The Ultimate Brilliant Earth Review: Bullsh*t? or Ethical?

The Ultimate Brilliant Earth Review: Bullsh*t, or Ethical Jewelry Leaders?

Author: Marc Choyt | Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Brilliant Earth claims recycled gold helps the environment and reduces mining. This illustration shows how recycled gold is just rebranded dirty gold.  

 

About the Author: I am a jeweler, social/environmental justice activist, and feature writer for trade and consumer magazines. This piece was originally published as a chapter in my Ethical Jewelry Exposé in Oct. 2018. Updated 9/16/20. 

 

If you are in the market for a wedding or engagement ring, and want to use your dollars to support real social and ecological justice on the ground, this Brilliant Earth review is for you.

Brilliant Earth dominates the internet for any topic related to ethics + wedding rings, engagement rings, and/or diamonds. They have generated endless positive publicity from trade and consumer press. Their website gets over a million visits a month. Their social media presence is massive; and, they have opened up eight retail stores. 

In fact, the ethical jewelry movement in North America is to a large degree, as they have claimed on their website for years, their movement

 

 

Brilliant Earth invites us to "Join the Movement"—the "ethical jewelry" movement.

Screenshot taken summer 2018. For years Brilliant Earth has claimed that the ethical jewelry movement is their own, inviting us to "join the movement." 

 

But to what degree can this company's claims of ethical/responsible sourcing be trusted?

This Review vs Other Brilliant Earth Reviews

This Brilliant Earth review isn't about customer service, workmanship, or starred ratings — but rather ethical sourcing/marketing veracity.  

It's an insider, almost whistle blower's account.  I pioneered the ethical jewelry movement and I've been following ethical sourcing issues since the founding of our company in 1995.

This Brilliant Earth review provides clear illustrations of how Brilliant Earth supports some of the same systemic corporate neocolonial issues that are driving global social and racial justice protests. 

One quick example from Part 5 of how this is happening.  Right.  Now.

Brilliant Earth is a member of the Responsible Jewellery Council (Council), an organization with over 1200 members founded in 2005 by De Beers, Tiffany, Signet, Rio Tinto and other mega corporations to create new "responsible" certification standards.   

This 9/11/20 NYT article documents Rio Tinto’s ongoing cultural genocide. Yet Tinto produces certified "Responsible Gold" under the Council's  standard.  Brilliant Earth endorses this "responsible" standard—a standard broadly denounced by human rights/environmental/labor NGOs  

But it gets worse: The Council created, The Grandfather Clause

All minerals gathered by its members before 2012 were grandfathered into the current "responsible" standard.  Some diamonds obtained by funding wars that killed 3.7 million Black Africans might be still sitting in shoe boxes in De Beer's London offices.  

Yet, they have been "Grandfathered" in the new "responsible" standard endorsed by Brilliant Earth.  You might get one from Brilliant Earth to represent your "responsible" loving engagement because De Beers is one of their main trading partners.   

My main point is this: those who support the Responsible Jewellery Council standards also support a narrative that essentially hides countless human rights and environmental crimes in plain site. 

Alternatively, you have the opportunity to use your jewelry purchase to uplift millions from poverty and reduce global mercury contamination. 

It is up to you and your community. But the first step is to educate yourself.

 

There are six parts to this Brillaint Earth review: 

Part 1:  My Brilliant Earth Interview from 2007, and Ethical Jewelry defined. 

Part 2:  The gold supply chain and the recycled gold greenwashing narrative.  

Part 3:  Why “Certification” of recycled metals functions as a kind of coverup.  

Part 4:  Why Brilliant Earth's marketing term "fair trade gold" is deceptive and undermines the broader Fairtrade Gold movement.

Part 5:  Hiding crimes in plain sight: Endorsing the standards adopted by the mainstream jewelry sector.

Part  6:  Where Black African lives don't matter to jewelers: Spinning the "Conflict Free diamond" narrative.

 

Here's the bottom line: 

Each of these sections stands alone, but they also create one coherent argument. If you are considering a purchase of ethical/responsible jewelry, I urge you to read this Brilliant Earth review in full as part of your due diligence before spending a few thousand dollars.    

The truth of the matter is this: these days, every jeweler is now "ethical" and "responsible."  This article will enable you to cut through the spin.  It will give you knowledge you need to be part of the solution.  

At the end, I give you valuable links for additional reading, including alternative jewelers and links to a few articles selected from thousands of hours of research.   

 

Part 1: The Brilliant Earth's 2007 Interview 

 

Eric Grossberg, co-Founder of Brilliant Earth. Beth Gerstein, not pictured, is the other co-Founder.

Eric Grossberg, co-Founder of Brilliant Earth. Photo (cropped here from the original photo in the interview provided by Grossberg.

 

Back in 2007, one of the first interviews on my Fair Jewelry Action website was with Eric Grossberg. 

I had met Grossberg at events and had actually consulted with him pro bono on ethical sourcing issues. In the interview, he stated:

 

“Right now is a real opportunity for us to pro-actively redefine our relationship with the communities from which we source the materials in our products. This should extend beyond whitewashing and doing the minimum to satisfy critical NGOs.”  

 

Thirteen years later, to “redefine our relationship” with producer communities is still the central issue. 

"Ethical jewelry" in context to sourcing material should first and foremost be about people of the land controlling and benefitting from the resources of their land. There also should be traceability and transparency, and certification based upon fair trade ideals, as I outline in my feature article, What Makes EthicalJewellery Ethical in Canada's top jewelry trade magazine.     

Here’s why:

Over one hundred million small-scale miners produce about 20% of the world’s gold and diamonds. Their lives are typically characterized by extreme poverty, ecocide, and exploitation. 

These communities need our market support to create regenerative local economy. That's the opportunity real Grossberg is talking about in the quote above!

Putting economic power in the hands of those digging with shovels begins to address structural issues. As MLK said, "True compassion is more than flinging coins to the beggar; it comes to seeing that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."  

In fact, the ethical jewelry movement in the US was birthed because NGOs exposed the plight of the small-scale miner — which certainly resulted in the 2006 release of the film Blood Diamond. Blood diamonds purchased from small-scale diamond miners funded wars in the ‘80s and ‘90s that killed 3.7 million people. 

At that time, in 2007, I was showing our jewelry in the Designer section of JCK in Vegas, North America’s premier wholesale event. Advocating for fair trade practices back then, buyers looked at me as if I were a lunatic.

 

These days, ethical jewelry has become the hot trend in the jewelry marketing. Every jeweler is, to some degree or another, branding themselves as “responsible” or “ethical” trying to capture socially concerned Millennials and Z's. 

Let’s now explore how Grossberg, whose company has been central in defining the ethical jewelry market narrative, has, to use his words, taken the, "opportunity for us to pro-actively redefine our relationship with the communities..."   

We start by looking at the foundational material in jewelry: gold. 

 

Part 2: The Gold Supply Chain: A Situation Briefing

The first thing you need to know is that newly mined gold comes from two sources: large-scale mining or small-scale mining.  

