clear glassy look and hard surface of a diamond, but it can be made synthetically so it doesn't require any unethical mining. The patents for making moissanite expired in 2015, so now no single company can create a monopoly on it in the United States. This stone is one of your most ethical and eco-friendly choices, and it basically looks like diamonds. Very cool (and affordable) option and it's common enough that you can pick from 13,000 American-made options just on Etsy for this gemstone. Here are three-

simple moissanite engagement ring
from Laura Morgenson
I love a more minimalist piece of jewelry, because it goes with everything (and you are wearing that sucker for the rest of your life). Laura Morgenson sells minimalist engagement rings with moissanite that are only 150-250 dollars. So cheap, so brilliant.

rose gold and moissanite engagement ring
from barzahav
On the total other end of the spectrum, sometimes your partner is just the kind of person who wants some serious wow factor. This ring, if made with diamonds, would be 10,000 dollars at least. With moissanite, you can get something like this from barzahav for 1,300. That's 8,700 dollars difference (twice the cost of the average honeymoon).

vintage feeling moissanite engagement ring
from lamore designs
Lastly, even though this gemstone is new, you could buy something with a definite vintage feel like the rings from lamore designs. So pretty and feminine.


If a used alternative gemstone ring was good enough for Princess Kate, what the heck are the rest of us doing? When you look at the sapphire rings out there, it is impossible not to feel awed and inspired. Here are a couple good ones, but GO BROWSE!

sapphire engagement ring
from Alea Marie Co

For your best impression of a British royal. I do love that Alea Marie Co makes their sapphires instead of mining them, and they look like the kind of ring a girl would dream of.

antique sapphire engagement ring
from Engaged with Diamonds
This antique ring from Engaged with Diamonds combines diamonds and sapphires in such a unique way. Never thought I'd like something like this, but the ring is winning me over big time.

peach sapphire engagement ring
from okimodo
My favorite of all the sapphires I have seen has to be this peach one from okimodo. I love everything about this ring.
S Kind co sapphire  engagement ring
from S Kimd Co

Ahhh! Maybe it is a tie with this S Kind Co engagement ring. I love the color, and it looks timeless and right now at the same time (try this teal one too or this one from Trudy's Gems),


citrine  engagement ring
from Just Vintage 4 U

Citrine isn't a very common gemstone to go with, but this ring from Just vintage 4 U (horrible name) makes a strong argument for using something a little stranger. Really pretty, bright, and crazy affordable. For a couple who really cares less about material things.


This always looks amazing to me, but I do think you should think twice before going this route. Diamond hardness is rated at a ten. Pearls can be as low as three, so they damage much more easily. You have to know the delicacy and lifestyle of the wearer before taking this leap.

Lux crown  engagement ring
from Lux Crown
Lux Crown is a great store for both vintage and gemstone rings. I love so many of their rings, including this beauty. Their pearl rings are only 250 dollars, and they are all absolutely beautiful.They have some beautiful opal, aquamarine, and amethyst numbers as well.

sun pearl engagement ring
from Belmar Jewelers
This vintage pearl and diamond ring from Belmar Jewelers looks completely timeless and memorable to me. This one from DeKara's Diamonds has a similar look.


amethyst square engagement ring
from Lux Crown
This ring from Lux Crown really shows off the purple color- it's a high impact ring for 250 dollars.


Emeralds also have a little bit of a mixed reputation for something worn daily because they can crack. On the other hand, that emerald green is classic, timeless, and incredibly memorable. They are pretty popular right now, and for good reason. You should get extra insurance on it if you go this route.

emerald vine band engagement ring
from Valerie K Studio
Valerie K Studio combines a straight lined, almost preppy stone with an organic vine band. I wouldn't expect it to work, but it really does. I don't actually remember people's engagement rings often, but I sure would remember this.

Rare Earth circular emerald engagement ring
from Rare Earth
Holy Moly, this ring is amazing. Would be classy and unique forever, and every gemstone and diamond is conflict-free. I also love that Rare Earth will make a setting for a stone you already have, so if you have an heirloom ring with a great stone that otherwise isn't quite the style you want, you could take an old gem and turn it into something as gorgeous as this.

Diamond Substitutes

diamond wedding band
from Tiger Gemstones
Diamond "Simulants" may have a stigma, but guess what? No one can tell the difference, you save a bunch of money (go on a trip instead), and you can feel confident that no one lost their life procuring your diamond. Tiger Gemstones specializes in these kind of rings, and they might be good to partner with a diamond engagement ring if you have a particular idea or don't want to track down antique diamond rings twice.

I also love these rings from Life Spirals, which basically sells vintage fake diamonds. It's a good reminder that diamonds have never been an absolute must (we just put that pressure on ourselves.

