How to Select Conflict-Free Engagement Rings

July 21, 2014

Even though I have no plans to get married anytime soon, I do wonder about *the* most important ring I’d ever wear. Will it be emerald-cut diamond, prong set on a gold band? Or vintage round-cut on rose gold? And, am I the kind of girl who can pull off a colored stone?! So many questions. All I know is that when the day comes, it will be conflict-free, conscious, and eco-friendly. I talked to my favorite jewelry designer, Barbara Polinsky of Barbara Michelle Jacobs, about how to select conflict-free engagement rings. Barbara creates her botanically-inspired masterpieces at her New York City studio using recycled metals, conflict-free stones or vintage and repurposed gems. Here’s what you should keep in mind when designing or selecting an engagement ring. (Men dumplings, grab a pen and paper!)

Q: Engagement ring shopping can be overwhelming for many brides and grooms. What’s your advice on getting started?

A: First, try to figure out the most important elements for you. It’s important to isolate the different aspects of rings you like or don’t like. What kind of setting do you like? For metal, consider color as well as texture. For stones, think about the size and the cut. Once you start separating individual qualities you like, you can begin to compose your dream ring.

Q: Do you see any trends in engagement rings?

A: By their very nature, engagement rings are less dictated by trends than timelessness. You have to think, what can I wear and love for the rest of my life? It becomes much more about individuality rather than following fashion. Actually, reflecting the client’s individual style is a strong trend. Brides now want something that is very personal and unique, and I love working with clients to make it an extension of who they are. Another big trend is ethical, socially and environmentally conscious rings. Yet another is working directly with independent designers, as opposed to going to the store and a buying pre-made ring off the shelf.

Q: What about colored gems or alternatives to the diamond? I love them! I feel they’re so unique and also good for avoiding conflict stones.

A: For non-diamonds, I recommend sapphires because they’re a hard stone–crucial for something you’ll be wearing all the time, for decades. Stones like opals and emeralds are a lot softer. Sapphires also come in a variety of colors like different shades of blue, pink, purple, white, etc. But you don’t have to avoid diamonds for conflict-free reasons–they are the hardest stone out there, and there are plenty of ways to ensure the integrity of your ring.

How to Select Conflict Free Engagement Rings

Three stone engagement ring with blue and white sapphires

How to Select Conflict-free Engagement Rings

Emerald-cut golden beryl and pink sapphire ring

Q: What kind of things should the bride and groom know about selecting diamonds?

A: The rarer a diamond’s characteristics, the more valuable it is. This means whiter, bigger, cleaner (less included) and well cut stones will cost the most. 

But it’s not just a matter of “more expensive, the better.” A knowledgeable designer should be able to guide you during the process for the diamond that fits you: for instance, given a set budget, diamond characteristics can be played off each other to maximize the attributes that are most important to you. If you have very small hands, a more delicately-sized (but still sparkly) stone will look amazing. But if you have really large hands, you may want to think about compromising stone clarity or color for size so the proportions of the ring compliment the scale of your hands.

Q: Do you have any tips for getting the best value for a diamond?

A: Oval-, marquis- and pear-cut diamonds look bigger than a round brilliant cut diamond of same size. Oval in particular is also a really flattering shape because it elongates the fingers. But round-cut stones on the other hand look more brilliant. If sparkle is very important to you, round is great.

How to Select Conflict-free Engagement Rings - plus Our Picks

Vintage diamond in modified brilliant cut (ovalish in appearance) on 18k reclaimed white gold band. Custom-made, with diamond certification

Q: How can conscious brides and grooms make the best choice? 

A: Many people are now aware of the problems buying questionably sourced diamonds from conflict regions. To avoid participating in this issue, your best bet is to work with a designer you can trust. A good designer should be able to tell you where the stone is from and why it’s conflict-free. Unfortunately, the label conflict free doesn’t always tell the whole story. As socially conscious customers, we want to know that human rights are not being violated and the proceeds from diamond sales don’t fund conflict governments. To steer clear of this complicated issue, I like to incorporate pre-owned and antique diamonds as well as diamonds mined in Canada and Russia which come with certification, the provenance of which can be pinpointed to even the exact mine.

Each of these are choices you can make with confidence that you’re not contributing to tragedy around the world. The question becomes more about what look you prefer, especially in terms of new vs. old. Vintage stones can be very special because they didn’t do precision cutting back then–so they have less overly sparkly, more dreamier and romantic look.

How to Select Conflict-Free Engagement Rings - and Our Picks!

Vintage diamond in recycled 18k rose gold setting. Custom-made for a client using a European antique stone that is more than 100 years old.

Q: What are you inspired by? And how would you describe your pieces?

A: Drawing inspiration from nature, my pieces have an organic, effortless look. Whether it’s direct castings of twigs and branches from Central Park, or life experiences–I’m inspired by truth and beauty we meet everyday. My jewelry strives to tell its story–and yours–through the use of unique, reclaimed precious metals and gems. And the end result is beautifully imperfect and unique–no two wearers are ever the same and no two pieces are either.

How to Select Conflict-free Engagement Rings - plus Our Picks

Nature-inspired band with scattered diamonds (5), made with direct casting of a twig found in Central Park. Reclaimed 18k gold (yellow, white, or rose). 

How to Select Conflict-free Engagement Rings - and Our Picks

Twig band with scattered diamonds (7)

And you don’t have to be a bride to wear a Barbara Michelle Jacobs piece. In addition to stunning conflict-free engagement rings, her line also features fine jewelry that are essential in any modern woman’s collection. While I have yet to get *the* ring, I’m lusting over her effortlessly elegant, subtle yet dramatic earrings!

Now what you’ve all been waiting for: One lucky Peaceful Dumpling reader will win a pair of her gorgeous, sterling silver hoop earrings! Contest ends this Sunday, July 27, at midnight EST, so don’t forget to enter! Click here to enter the giveaway.

Reader Giveaway: Barbara Michelle Jacobs Earrings

Do you have a conscious engagement ring? If you have any comments, photos, or questions, please share below!

Related: Reader Question – I Need Help Finding an Engagement Ring 

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Photo: Barbara Michelle Jacobs


always stay inspired!