Large-scale gold mining is one of the most nefarious of all industrial activities. It supplies about 80% of the world's gold, and much of that gold ends up in bank vaults. We should oppose it. 

Small-scale mining can be equally damaging, but it is about the politics of bread vs. the politics of greed.  

Take a look at this video I shot in Tanzania a few years ago:

 

 

This miner is hand-mixing mercury, gold dust, and water. Small-scale mining is the greatest contributor of global mercury contamination. He will end up with a small nugget looking like this — a gold and mercury amalgam:

 

ASM (artisanal and small-scale) gold miners mix gold dust and mercury by hand, to form an amalgam like that pictured here.

Gold fused with mercury after the panning shown in the video above. I took this photo.

 

He will take the mercury and gold amalgam and cook it in his frying pan before dinner, poisoning himself and his environment with methyl mercury, one of the most dangerous neurotoxins known to man. 

He will later sell this gold for about 30% under market value. That’s barely enough to live on, so he remains stuck in a cycle of poverty.

This process destroys the ecology of entire regions, and the effects will last for hundreds of years. 

These are the people who supply who make up 90% of the world’s gold mining labor. They mine to survive. 

The good news is, we, through the Fairtrade Gold initiative, can transform this nefarious situation into a local economic development that eliminates mercury contamination and environmental destruction while uplifting people out of poverty.   

In fact, in the UK, Fairtrade Gold was recognized as a major market trend back in 2017 and even grew 30% in 2019. There are over 250 Fairtrade Gold jewelers in the UK alone. Full disclosure here:  I started making jewelry from Fairtrade Gold in 2011, and have been the only certified Fairtrade Gold jeweler in the US since April 2015.

But here's a critical point I want to emphasize:

The foundation of ethical jewelry practices in the UK and the EU is based on sourcing from the impoverished small-scale communities throughout the world.   

Let’s now, in our Brilliant Earth review, consider Brilliant Earth's interface with the opportunity to support arguably the most transformative ethical sourcing initiative available for jewelers: Fairtrade/Fairmined Gold.

 

A Review of Brilliant Earth's Fairmined Gold "Temporary Promotion" And Recycled Gold Story

Fairmined/Fairtrade Gold was introduced to the UK in 2011, though the standards split in 2013. These days we have Fairtrade Gold and Fairmined Gold. 

Though Fairmined and Fairtrade Gold are different brands with different politics, what’s critical to understand at this point is that both would help the guy above extract gold safely, removing mercury from the environment while uplifting the miner from desperate poverty.

Also, both Fairtrade Gold and Fairmined Gold have failed to have any significant market impact in the US. 

Brilliant Earth, the “leading ethical jewelers,” jumped on the Fairmined Gold initiative in 2013 and endorsed it strongly. 

Note this screenshot, taken in the summer of 2018,  from Mining in Latin America: Critical Approaches to the New Extraction, which elaborates on Brilliant Earth’s strong commitment to the Fairmined Gold movement:

 

This excerpt from Mining in Latin America: Critical Approaches to the New Extraction mentions Brilliant Earth and their involvement with Oro Verde and Fairmined Gold.

 

 

And here, another screenshot taken around the same time off Brilliant Earth's website of the Fairmined Gold mines Brilliant Earth sources from:

 

Brilliant Earth states that they source their Fairmined Gold from from Sotrami and Aulresa in Peru. Brilliant Earth does not currently offer any Fairmined Gold pieces for sale on its site.

Note above the URL on this page: It isn’t “/Fairmined-gold.” It’s /fair-trade-gold, which is a much stronger keyword even though Brilliant Earth does not sell Fairtrade Gold. 

 

This below statement about making a positive difference through Fairmined Gold remains on their website as of September 2020: 

 

Brilliant Earth advertises Fairmined Gold on their website—yet they do not offer any Fairmined Gold products for sale.

 

The problem is, Brilliant Earth is marketing Fairmined Gold even though they phased it out by 2018. 

This screenshot, taken spring of 2018 (and still up in September 2020), shows the full extent of Brilliant Earth’s Fairmined Gold product listings:

 

None of these Fairmined Gold products are still available from Brilliant Earth.

 

By June of 2018, only one of the items pictured above — the ring on the far left — was actually still for sale. As of December 2019, it no longer was.

We inquired to Brilliant Earth about the necklace above and got this email back:

“I spoke to my team about our fair minded (sic) gold collection and it was just a temporary promotion we did…. Our fair-mined collection was for a limited time in limited styles. Both Fairmined and recycled are very ethical supply chains. We like working with recycled metals because then there is no new mining that takes place and then we are not causing any more environmental degradation.”

So…in Brilliant Earth’s own words, their commitment to Fairmined Gold — one of the most transformative powers in uplifting small-scale miners from poverty — was “just a temporary promotion.”  So temporary and inconsequential, apparently, that their own team member spelled "Fairmined" fair minded. 

Here’s what’s key:

Once someone lands on one of Brilliant Earth’s Fairmined Gold pages, they are led to recycled gold. A Brilliant Earth customer representative says, “both Fairmined and recycled gold are very ethical supply chains.” 

However, they are far from equal.

Creating a market that has the potential to uplifts millions of small-scale gold miners...is not the same as purchasing recycled gold from one of dozens of refining companies.  

 

Here is one of the most important key points in my Brilliant Earth Review: 

 

Any gold, including recycled gold which we cannot trace back to source, should be considered dirty gold.

The fact of the matter is, we do not know the origin of any recycled gold. Certification traces it back only to the gold refining company which melts it down. Then, the gold is sold back to the jewelry manufacturing company where it is rebranded as an “eco-friendly” recycled gold ring.

This illustration below, the same as the one at the start of the article, shows what's really going on:

 

Recycled Gold is no more than dirty gold that has been greenwashed. Recycled Gold does not benefit the environment or miners.

 

Incredulity is stretched from even further with the advocacy for recycled gold as a deterrent to mining, as shown in this screenshot from their website in June 2018: 

 

Brilliant Earth falsely claims here that recycled gold reduces gold mining activity. It does not.

 

Recycled products have a great consumer perception. Recycled paper reduces cutting down trees. Recycled aluminum means less aluminum demand for beer cans. All of this is true. 

Because anything recycled has such a powerful appeal, almost all consumers will believe buying recycled gold helps to save the planet!

But, obviously, gold is a currency hedge!  

With gold prices approaching $2000 an ounce, large-scale mines will continue to destroy the environment with massive industrial holes in the earth as long as they can make money doing so. This is about greed. I oppose large-scale gold mining and have led campaigns against it in my community.  

Small-scale mining is different. It will continue as long as the miners need to feed themselves and their families. It too will massively expand as the price of gold rises with global instability due to COVID-19. 

Here's my key point:

There is no evidence anywhere that choosing recycled or vintage gold has any impact on global demand newly mined gold. 

 

Part 3: Brilliant Earth Review of "Certified" Recycled Metal

 

Brilliant Earth uses a third-party organization, Scientific Certification Systems (SGS) Global Services, to certify their recycled precious metal, as explained in this article from 2017.  

