Around 40% of proposals are thought to happen in the months between mid-November and mid-February, with Christmas Day being the most popular day to pop the question. As we enter engagement season, we discuss where our bling comes from and what impact this can have on the world around us.
Celebrities frequently make headlines and even songs about the size of the ‘rocks that they’ve got’, but how many of us ever stop to think about where these precious gemstones come from. Mining is notoriously damaging to the environment and diamonds especially, have been associated with corruption and warfare, as made famous by the 2008 film Blood Diamond.
More people are interested in the origins of their jewellery than ever before. The recent high profile engagement and subsequent wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle is a prime example. The centre stone came from a mine in Botswana, a country special to Harry and Megan as they had spent time there together. Botswana is recognised as a source of conflict-free diamonds, but the other two stones were vintage stones from the collection of jewellery owned by the Late Princess Diana.
How does their choice measure up in terms of green credentials? We spoke to Tansy Baigent, managing director of Lupe, (a luxury vintage jewellers) and jewellery consultant for over 10 years. Together we discuss some of the options available to people when choosing jewellery, and why she thinks that ‘Rethink, Reuse, Relove’ is the best policy.
We started off by asking Tansy to tell us a little more about the company and what they stand for.
"At Lupe, we source and restore preloved luxury jewellery. Our ethos is one of social responsibility and the encouragement of a circular, closed-loop society in order to better achieve sustainability and offer a choice away from new production."
"We also donate 5% of our profits to our chosen charity War Child."
People are keener than ever to make ethical purchasing choices and it is now easy to buy ‘conflict-free diamonds’. For example, Ingle & Rhode have a collection of ‘conflict-free diamonds’ but are they a responsible choice?
"Conflict free diamonds’ are controlled by an international agreement called the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme, when this was introduced in 2000 it was a great step forward in safeguarding that diamonds were not marketed from countries where they had been involved in financing violence."
“There are however limitations. The Kimberly process cannot ensure that mining is performed in a green way. Diamond and gold mining often causes huge environmental damage, especially in places where we can least afford that damage.”
“Once precious stones have left the country of origin it also becomes increasingly difficult to determine their source and it is possible there can be corruption surrounding the certification process. The stones are commonly sent to countries such as India for cutting and polishing which is unregulated and is often performed by children in sweatshop conditions. “
“There are also fewer controls or standards for coloured gemstones.”
So what about man-made diamonds? These can now be created by taking tiny diamond chips and growing them in reactors under immense heat and pressure. Companies such as the Diamond Foundry are claiming that they have a zero net carbon footprint.
“Synthetic diamonds are all marked with their origin and as such hold little to no intrinsic value. Conversely, for natural diamonds, the real value is in the authenticity and scarcity. In my opinion, manufactured diamonds don’t really have a place in the luxury market and, even if carbon neutral, they will still use up resources and create new waste streams.”
“Even modern pieces made with natural diamonds quickly become depreciating assets. There is instant value loss of 1/3-1/2 as soon as purchased. Much like driving a new car off the forecourt. With second-hand jewellery each piece has either already depreciated or can even gain in value due to increasing rarity. This means the consumer retains more of the value rather than the manufacturer and false scarcity cannot be created by withholding product from the market.”
Manufactured diamonds still look beautiful, and can be completely indistinguishable from the real thing. Why don’t you see if you can tell the difference?
We wanted to know more about how Lupe sources their vintage jewellery pieces.
“With 10 years of experience in the jewellery trade, we use this expertise to scour auctions, dealers, jewellery fairs and estate sales for pieces that look beautiful and will hold their value. The emphasis is on quality.”
What have been the oldest or most valuable items you have come across?
“We sometimes come across Georgian pieces from around 1860 or earlier. These are usually hand cut and absolutely stunning. More commonly we will get Victorian and Art Deco jewellery. It is usually easy to tell reproduction pieces from the real thing if you know what you are looking for. If we are not able to identify the origins of a piece we can still value it based on the metal and gem content. The most expensive item we have had in stock was a 7ct solitaire diamond worth £65,000.”
We also asked how much work went in to the new pieces of jewellery in terms of repair or re-sizing
“We will often convert or repurpose jewellery for more modern tastes, for example converting a brooch to a ring or adding items to chains. We occasionally have to replace missing stones and try to source these from second-hand items. All the items are professionally cleansed.”
Finally we wanted to know if people are ever interested in the personal stories behind the items.
“To be honest it is rare to get much provenance with a piece unless it is obtained from a private sale. Sometimes people ask, but we do not sell the items with stories as that is not how we choose to style and present our items for the modern market. Many of the biggest purchases in our lives such as houses, cars and even our partners come pre-loved, so there is no reason jewellery shouldn’t be the same.”