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What are the more ethical alternatives to diamonds?

We all know that diamonds are a girl's best friend, but it's well known that the diamond mining industry is a pretty murky one. The environmental impact of diamond mining coupled with the illegal sale of 'blood diamonds' (or conflict diamonds) to fund insurrections and civil wars in African countries including Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola means that consumers are increasingly on the lookout for viable substitutes.

So, is there such a thing as an ethical diamond? What are the options for those looking to invest in a more ethical alternative? And can anyone really tell the difference between them?

Are lab-grown diamonds real diamonds?

In a word, yes! Lab grown diamonds have exactly the same chemical structure and physical qualities as mined diamonds. The intense heat and pressure that allows diamonds to form are just replicated under laboratory conditions. It's pretty much impossible to tell them apart from their mined couterparts and increasingly they are becoming a more popular choice for eco-concious buyers. They're also cheaper for those with a limited budget to invest although it's also worth noting that lab grown diamonds will not have the re-sell value of their 'natural' counterparts.

Above: Gold signet ring set with cubic zirconia stone, Elin Horgan Jewellery

Are cubic zirconias a good alternative to natural diamonds?

Cubic zirconia (usually known in the jewellery world as CZs) is a man made synthetic diamond alternative made from zirconium dioxide. Although it doesn't quite have a sparkle of diamonds, it can be good option for smaller stones where the differences between the two are not so obvious. It is very affordable, making it a popular choice for costume jewellery and comes in a variety of colours that can mimick other natural gemstones. Cubic zirconia is a great wallet-friendly alternative to those looking for a bit of sparkle without a huge price tag.

Check out brands like V by Laura Vann and Astrid & Miyu for an affordable take on the CZ trend like this Celia gold gypsy ring or my gold plated recycled silver signet ring above which has a lovely sparkly CZ as it's focal point.

What is Moissanite and is it similar to diamond?

You may not have heard of Moissanite (pronounced moy - sah - night) before, but it is becoming an increasingly popular option for the discerning jewellery lover. Moissanite is a naturally occuring mineral that was discovered by French chemist Henri Moissan in 1893, but it's so rare in its natural form that you'll only ever see lab created versions. Despite not being chemically the same as diamond, it is almost as hard, measuring 9.25 on the Mohs Scale compared to diamond's 10 and has incredible fire and brilliance (ie - it's super sparkly!) making it a fantastic choice for jewellery. Charles & Colvard were the first to bring lab grown moissanites to market in the 1990s although there are now a range of other sellers including sustainable jewellery brand Brilliant Earth.

Are heirloom or vintage diamonds good alternatives to mined diamonds?

If you're not keen on any of the diamond alternatives I've mentioned above and still want the real deal, then why not look at re-purposing vintage diamonds in a new piece of jewellery? If you have a vintage piece that feels a bit dated or doesn't fit properly then speak to a jeweller about a bespoke commission. They will be able to create a brand new design for you that re-uses the stones, but in a modern up to date way.

Elin Horgan designs and creates handmade jewellery in her Bristol studio. Elin’s beautifully simple handmade jewellery is carefully crafted and designed to be worn every day. You can read more about Elin’s work and the ethos behind her understated jewellery brand on her About Elin Horgan Jewellery page.

If you’d like to enquire about a specific product or discuss a custom piece of jewellery, please have a look at the Bespoke Handmade Jewellery page or email


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