Below is a screen shot of SGS’s website taken in 2018:

Brilliant Earth works with SGS Global Services to certify their recycled gold.

What exactly does “certified recycled gold” mean? It means certification is about tracing metal back to a refiner. Not back to the mine

Buying gold from refiners is easy.  A “gold refiners” Google search reveals dozens of potential sources.

But here’s what you need to know.: 

There’s no way of knowing whether or not the CERTIFIED “eco-friendly” RECYCLED gold you are choosing to wear on your finger to represent your marriage was originally taken from the teeth of Holocaust victims or the Mt. Polley mine, a dagger in the heart of First Nation communities — a topic I explored in a conversation Chief Bev Sellers of the Soda Creek Band in this recent interview.   

Certification only traces it back only to the gold refining company which melts it down. Then, the gold is sold back to the jewelry manufacturing company where it is rebranded as “eco-friendly."

It would be one thing if Brilliant Earth merely advocated for recycled metals and left Fairtrade and Fairmined initiatives alone, but that's not the case. 

They play to dominate in a Winners Take All paradigm.

 

Part 4: Review of Brilliant Earth's Marketing of Fair Trade and Fairmined Gold

Even though Brilliant Earth has not sold Fairmined jewelry for a while, they continue to market it as this screen shot from November 2019 shows:

 

Brilliant Earth engages in clickbait centered around Fairmined Gold, which they do not offer for sale on their site.

 

People click on this link bait and find themselves on the Brilliant Earth website.   

Though Fairmined Gold has not gotten any market traction in the US, there are still a few small jewelry studios who use it. 

But because of Brilliant Earth’s dominance on Google, those looking for Fairmined Gold will land on highly ranked Brilliant Earth pages. From there, they will be encouraged to buy recycled gold (which a customer service rep explained is essentially equal in ethics to Fairmined Gold.) 

This practice not only enhances Brilliant Earth’s business, but it also creates market confusion, undermining smaller studios who have tried to make a real difference for producer communities

But here’s the kicker: what Brilliant Earth does is even worse than using Fairmined clickbait. 

Brilliant Earth’s marketing, its powerful emphasis on recycled metals, also impacts a viable Fairtrade Gold movement. 

 

Review of Brilliant Earth's Fair Trade Gold and Fair Trade Jewelry Claims

Fairtrade Gold is perhaps the most powerful transformative product in the jewelry world today. It is popular in the UK and several EU countries.  

Recycled gold as an ethical proposition would never be taken seriously in the UK, where Fairtrade Gold is the market choice. As I mentioned above, there are over 250 Fairtrade Gold jewelers in the UK. 

In the US as well, those looking for exceptional ethical jewelry might well search for the keyword “fair trade + gold."

But before we go further, let’s start by defining fair trade as “a social movement whose stated goal is to help producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions.”

“Fairtrade” and “fair trade” are not the same thing.

In brief: the term “Fairtrade Gold” is trademarked by FLO/Fairtrade International. The Fairtrade logo is one of the most powerful global brands:

 

Fairtrade Gold is a proven system that provides vast benefit to both small-scale miners and the environment.

You’ve probably seen this logo (without the “Gold”) on chocolate or coffee. I am the only jeweler in the US who can use it.  

 

“Fair trade” is a general term that can be used by anyone, in any context. This makes it a magnet for false claims, akin to the words “all-natural,” which food conglomerates love to spin.

The point is this:

The general consumer in the US looking for a wedding ring does not understand the difference between "Fairtrade" and "fair trade." 

Let’s take a review of how Brilliant Earth exploits this situation, marketing the search term “fair trade." This Google screenshot is from the summer of 2018:

 

Brilliant Earth markets itself online as selling "fair trade" gold, which is does not offer.

 

 

Another example: the screenshot from November, 2019, implies in its title: "fair trade gold - Brilliant Earth" that Brilliant Earth sells fair trade gold.  

 

Brilliant Earth offers neither fair trade gold nor Fairmined Gold on its website.

 

 

Additionally, these two screenshots below state that “Brilliant Earth promotes the development of a fair trade gold system” as part of “Our Movement.”

The first screen shot is from August 2018, and the second was taken in November 2019.

 

Brilliant Earth claims to support the development of a "fair trade" gold system, but does not offer any fair trade gold or Fairmined Gold for sale on its site.

Brilliant Earth again here mentions that it promotes the development of a "fair trade" gold system—without providing any evidence, or offering any fair trade gold or Fairmined Gold items for sale.

 

Essentially, there is no such thing as this “fair trade gold system.” To make this claim confuses the market narrative and undermines the real Fairtrade Gold initiative.  

If you want to understand why, check out this video I took of Tina Mwasha  when I was visiting mines attempting to get Fairtade certification in Tanzania. She is Tanzania's first woman mineral processing engineer:

 

 

Take a moment and imagine the power to do good that Brilliant Earth might have achieved if they went with Fairtrade gold instead of recycled gold. The process is really difficult, as I explain here. But Brilliant Earth could have done it. 

Regardless, this general confusion among many between the terms "Fairtrade Gold,” which a trademarked term audited by FLOCert, and “fair trade gold,” which has no real universally-accepted standards and principles, ends up spreading into very authoritative sources. 

For example, this Wikipedia article seen in a November 2019 Google search states that Brilliant Earth has committed itself to using “fair-trade-certified gold”: 

 

Even Wikipedia contains info that states that Brilliant Earth is committed to selling "fair trade" gold—despite Brilliant Earth not offering any fair trade gold or Fairmined Gold for sale.

 

Again, I just want to emphasize that these claims are very, very damaging for the Fairtrade Gold movement—which is trying to help the guy mixing his hands in mercury water.  

I could end my article here, and leave you to judge for yourself whether, in consideration of this Brilliant Earth review, this company's practices align with your personal values.  

But we still have not arrived perhaps the most brilliant strategy of all... 

 

Part 5: Review of Brilliant Earth's Alignment With The Responsible Jewellery Council

Let us go back to the beginning, when co-Founder Eric Grossberg mentioned in his quote that he wanted to go “beyond whitewashing and doing the minimum to satisfy critical NGOs.” 

Let's take another look at how this plays out. 

A bit of background info first:

The Responsible Jewellery Council is a nonprofit founded by fourteen companies in 2004. Among those fourteen are De Beers, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Cartier, Newmont Mining, Signet Group, Tiffany & Co, Zales Corp, and Jewelers of America. Today, the Council has over 1200 members and represent hundreds of billions of dollars of retail and mining interests.

Brilliant Earth is a member of the Responsible Jewellery Council, yet the very NGOs that Brilliant Earth endorses as a way to tell you how much they are concerned about human rights and environmental atrocities denounce the Council's standards.

Here's how that works:

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have acted as key watchdogs for the jewelry sector. From Global Witness’ first exposure of the Blood Diamond wars in 1998, to Earthworks’ important No Dirty Gold Campaign in 2004, to the more recent work of Human Rights Watch’s “Beyond the Bling” in 2018, and many others.

Brilliant Earth has long marketed their relationship with NGOs to boost their credibility — such as in this article referencing Amnesty International.

