As we become increasingly conscious of our impact on the planet and its inhabitants, ethical engagement rings have emerged as a luminous trend in the jewelry industry. It's no longer just about the size or sparkle of the gem but also about the story behind it and the environmental impact it makes during its creation.
“For us, ‘ethical' means that we’re taking steps to craft and produce products that avoid or lessen any social/environmental/economic/cultural/political harm. We take steps to maintain transparency in all of our sourcing and production processes,” says Page Neal, co-founder of Bario Neal, a jewelry company that has been dedicated to ethical and sustainable sourcing and manufacturing since they were founded 15 years ago.
“We launched with the intention to responsibly source precious metals and gemstones for our jewelry. While we were drawn to the imaginative possibilities of jewelry, we were disillusioned by industry standards that turned a blind eye to the harmful, widespread effects of mining. So, before we launched, we committed to doing things better — for the earth, the people and communities within the supply chain, our customers, and in turn, our business.”
The first touchpoint of concern during the jewelry-making process is how the gemstones and metals are sourced. Bario Neal has a strong code of ethics that they require their suppliers to abide by, so that they can maintain tracing and transparency in all of their sourcing and production processes. “It is labor-intensive to do the sourcing research and interviews that we conduct with every vendor we work with. It’s not just about what mine something is extracted from, we also research where stones are cut to ensure that safety protocol is being followed closely,” Neal says, noting of the horrific health issues rising from poor ventilation and mercury exposure that come with the territory if not properly executed. “We also work with suppliers who use renewable energy in their production and put resources back into the communities where mines are located, such as the construction of new schools and environmental conservation.”
Luckily, it seems that the tides are turning, as one of their suppliers has noted that more buyers are asking the same hard-sourcing questions that Bario Neal has been asking for years. “The more consumers use their buying power to purchase from jewelry companies aligned with their ethical values, the more the market will continue to shift to accommodate this type of sourcing practice,” Neal says.
Leading the way in this wave of change, Bario Neal's dedication to ensuring transparent gemstone sourcing has resulted in some industry firsts, such as custom-cut ethical origin baguette diamonds to traceable pave diamonds and gemstones. “We also work with Fairmined Gold, as we were one of the first jewelers in the industry to become a stakeholder. Our Fairmined gold is extracted by responsible small-scale and artisanal miners. Responsible mining lessens environmental impacts, improves safety for miners and their families, and reduces work-related violence. Fair mining is nature-minded, focusing on restoration efforts, protecting against water contamination, and avoiding the use of mercury or cyanide.”
And while Bario Neal has proven that sustainable and ethical sourcing is possible, they also offer lab-grown diamonds and the metals and mined gemstones they use, by default, are reclaimed/recycled. “We use 100% recycled silver, gold, palladium, and platinum from old or unwanted jewelry, dust and filings from jewelers’ workshops, silverware, and industrial or photo products. These materials require no new mining and are sourced from nearby refineries invested in reducing their facilities’ environmental and health impacts through features like closed-loop water systems, sustainability certifications, and hydroelectric power,” Neal explains. “We can work with clients if they have specific interests or wants in mind when it comes to metals and diamonds, such as sourcing a Canadian newly mined diamond.”
Their lab-grown options are also held to their ethical standard. “We're proud to be able to confidently offer both types of diamonds from suppliers who pass our provenance process,” says Neal. ” Their stones are USA-made, fully traceable, and 100% climate-neutral through sustainability and offset investments equating to 18x their climate footprint. Want to see the comparison for yourself? They keep a selection of lab grown and natural diamond carats and cuts available to view in-person at their Philadelphia and Brooklyn showrooms and remotely via a virtual appointment.
Their custom design process for sustainable handmade jewelry and ethical engagement rings can also incorporate existing heirlooms—a great way to cut down on price while having a personalized and sentimental piece that has been reimagined—and all of their styles and sizing are gender-neutral. “It’s at our very core that we dismiss the heteronormative ideals often pushed by the jewelry industry, especially at a time where LGBTQ+ people’s rights are increasingly threatened,” says Neal. “Our design ethos is gender-neutral and size-inclusive, and we love working with customers to create pieces that celebrate and reflect their identity and experience.”
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As a lover of all things wedding and a fierce cheerleader for marriage equality, I decided to marry my two passions and create a resource where all couples—gay, straight and lesbian—can be equally represented. Armed with seven years in both print and online lifestyle journalism, I dove headfirst into this passion project in 2013 and Love Inc. was born.
I’m inspired every day by the couples that grace our pages, from the can’t-live-without-you grasps to the gentle sweeping away of a happy tear, the love that they so clearly have for each other is intoxicating, and drives me to create the best product possible … while enjoying every second of it.