This is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg (rubies, aquamarine, opal, etc) so if you have a gemstone in mind, start searching on Etsy to see what is out there! Avoiding diamonds will save you so much money while getting you incredible bang for your buck. At the same time, you are making one of the greenest choices you can as a couple, so you can feel so good about the choice. 

3. Try Brilliant Earth

Brilliant Earth began as a response to the extreme abuse in the diamond industry, and their mission is to make the jewelry industry more transparent, sustainable, and ethical. They use responsible mining practices and don't use child labor (oh yeah, that's a thing in the diamond industry too- nice, DeBeers). They also donate 5% of their profits back to communities that had been ravaged by the diamond industry. This includes restoring lands for agricultural use after the mining destroyed usable land.

As a side note, Brilliant Earth's rings are gorgeous. My favorites are the vintage, but there are so many beautiful things. Some feature non-diamond stones as well, so you can save money and have a more original ring if that is your style. Be sure to browse around the website and see what you find. You can also create your own diamond ring, which I think many people would see as a very sweet gesture.

Lastly, they do have wedding bands as well, so check there before you buy something else. These rings aren't going to be your most cost-effective choice (hello, check Etsy, people!) but you can feel like the ring you are purchasing is at least doing a little good in the world instead of quite a bit of evil.

4. If you haven't yet, fall in love with Etsy

Etsy has about 20,000 options for American-made or antique rings, and I swear I looked through half of that. They are fantastic. You can purchase your rings from the person who made it. If we could do it again, we would be wearing Etsy rings.You can support an American artisan, get rings made from recycled metal, potentially save a lot of money, and wear something no one else in the world has. Plus, you would feel as cool as Mila Kunis, so that is nice. There are so many to go through, and I honestly don't think I can do it justice, but I will just point to a (BIG) handful of my favorites. If you are buying rings, engagement or marriage or anniversary or just to keep your finger warm, you need to browse through here.

For an Engagement Ring

s kind co miinimalist diamond engagement ring
from S Kind Co
S Kind Co is my favorite find for engagement rings on Etsy. These rings perfectly ride the line between modern and traditional, feminine and simple. And they are crazy eco-friendly, but no one would guess unless you wanted to tell them. The company uses recycled settings, metals, and gems, and where they fill in with something new, they use moissanite. By re-pairing the old cuts with recycled settings, things look modern while being loaded with history. They also have a great mix of recycled diamonds and moissanite gems, so you can go with the eco-friendly option that works for you. Someone buy this one, because it is the prettiest thing ever.

two stone diamond engagement ring
from Engaged with Diamonds
Engaged with Diamonds is based out of San Francisco, and they have some of the most original and just cool rings I have ever seen. This ring reminds me of a string knotted around a finger, and I just love it.

diamond square engagement ring
from Estate Diamond Jewelry
Estate Diamond Jewelry sells some of the most beautiful rings you have ever seen in your life. They are also crazy expensive. I only found a couple under 10,000 dollars (this one is 5,800), so I think this is way out of most of our shopping ranges. On the other hand, if you are a fancypants looking to be eco-friendly, these antique and estate diamonds will be right up your beautiful alley. Need to look at more super snazzy rings that cost more than your car? Check out Antique Jewelry NYC.

vintage diamond engagement ring
from Ferguson's Fine Jewelry
Ferguson's Fine Jewelry sells all sorts of vintage engagement rings, wedding bands, and diamonds from earlier eras, Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco, and Mid-Century. Lots look surprisingly modern, and you can find ones with alternate gemstones as well. Most are very simple and low-priced as well.
art deco diamond engagement ring
from Art Deco Diamonds
Art Deco Diamonds has one of the largest collections of rings I have seen on Etsy. They have lots of vintage and antique rings, and so many look almost like a traditional contemporary ring, but a little more detailed and a little more special. This is a good one to look at if your partner likes that deco style. For similarly unique rings, check Alistir Wood Tait- they are based out of the UK, so not perfect, but they curate some gorgeous antique rings (I especially love some of their other gemstones)!
wilson brothers diamond engagement ring
from Wilson Brothers
If you are buying rings online, you probably want someone well-vetted. Wilson Brothers has over 2000 rings and over 2000 positive reviews already. With that much, you know you will see some variety so you have lots to choose from.

janish jewels raw diamond engagement ring
from Janish Jewels
Janish Jewels out of New York City sells rings with all kinds of alternative gems and conflict-free raw diamonds for rings unlike anything I have ever seen before. The lines are organic and unique, and I want to know the cool ladies who wear engagement rings like these. So different and so beautiful, but it definitely takes some originality to go this route.

minimalist diamond engagement ring from shop clementine
from Shop Clementine
I can't finish this section without pointing to one more amazing shop- Shop Clementine. This jeweler, based out of Massachusets makes rings cooler than everything I own combined. Most have a minimalist aesthetic, but a slightly quirky one, and I love the subtlety of even the engagement rings- not everyone has to try to be like J Lo (that lady has knows gargantuan rings... also, divorce). You can also find lots of beautiful alternative gems. They use recycled metal, conflict-free stones, and they do wedding bands as well.