 

Brilliant Earth aligns itself with NGOs online to boost its credibility as an ethical jewelry proponent—without offering any fair trade or Fairmined products for sale.

These articles are mainly critical of a wide variety of social and ecological justice issues regarding the sourcing from the mainstream jewelry sector. 

 

And, the organization that best represents the “responsible” methods of the mainstream is the Responsible Jewellery Council.   

It is the Council which has created a set of “responsible” standards which are currently being widely adopted across the industry based upon “chain of custody protocols.”

As shown in the screenshot below, Brilliant Earth is a member of the Responsible Jewellery Council:

 

Brilliant Earth is a member of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC.)

Screenshot taken September 2020.

 

Now, stay with me.  

Understanding these matters is a little bit like opening Russian dolls. You think you have arrived in the center, but that’s merely one more layer that covers up what is in the actual core.  

So, let me connect some dots as to why this endorsement is significant: 

Earthworks, the NGO that started the No Dirty Gold Campaign back in 2004, published a brutal and substantive critique of the Responsible Jewellery Council’s credibility in their 2013 white paper: More Shine Than Substance. 

To quote from the executive summary: 

“The Responsible Jewellery Council system and its components are riddled with flaws and loopholes… rendering it an ineffective tool by which to create an environmentally and socially responsible supply chain in the jewelry industry.”

Yet Brilliant Earth uses the credibility of Earthworks to promote their ethical stance, particularly their commitment to Earthworks’ powerful No Dirty Gold campaign. 

A Google search containing Brilliant Earth and No Dirty Gold will yield numerous articles. Additionally, here is a screenshot from Earthwork’s website, from November 2019:

 

Brilliant Earth boosts its credibility by aligning with Earthworks and their No Dirty Gold campaign. Earthworks has been heavily critical of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), which Brilliant Earth also aligns with.

 

This screenshot below shows Brilliant Earth referencing a Human Rights Watch article. The article on blood diamonds and violence in Africa, based upon information from Human Rights Watch, shows to the average person that Brilliant Earth considers this NGO an important watchdog for the jewelry sector.

 

Brilliant Earth mentions Human Rights Watch in this article, to position themselves as aligned with NGOs that engage with the jewelry sector.

 

Screenshot from November 2019.

 

Yet…in context to the Responsible Jewellery Council’s “responsible” standards," the 2018 Human Rights Watch report, The Hidden Cost of Jewelry, wrote, 

 

“The Responsible Jewellery Council promotes standards that allow companies to be certified even when they fail to support basic human rights… (it) is essentially an industry body. Its decision-making bodies do not include consumer groups, representatives of mining communities (for example, organizations addressing land rights or environmental harms), trade unions or miners’ associations, or human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).”

 

Moreover, Human Rights Watch’s anti-Responsible Jewellery Council call to action was signed by these 29 NGOs: 

 

Amnesty International, Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa, ask! Arbeitsgruppe Schweiz Kolumbien (Swiss Working Group on Colombia), Artisanal Gold Council (Canada), Centre for Natural Resource Governance (Zimbabwe), Child Labor Coalition (US), Coalition de la Société Civile de la Région de Grands Lacs contre l'exploitation illégale des Ressources Naturelles (African Great Lakes Region), Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (Philippines), Enough Project (US), Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker (Society for Threatened Peoples STP, Switzerland), Global March Against Child Labor, Global Witness,Groupe d'Appui aux Exploitants des Ressources Naturelles (Democratic Republic of Congo), Groupe de Recherche et de Plaidoyer sur les Industries Extractives (Côte d’Ivoire), Human Rights Watch, India Committee of the Netherlands (Netherlands), IMPACT (Canada), IndustriALL Global Union, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, International Labor Rights Forum, MIHOSO International (Ghana), National Consumers League (US), New Light Children Centre Organization (Tanzania), Public Eye (Switzerland), Réseau de Lutte Contre La Faim (Cameroon), Solidarity Organisation Afrikagrupperna (The Africa Groups of Sweden), Stop Child Labour Coalition (Netherlands), Swedwatch (Sweden), Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zimbabwe).

 

Let me give you one more example of Brilliant Earth referencing their concern and support of NGOs — this time, in context to diamonds.  

In 2011, Global Witness, the organization that uncovered the blood diamond atrocities, resigned from the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which ostensibly works to prevent conflict diamonds from entering the market.

The issue was over Zimbabwe diamonds. Essentially, blood diamonds from Zimbabwe were being certified by the Kimberley Process as Conflict Free.  

Brilliant Earth references Global Witness numerous times in articles, but here are a few examples spotted in November 2019:

 

Here, Brilliant Earth cobrands itself with Global Witness—a well respected NGO.

 

Note the text at the bottom: "Brilliant Earth and non-profits like Global Witness in highlighting….” This is a kind of co-branding. We’re led to believe that that Brilliant Earth is strongly aligned with champions of human rights.    

Yet, the Responsible Jewellery Council endorsed blood diamonds coming from Zimbabwe as Kimberley-certified “conflict free" back in 2009. This was the event that many industry insiders considered fatal to the Kimberley Process.

At that time, Global Witness (who exposed the blood diamond attrocity to the public) dropped out of the Kimberley Process, stating that its decision to accept Zimbabwe diamonds had “turned an international conflict prevention mechanism into a cynical corporate accreditation scheme.”

Do you see the contradiction?

Brilliant Earth rejects the validity of the Kimberley Certification Process yet endorse the Council which has unconditionally supported Kimberley.

Here's the bottom line:

Brilliant Earth reviews that do not consider the implication of that endorsement of the Responsible Jewellery Council's standards are inherently flawed, because people choose Brilliant Earth over a company like Blue Nile because of their ethical stance. 

But what I've mentioned in context to the Council gets even worse. Just one more brief bit of information and then we can go on the the final section. 

In 2012, the Council published this declaration:

 

This Responsible Jewellery Council Grandfather Clause certifies as "ethical" diamonds and gold that were not obtained under ethical circumstances.

 

The Council essentially bypasses any historical atrocity, whether it be the diamond wars that killed 3.7 million people when De Beers controlled almost all the diamond trade, or more recent acts.   

This is a systemic issue among Council members. Follow the links to these companies: Anglo Gold, BHP Billiton, Newmont, Rio Tinto; all now producing certified “responsible” gold under the Responsible Jewellery Council’s code.   

 

Here are the key points, in summary...

Any Brilliant Earth review must take into account that they support and endorse a Responsible Jewellery Council which allows its members to deny previous atrocities.  

This standard, according to the NGOs that Brilliant Earth like to reference in their articles to show how much they care, “fails to support basic human rights” as Human Rights Watch states. The Council even supports a system that allows blood diamonds from Zimbabwe to be called “conflict free.”  

This is all part of a brilliant strategy.

Support of the Responsible Jewellery Council means that you gain support of the trade and the trade press. This garners massive positive publicity and access to resoruces. I just want to emphasize that this is a huge PR benefit. 

