Nikki Reed’s Honest Essay About Engagement Rings Will Have You Rethinking Diamonds

They're pretty, but are they ethical and sustainable?

Nikki Reed
Photo: Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a sucker for tradition and live for a good I-was-swept-off-my-feet-and-then-they-proposed love story. But through my jewelry company, Bayou With Love, I’ve noticed there’s been a bit of a shift when it comes to engagement rings. For many couples, it’s no longer enough just to have something beautiful. They want a ring that represents the wearer’s identity, and to add to their love story with something that has its own story. People are caring more about the ring’s origin, where it comes from, and how it was made, and seeing it as a representation of their own morals and commitment to the planet.

Bayou With Love was born from my desire to create these types of pieces. I wanted to combine luxury with sustainability at a time when the world is working to make more conscious choices about what we put on our bodies. After launching in 2017, we released our first jewelry collection the very next year, and every piece was made from 100 percent recycled gold, sourced from e-waste and recycled electronics through an ongoing partnership with Dell. When people from all over the world began requesting rings for their significant other, it prompted me to release a bridal collection, too. I was beyond inspired by the thought of merging cool innovative technology with fashion, and so excited to be able to incorporate love into the equation.

BaYou With Love Engagement Ring
Courtesy BaYou With Love

With our bridal offerings, we not only focus on using recycled gold from tech, we also give couples the option to use traditionally mined diamonds or cultivated ones — something I learned about after researching conflict-free alternatives.

What is a cultivated diamond, you ask? Good question, and one I had myself! It’s a diamond that’s grown in a controlled environment from the tiny seeds of preexisting diamonds. In other words, they’re molecularly identical to mined diamonds, but you avoid the harmful environmental impacts that come with the more conventional process. (Are you kidding? Why would anyone want anything else after hearing that this is an option?!)

To be honest, the jewelry industry still has a long way to go before meeting the requirements that most people long for. Obstacles still exist, and gathering information about mining conditions around the world is still challenging despite the efforts being made. Awareness and transparency will increase once consumers demand more responsible practices, and when companies that are sourcing responsibly ask questions, and make a conscious shift to deliver on those requests.

As I write this piece, I am actually in Australia, visiting a mining facility where my company gets most of our sapphires. It’s important for me to understand the whole supply chain — from mining to cutting — when it comes to stones, and it’s something I am only just learning about. For example, I’ve learned that stones can be ethically mined, but then cut with unethical labor, so it’s crucial for us to ask questions about their entire history. This doesn’t always mean it’s easy to track, but the more we ask questions, the more we raise the bar, and I love that, in this case, I get to see the operation happen with my own eyes.

BaYou With Love Ring
Courtesy Nikki Reed/BaYou With Love

When it comes to an item that many will be wearing for the rest of their lives — and one that will live beyond our lifetime — the possibilities really are endless. For example, if an engagement ring that includes diamonds (cultivated or mined) is not for you, go with a colored gemstone instead, and research areas around the world that offer ethical and sustainable practices. Sapphires that originate from Sri Lanka or Australia, for instance, are a great choice, since miners employ techniques that minimize impact to the environment. Specifically in Sri Lanka, they operate in small cooperatives, sharing the costs, labor, and profits from the sale of gemstones.

Couples can also go the “no-waste” route by using a hand-me-down diamond or sourcing vintage stones. I love getting emails from women asking if we can take their family heirlooms and help them give them a new life.

The bottom line? There are a million avenues to explore when it comes to your engagement ring, so take your time, do your research, and find what speaks to you. Fortunately, we live in a time where we have the ability to create almost anything we can dream up, so let’s dream with both sparkle and heart combined. The great Iris Apfel said it perfectly: “I buy things because I fall in love with them. I never buy anything just because it's valuable.” Let’s all fall deeper in love with the story of our stones, as a representation of who we are and our role as human beings on this beautiful Earth that we share. At Bayou With Love, we strive to create just that; pieces that speak to your soul, illuminating more than just the ring.

BaYou With Love Ring
Courtesy Nikki Reed/BaYou With Love
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