For Wedding Rings

wood and metal wedding band
from Natural Ezanica

If you like wearing your nature-loving heart on your finger (or you just love the look of wood over metal, these rings from Natural Ezanica will be unique and perfect. They make me think of a minimalist wedding in Big Sur or a Hawaiian beach, Plus, the rose gold and other metals is recycled! This store has 600+ positive reviews as well, and they seem to be especially popular for grooms (it makes sense- they do have a masculine look).

gold woodgrain wedding band
from Brightsmith
Brightsmith from Austin, Texas sells woodgrain sets. But totally different from the last store- metal with an organic texture and aesthetic. I especially love the combination of thicker bark rings and the more delicate twig bands This store has more minimalist hammered bands, and they also have a whole "weddings on a budget" folder. The overall feel is rustic minimalist.

recycled antique silver wedding band
from Peaces of Indigo
Peaces of Indigo, from Nashivlle, sells some of my favorite wedding bands ever- these rings are made out of antique silver she has reworked and engraved to make patterned wedding bands. Not as minimal as most of what is popular now, but I love the bohemian feel, like you made the rings yourself out of your Grandma's silver. Just incredibly cool, and she has about 1600 glowing reviews, so you know they look even better in person.

recycled copper wedding band
from Mountain Ursus Designs
Want to outdo Mila Kunis? These rings from Mountain Ursus Designs are 27 dollars and made of all recycled copper. I kind of imagine Ron Swanson made them, because they are so straightforward, but copper is such a pretty color. No environmental impact beyond the shipping, and not all that much impact on your wallet either.

twisted gold wedding band
from Lilly Emme Jewelry
Looking for something sleek and traditional? Lilly Emme Jewelry from Seattle has wedding sets that match and look both pretty and simple, but they still seem special and kind of sweet. They are also made of recycled metals, so that is awesome.

Aide Memoir recycled metal wedding bands
from Aide Memoir
Aide Memoir sells rings made of 100% recycled metal and conflict-free gemstones, but you would never guess they were any different from any other wedding bands on the market. Minimal and pretty, plus the company sends money off to groups fighting for ethical mining. I love the alternatives they have for both genders, and nothing feels overly feminine or butch. They are also one of the only stores I have seen selling sets specifically for same sex couples, which seems like it should be way more common. Effortless and classic. Sweet Olive Jewelry also sells thin and minimal wedding rings for women. They are made using recycled materials, and they look absolutely beautiful. Nothing fussy and under a hundred dollars, but it might just be perfect.

minimalist and recycled wedding band
from VK Eco Jewelry
VK Eco Jewelry makes their jewelry using eco-friendly methods and recycled materials out of Portland, Oregon. Most of their designs are simple and unfussy, but also have a really appealing softness.

Want a recycled ring but didn't find quite what you are looking for? I have a few more places for you to look- Sea Babe Jewelry2 Trick Pony, Tiny Sparkle Studio, Metal Wendler, okomido (also great for engagement rings), Torchfire Studio, Silver SmackLolide, esdesigns, The Sly Fox (love this store), Melissa Tyson Designs, and metaliscious.

5. Try Another Eco-Friendly Jeweler

Forget "alternative." Jewelers that take a more responsible approach to their work are so easy to find. And start local- ou may be surprised. Maybe because this is a field dominated by artists, you can find tons of creative and thoughtful solutions to the problems jewelry creates for the environment. You might find something right in yoru neighborhood. Maybe you won't be able to afford it, but you just might be surprised. It doesn't hurt to look. A few options I found (very quickly no less, though there is definitely a wide range of price points here); Ken and Dana Design, Monique Pean, Bashford Jewelry (more affordable), Leber Jewelry's Earthwise Collection, DoAmore Rings (part of a clean water initiative),

This is a lot right? And the waking of a certain toddler is cutting me off, so I will add even more later. Stay out of mall jewelry stores or places that aren't outspoken about the ethics of their diamonds' mining. It's a big deal, and you don't need that blood on your hands when you are walking down the aisle. Plus, you can save money, save fossil fuels, even reuse metal or gems this way- so your bands for life can do a whole lot of good!

eco-friendly engagement and wedding rings

And check out the Green Wedding Page for more ways to make your wedding better for the world around you!

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  1. Thanks so much for the mention! Lovely blog!

  2. Those are some beautiful examples of rings! I like the idea of vintage rings. I feel like the love that those ring symbolize just grows with every couple that wears them. What a special thing to have.

  3. Love all of these ring options! They are so beautiful!

  4. These are great suggestions! My original engagement set was a Moissanite and I just got a new ring that is also Moissanite. I couldn't support the diamond industry and I didn't want to spend a ton of money anyway.



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