Initially, back in 2007, the mainstream jewelry trade saw Brilliant Earth as a potential threat. Now, the recycled gold approach has been fully embraced by the trade. Here's Stuller, the largest jewelry supplier, with its recycled gold narrative.

Yet Brilliant Earth also can appeal to the ethically-minded consumer aligned with the views of Earthworks, Human Rights Watch, and Global WItness.  

This is a perfect razor’s edge to ride:  they get a whole spectrum of support: mainstream press, trade press, progressive ethical jewelry/fashion blogger press.  

And when you buy from them, you too can Join the Movement!

 

Part 6: Diamonds, Brilliant Earth Reviews, And The "Beyond Conflict Free" Narrative

Any consideration of Brilliant Earth would be incomplete without considering diamonds, which comprise about half of all jewelry sales.

Before I get into the the heart of this issue, the New York Times writes here that diamonds can cost 12% TO 20% on Briliant Earth than smaller retailers and then there's tale of a Brilliant Earth scam from the pricescope community. 

Also, in 2017, Jacob Worth posted a detailed journalistic exposé on YouTube that traced a diamond Brilliant Earth claimed was Canadian back to the vendor. That vendor said on tape the diamonds were not Canadian origin.  The video created quite a stur, even in the mainstream jewelry trade press. Brilliant Earth sued and Worth removed the video. 

Worth's compelling argument is still online, documented in Bryan Clark article in The Next Web and Philip DeFranco’s YouTube video.   

Though these critics raise important issues around Brilliant Earth's sourcing, the focus in this section of my Brilliant Earth review is the marketing of diamonds through the "Beyond Conflict Free" label.   

To start, let's take note of the coherence in Brilliant Earth's marketing. In section three, we explored the strong linage to fair trade. Fair trade, as I described earlier, has a great halo effect. It shows the progressive, concerned consumer that they are stiving for human rights and environmental justice. 

The screenshot below taken in August 2018 conveys how Brilliant Earth is on the forefront of making fair trade diamonds a reality. They are among the stakeholders involved in discussions! 

 

Brilliant Earth's claims here—of being involved in developing "fair trade" diamonds—are misleading.

 

Here’s what’s key:

There were no discussions at the time I posted this screenshot. 

Greg Valerio, the father of the Fairtrade Gold movement, who worked for Fairtrade International, confirmed in a 2018 conversation with Fairtrade International that Brilliant Earth is not in any kind of discussion with them over “fair trade” diamonds.  

And yet, in Reuters article explains that the founders of Brillinat Earth, who were interviewed,  are, "collaboring on an initiativeto create the world's first Fairtrade diamonds in Sierra Leone."  (Italics mine.)  Note again, Fairtrade = FLO Cert.  FLO Cert has NOT been involved with the DDI. 

My understanding is that, at this point, diamonds are not even on Fairtrade’s radar.

Yet in Brilliant Earth's marketing, they claim to sell “fair trade diamonds" — a product that does not exist!  Note: "Fair trade" as two words.  Legal to use, but essentially as meaningless as the word, "natural" in the term, "natural chicken."  

 

Brilliant Earth's online ads mention "fair trade diamonds"—which do not exist!

Screenshot from spring 2018.

 

Further: on their website, Brilliant Earth claims that they are “working hard to increase access to diamonds that are mined in alignment with fair trade principles...”   

 

Here again, Brilliant Earth mentions the development of "fair trade" diamonds—without offering any specifics.

Screenshot from spring 2018.

 

Where do these fair trade or fair trade principled-diamonds come from?
 

Brilliant Earth sources from Responsible Jewellery Council members, such as Rio Tinto (Canada) and De Beers (Botswana and Namibia), though it's revealing that I couldn't find De Beers specifically referenced as a source. 

Brilliant Earth’s sourcing of diamonds also includes Russia:

 

Brilliant Earth sources its diamonds from multinational corporations, including from the Alrosa mine in Russia.

Screenshot from Brilliant Earth’s website showing diamond sourcing at the Alrosa mine in Russia.

 

Alrosa was referenced in this New York Times article in context to corruption allegations and Brexit. The largest buyer of this rough material has been Lev Leviev, notorious for his human rights abuses in Angola. The Russian government (Putin) also has a significant share in Alrosa.

In context to a fair trade diamond, Brilliant Earth does help fund the Diamond Development Initiative. This Initiative was mentioned in the screenshot just above, where I referenced "discussions." 

The Diamond Develoment Initiative is part of Brilliant Earth's "vision" for a fair trade diamond future, as shown in this screenshot off their website:

 

Brilliant Earth helps fund the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI), which is operated by De Beers—a company with a horrendous track record in Africa.

Screenshot from August, 2018.

 

The Diamond Development Initiative (DDI) started back in 2008, aspiring to be aligned with Fairtade Intentional. They have operated since then, funded by large mining and retail jewelry companies.

Since its founding, I've followed the DDI's progress. A fair trade diamond would be transformative to the jewelry industry. 

Now, as of 2020, the Diamond Development Initiative has operated for 12 YEARS!!! without bringing one diamond to market. Why?  

It's true that civil society institutions are weak.  The miners have to be convinced that there is something in it for them.  Also, Lebanese mafia control much of Sierra Leone's diamond purchasing.   

Yet diamonds from this project  have been exported and sold.  If powerful diamond interests wanted a fair trade diamond, there would be one by now. 

Also, at present, De Beers is the only distributor of DDI diamonds.  De Beers is one of the founding members of the Responsible Jewellery Council. De Beers' strategy, as this August 22, 2000 New York Times article describes, has been to turn the conflict free diamond "controversy" into a virtue.  

Otherwise, let me give you a simple analogy that, in my opinion, cuts to the chase:  having De Beers involved in a fair trade diamond supply chain is, in my view, analogous to making the American neo-Nazi and former KKK leader David Duke head of the Southern Poverty Law Center

 

Reviewing Brilliant Earth's "Beyond Conflict Free" Diamonds

Because the Kimberley Process, which certifies diamonds as conflict free, is essentially broken, Brilliant Earth and ethical jewelers have to create new narratives in order to show that they are watching out for concerned consumers.  

every jeweler sells their diamonds as "conflict free." But the conflict free narrative has been attacked because of the weaknesses in the Kimberley Certification Process. 

Brilliant Earth claims to be “Beyond” the notion of “conflict free,” which basically conveys that they are extraordinarily careful (i.e. mines only partially owned by Putin's govenment) about their diamond sourcing, as described below:

 

In our opinion, Brilliant Earth's "Beyond Conflict Free" narrative is just as bad as "conflict free"—a racist narrative that says Black African lives don't matter.

Screenshot from summer 2018.

 

I’m not going to detail my personal abhorrence of the "conflict free" narrative. I have written about it widely. I am the only jeweler in the world, as far as I know, who argues we should Boycott Conflict Free Diamonds

So, I’ll give you the quick version of how a feel, a bit of my editorial opinion:

Kill 3.7 million Africans in the eighties and ninties and then invent a “conflict free” narrative without truth, reconciliation, or restitution, to cover up the crimes. No one. NOT ONE JEWELER or DIAMOND DEALER has been held accountable for those killings. 

De Beers controlled about 85% of the diamond supply chain when blood diamond wars were taking place. De Beers is a major trading partner with Brilliant Earth.  

To me, “conflict free diamonds” = black African lives don’t matter.

“Beyond” conflict free diamonds doubly affirms a narrative that ignore past attrocities and hides crimes in plain sight. 

Kind of reminds me of the Hannah Arendt term “banality of evil.”

 

What’s Your Brilliant Earth Review? 

Since my initial involvement in ethical Jewelry sourcing — as a jeweler named “The Best of the Best” in 2019, a writer on these issues for major trade magazines and other conscious consumer publications, I have watched a movement grow from nothing to the most important market trend. 

It would seem, from the popularity of ethical jewelry sourcing that the sourcing of jewelry has changed. Certainly, you might get that from bloggers, trade press, and other Brilliant Earth reviews.

But, instead of creating an ethical jewelry movement in North America that would focus on small-scale producers who most need support to create regenerative local economic models…

Instead of basing participation in such a movement from large multinational mining companies on truth, reconciliation, and restitution to the communities impacted…

What we have are forward-facing narratives that hide crimes in plain sight, by companies that want to capture this new market through specious narratives with a supply chain that draws minimally, in context to gold and diamonds, from exploited small scale miners. 

High-profile charity initiatives can easily become a way of masking a new version of an old colonial story:

 

Brilliant Earth, through its "ethical jewelry" image, creates a perception that the jewelry industry is changing for the better. But it's really just a new version of the same old story.

 

 

So, based upon what I’ve written here, how would you review Brilliant Earth now? 

At the start of this article I asked a simple question: can they be trusted?  

My opinion: not only should we not trust them, we should create a consumer boycott of this company until they change. 

 

Please do leave a comment — even a short one helps get this info to more people. The comment section is after the reference sections below. 

 

Suggested Companies Where You Can Find Fairtrade/Fairmined jewelry and gemstones. 

There are numerous Fairtrade Gold jewelers in the UK that are reputable and which you find on Google. 

In the US, my company, Reflective Jewelry, which hosts this article, is a custom designer studio of five people. We are the only Fairtrade Gold jewelers in the US and can make wedding/engagement ring design in Fairtrade Gold.  

I also recommend Toby Pomeroy. They have tried harder to create a Fairmined Gold market than any other US jeweler. 

Stay away from any jeweler that cannot offer Fairtrade/Fairmined and instead only pitches eco-friendly responsible recycled metals.  

For gemstones, I highly recommend Columbia Gem House. They have pioneered fair trade gems. Your jeweler can purchase the stone of your choice directly from them. Also, there’s Moyo Gems and RubyFair. 

For natural diamonds, if you are trying to sort out what kind of diamond to purchase, I wrote this article which covers the pros and cons of natural vs. lab grown diamonds, and what's available in the market.

In sum, I would recommend Canadian sourced, which your jeweler should be able to provide for you. For lab grown, I recommend our source, which is the Diamond Foundry. They are certified carbon neutral. 

 

Links for Additional Reading and Research:

Three feature articles I wrote in Canada’s top trade magazine will give you a broad understanding of what’s going on right now. The first is What Makes Ethical Jewelry Ethical? The second is A Dream Deferred, Ethical Gold in North America. The third, The Sustainability Trap. The Responsible Jewellery Council's big narrative is around "sustainability." My last piece outlines how "sustainability" in the jewelry world is destroying our future.

I gave a to this piece above, but here it is again. An astonishing, must-read "smoking gun" article in the NY Times from Aug. 22, 2000, Controvsy Over Blood Diamonds Made Into A Virtue, describes how the death of millions via blood diamonds was a marketing opportunity. De Beers controlled nearly all of the African supply chain during much of the blood diamond wars. 

Millions were killed in blood diamond wars, but did you know that the real victums were not those who were killed and the families left behind, but jewelers? Read about it in Birth of the Ethical Jewelry Movement.

Two more NY Times articles: mercury used in gold mining in Indonesia and the Amazon.

Sometimes I'm asked, how come you are the only Fairtrade jeweler in the US? It makes no sense! To learn more about the politics and the history of Fairmined/Fairtrade Gold in the US, read this.

Read about our Fairtrade Gold initiative here and information on Fairtrade Gold vs. Recycled Gold. The differences between “Fairtrade Gold” and “fair trade gold” are outlined in this piece.

I've done considerable research and writing on the Responsible Jewellery Council. Read this to start. Further, here, the CEO of the “nonprofit” Council admits that the organization is really a trade association!  A trade association determining its own standards and acting as a self-certification agency...no conflict of interest there, eh? And, if you really want to dig in, in this piece I provide evidence that their standards are weak and ineffective. 

The Kimberley Process is the basis of “conflict free diamonds” claims. To learn more about these issues, read my article on how the Kimberley Process fell apart.  

To dig more deeply into De Beers and the Diamond Development Initiative, read Death of the Fairtrade Diamond. Perhaps equally interesting is this piece I wrote in detail here on how jewelers finesse and spin the conflict free diamond narrative.

For the deepest dive into these issues, return to the Ethical Jewelry Exposé: Lies, Damn Lies and Conflict Free Diamonds landing page and start at the beginning!   

If you have questions you can contact me via my email: Marc (at) Reflectivejewelry.com.  

 

 

 

 

This Brilliant Earth Review is part of our Ethical Jewelry Exposé: Lies, Damn Lies, and Conflict Free Diamonds.

 

 

**All writing and images are open source, under Creative Commons 3.0. Any reproduction of this material must back link to the landing page, here. For high resolution images for publication, contact us at expose(AT)reflectivejewelry.com.**

 

 

Marc Choyt is president of Reflective Jewelry, a designer jewelry company founded in 1995. He pioneered the ethical sourcing movement in North America and is also the only certified Fairtrade Gold jeweler in the United States. Choyt’s company was named Santa Fe New Mexico’s Green Business of the Year in 2019, and he has been honored with several awards for his efforts to support ethical jewelry. His ebook, Ethical Jewelry Exposé: Lies, Damn Lies and Conflict Free Diamonds, is available online. Choyt can be reached on Twitter at @Circlemanifesto or by email at marc@reflectivejewelry.com.



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Comments ( 51)

Posted by: Jamila on Jan 06, 2020
Great research in this article! Very informative - thanks for sharing. Amazing read.
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Jan 07, 2020
Thanks for your comment-- it did take a long time to research and write this piece.
Posted by: Deirdre on Jan 06, 2020
Fascinating and complicated topic. I enjoyed becoming enlightened about the real meanings of words like fairtrade, fair trade, and conflict-free in the jewelry world.
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Jan 07, 2020
The terms are complicated and almost impossible to figure out unless your on the inside. Thanks for your feedback.
Posted by: Jerry on Jan 07, 2020
It seems clear that colonialism is still alive and well. There needs to be enforced international standards in the jewelry industry. This seems to both a human rights issue and an environmental issue.
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Jan 07, 2020
How true: colonialism is alive and well and it takes the form in the mining and retail interests in the North American jewelry sector that proclaim to help producer communities but in fact undermine them with false marketing narratives.
Posted by: Sean on Jan 07, 2020
To hear Brilliant Earth may be working with De Beers and placing them in charge of their "fair trade" diamonds is very concerning. As if De Beers needed any more control over the diamond trade. Thanks for the article!
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Jan 07, 2020
"Very concerning indeed."
Posted by: Alyssa on Jan 11, 2020
Very interesting and IMPORTANT issues! Misleading consumers seems to be the standard for corporate success. It is imperative that we expose the rotten underbelly of companies like this. Thank you for your dedication in researching and spreading awareness around these issues.
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Jan 11, 2020
Thanks, Alyssa, for your comment and reading my article. The trouble is that the issues are so complex and multilayered that it's nearly impossible to expose that underbelly. Hopefully, for the sake of a real producer centered ethical jewelry movement in the US, the issues will gain greater attention.
Posted by: Runyu on Jan 13, 2020
Thanks for offering this valuable information and knowledge as an insider. It is so simply abominable when companies make money off of people’s benevolence these days. I wish this topic can be more widely spread, because literally lives of human beings are at stake here.
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Jan 13, 2020
If a company of Brilliant Earth's stature and size were to actually commit to supporting regenerative economic models for producer communities-- a model such as Fairtrade Gold, there's no question that many lives could be improved. Thanks for your comment.
Posted by: Ben on Jan 16, 2020
Interesting article. It sounds like Brilliant Earth is very dishonest in their marketing tactics. It's really irritating when big companies mislead the consumer like this. Brilliant Earth should be ashamed of themselves.
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Jan 16, 2020
Brilliant Earth could have been the Patagonia of the jewelry sector. Alas...
Posted by: Jay Wilderness on Jan 16, 2020
Very educational article. Brilliant Earth has found all the loopholes to misrepresent their gold products. It seems to me that all they have to do is make jewelry with gold mined by unethical means and then "rebrand" it by melting it down a second time and calling it "recycled". Shame on Brilliant Earth! Thank you Marc and Reflective Jewelry for shining a light on this dark deceptive practice by Brilliant Earth!
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Jan 17, 2020
Thanks for your comment. It's unfortunate that these days recycled gold is marketed as the ethical choice, at the expense of gold from small scale miners who are mining under fair and ethical practices....
Posted by: Luz Bravo on Jan 17, 2020
Commercial humanitarianism would appear to have reached its apex with this kind of promotion. One hopes that some day an autonomous third-world advocacy will emerge from the third world instead of from fat cat merchandisers. Undoubtedly, third world producers have sincere supporters who genuinely would improve the quality of work conditions and the life expectency of other people. Congratulations and gratitude go out to real pioneers like Marc Choyt who have gone against the grain to point out deficiencies in the materialistic Paradise of modern marketing companies.
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Jan 18, 2020
There is a real opportunity for large companies to support humanitarian relationships with producer communities-- through programs such as Fairtrade or Fairmined gold. These options are a radical departure, for they provide regenerative economic opportunities. Unfortunately, in the case of Brilliant Earth, as I pointed out in this Brilliant Earth review, that opportunity has been missed.
Posted by: on Jan 18, 2020
Useful review of Brilliant Earth’s claims regarding ethical sourcing. It would be impolite to question the original intentions of Brilliant Earth. One’s presumes that the original intentions of the company’s founder are honest and forthright. However one has to question the way in which his professed humanitarian ideals have been implemented.
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Jan 18, 2020
Indeed, as my Brilliant Earth Review shows in numerous examples, the "implementation" element is very disappointing in context to impact to producer communities.
Posted by: Michael Rahn on Jan 19, 2020
Mr. Choyt’s detailed Brilliant Earth Review indicates how Brilliant Earth has failed as an ethical jewelry company. Moreover, this Brilliant Earth Review indicates a systemic failure in the jewelry industry. The appropriation of narratives by the wolf in sheep’s clothing is as old as fairy tales. It is the task of adults to appreciate the power of fairy tales and then to explain why they are powerful , not to believe them naively like their children.
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Jan 19, 2020
Thanks for your comment. It's unfortunate that the fairy tale has such dire consequences for those of us who want to truly focus the so called "ethical jewelry" movement on supporting impoverished producer communities.
Posted by: Ofelia on Jan 19, 2020
The popularity of ethical jewelry sourcing has generated a boom in humanitarian claims which might just be entirely disconnected from the realitites of lives of Third World producers. Brilliant Earth paints a patermalistic comercial Utopia where the brothers and sisters of the South are spoken-for by friendly First World businessmen.
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Jan 21, 2020
The tactic sector wide among large scale interests is to take small initiatives that have zero market impact and blow them up to appear huge, all the while continuing business as usual. the irony of it would be amusing, if not for the environmental destruction of mercury contamination, if not for the poverty and suffering, if not for the need and desire of concerned consumers who want to make a difference but are continually mislead. We have tremendous unrealized potential for change... if only the energy for change were not subverted.
Posted by: Cresenciano Hernández on Jan 19, 2020
What is the motive behind Brilliant Earth’s idealistic claims of being the good friend of the dark-skinned humble miners of the South? Assertions of empyrian motives auggest that for some reason Brilliant Earth’s management is more moral than most human beings. I have met or known. When I hear someone from the Third World speaking for hi m or herself and/or applauding a rich person for having provided an opportunity, or much-needed help, then, I will have an easier time believing self-serving claims.
Posted by: Christine on Jan 21, 2020
Thank you for this very informative article. I appreciate all of the research and time that clearly went into writing this.
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Jan 21, 2020
Thank you for your kind complement. Indeed, there's about fifteen years of thinking and diving into issues in the jewelry sector behind the writing of this article.
Posted by: Betsy Bauer on Feb 07, 2020
Yes, the research is the solid thinking and rationale we need in this day and age of dubious facts. Solid thinking, caring and intelligent discourse on ethics are so important
Posted by: Betsy on Feb 07, 2020
I'm glad to have found this outstanding article. Illuminating the accurate meaning of fair trade jewelry has opened my eyes. Thank you for writing and sharing the article.
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Feb 09, 2020
Betsy, Glad that the info helped you.
Posted by: BC on Feb 29, 2020
This is the most important Brilliant Earth Review I have ever read. They are such scammers and liars!
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Mar 09, 2020
Yes, it's very unfortunate that they have not lived up to their potential....
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Mar 09, 2020
Thanks, Guy, for your kind words. As one of the foremost gem dealers in the world-- someone has been feature in National Geographic films and who sells the Crown in the UK-- I appreciate your endorsement of my work.
Posted by: Guy Clutterbuck on Mar 09, 2020
Having known Marc Choyt of Reflective Images of some 25 years, I have no hesitation in observing that he is, and has always been, a man of the utmost integrity. As an expert on gemstones and gem mining specifically, I cannot claim to have any knowledge of, or experience in gold mining, but Marc’s reservations about Brilliant Earth’s claims of using only ethically sourced gold, appear well researched and convincing. In my experience, if a vendor makes elaborate claims about a product, ultimately the truth will out, so it’s in the best interests of all involved that correct dealing and honest representation remain pivotal to an operation.” Guy Clutterbuck.March 2020.
Posted by: P.Y. on May 10, 2020
An informative and powerful article dissecting such a complex and important issue. The fact that Brilliant Earth using Fairmined metals as a tool of marketing instead of utilising it to improve the miners’ living is absolutely appalling. This is like fast fashion brands launching ‘sustainable’ lines without improving the labour conditions and supply chain. And its use of the words ‘fair trade’ without truly committed to Fairtrade movement is the worst clickbait ever. I mean, if you don’t want to improve anything (which is already terrible given the outrageous and horrifying conditions the workers, miners, and the environment are trapped in), fine, just remain silent, but using the word to get the benefits brought by a movement which truly tries to improve people’s lives? That’s stealing and it means Brilliant Earth knows the benefits fairtrade gold/movement can bring to the society and it chose not to promote fairtrade movement because all it cares is its profit, as if there’s not enough. The ‘grandfathered material’ narrative by Responsible Jewellery Council is atrocious and simply negates the crimes committed by the greedy corporates, as if there’s an expiry date for people’s suffering and corporate’s crime. Bygones are not bygones unless there’s restitution, true improvement for the people’s living and ecology, and sincere apology. RJC is a huge discouragement to the jewellers who want to be truly ethical. For the ‘conflict free diamond’ narrative, this is an attempt to hide the human rights violation and suffering across different countries due to the related wars crimes in plain sight. These two narratives together create endless horror of the human sufferings, and it is a huge disappointment and moral disgust that Brilliant Earth aligns with RJC.
Posted by: Marc Choyt on May 10, 2020
PY, thanks for your comment. Yes, you get the issues of concern clearly. it is so unfortunate that BE has not lived up to its potential.
Posted by: Jacob Chacko on May 15, 2020
Very important work you’re doing here Mark. Thank you for you passion for this subject. I feel very educated by this article.
Posted by: Marc Choyt on May 15, 2020
Jacob, appreciate your kind words of support for my work. Thanks for your comment!
Posted by: MM on Jun 16, 2020
This was an eye-opening piece to read! I’m very grateful for the time you’ve spent on this, it has been educational and informative for me. I feel much better equipped to make ethical choices when buying precious metals now, and I will make certain to investigate where I can find Fairtrade gold in my country. However, I am now very much in doubt about whether I can buy diamonds in good conscience. I am considering lab-grown diamonds, do you have an opinion on those? Is there anything I should be aware of when considering lab-grown diamonds?
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Jun 17, 2020
MM, thanks for your comment. I'm glad that you found the info useful. Regarding lab ground diamonds, there's no perfect choice. I do an comparison of diamond choices in this article. https://reflectivejewelry.com/news/our-ethical-diamond-sources-canadian-mined-recycled-and-lab-grown-diamonds.
Posted by: John Luu on Jul 13, 2020
Thanks for this research. Glad I read it. Stumbled upon it whilst googling 'how ethical is brilliant earth'. My next google was ["fairtrade" jewelry australia]. Note the quotation marks around 'fairtrade' so google would give me an exact result without a spaced out 'fair trade'. Sad how many illegitimate 'fair trade' results there are. The world is so confusing!!!! its like a constant battle/choice between doing whats easy or doing whats right.
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Jul 14, 2020
John, thanks for your comment. It shouldn't have to be a "constant battle" but unfortunately there is this great force interested in keeping the same structures which created the mess we're in in place.
Posted by: Jemima Michael on Jul 16, 2020
Thank you for this valuable information Marc. This is a very interesting article on ethical sourcing. It is sad and heartbreaking to see how recycled gold is marketed as an ethical choice right now. And your Brilliant Earth's review was very insightful. Great article!!!
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Jul 16, 2020
Thanks, Jemima, for your comment. It is sad and heartbreaking. Hopefully one day US consumers will be educated enough to support small scale miners directly, from your home country of Kenya.
Posted by: Jonathan Self on Aug 04, 2020
Marc, many thanks for this well-researched and well-written article, which opened my eyes to all sorts of issues. Jewellery is not the only industry where being 'ethical' is a business opportunity (food, skincare and fashion all spring to mind) and the more accurate information that is out there for consumers, the better. In the meantime, it pays to really read up on anyone one is giving one's business to in order to check that their standards match one's own and that they actually walk the walk. Thanks again. Jonathan
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Aug 04, 2020
Jonathan, thanks so much for your kind words about my work. Hopefully more people like you will investigate these issues and we might one day see change, a world that connects small scale miners to the larger marketplace.
Posted by: Anthony on Aug 17, 2020
Very interesting article. I just started looking for an engagement ring for my girlfriend (I'm curious to find out what exactly started this socially expected norm of purchasing a ring in order to pronounce your love for someone and start your journey together. Why some sort of diamond ring? I never understood that honestly - I'm sure the root of that answer goes back to $$$ - anyway, that's a different conversation). So the first promoted link I saw when I started searching was Brilliant Earth. I was just looking on there to get ideas - not necessarily use them to purchase anything. Regardless, I wanted to look into the background of the company after reading about it's claim of being "ethical", etc. Most of those companies that throw the "sustainable" card in your face are typically bluffing in my opinion. I think I had to go to the second page on a google search before I stumbled upon this article - glad I did. I plan to do some follow up reading on the articles you listed at the end. In the meantime, given your background - how would you point a consumer like myself in regards to searching for a product such as an engagement ring? I'd like to do the proper thing if possible. Thank you again.
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Aug 18, 2020
Anthony, thank you for your kind words about my article and also for your research on the issues. In context to choosing a company that actually makes a difference, two things: Fairtrade or Fairmined gold. I am the only Fairtrade gold jeweler in the US. There are a few jewelers who can work with Fairmined gold. I have no recommendations. Second, for diamonds, I recommend Canadian or lab ground. Among lab grown, Diamond Foundry is at least carbon neutral. Other gemstones: Columbia Gem House. They pioneered fair trade gemstones. I know the founder and trust him completely. Hope this helps.
Posted by: Simon on Oct 14, 2020
Hi Marc, this is a really very interesting and well written article, thanks for the insight. On the face of it Brilliant Earth look to be a responsible and ethical company, but your deep research reveals a different story. I am wondering if you could you give me some more information or links to buy Fairtrade diamonds in the UK? It's hard for me to know who to truly trust.
Posted by: Marc Choyt on Oct 14, 2020
Hi Simon, Glad to hear that the article was helpful to you. Regarding diamonds, there are no fair trade or fairtrade diamonds. I've written this article: https://reflectivejewelry.com/news/our-ethical-diamond-sources-canadian-mined-recycled-and-lab-grown-diamonds which address the pros and cons of what's available at this time. Basically, my view is that if you want a natural go Canadian.
Posted by: Simon on Oct 14, 2020
Thanks Marc. All the pros and cons make sense. Thanks so much for your help, I have learnt a lot today!

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