What is an Ethical Engagement Ring? | Rigby Leigh


What is an Ethical Engagement Ring?


Are you wondering what an ethical engagement ring is? There are a few things to consider, such as the source of the material, conditions for the workers and the environmental impact resulting from each stage of the process. 

Jewelry is often sold under the pretense that the materials have been ethically sourced, when this doesn’t really turn out to be the case.  That’s why it’s important to know how a piece of jewelry meets these standards before making the decision to buy.  Read on to learn what you need to know in order to determine if an engagement ring is truly ethical.

When it comes to crafting Jewelry at Rigby Leigh, we are passionate about making sure that our impact on workers and the environment are as minimal as possible. You can see what we offer in Our Shop.

Here are the things to consider when you’re wondering if an engagement ring is ethical:

  • Have the workers been treated fairly?  Conflict free doesn’t always mean proper conditions.
  • Are the materials genuinely recycled, or is the vendor using a loophole in order to call them ‘recycled’?
  • Were harmful chemicals unnecessarily used and improperly disposed of?

Here is a breakdown of what you need to know:


Here at Rigby Leigh, we use Eco Harmony recycled gold from Hoover & StrongThis means that all of the gold we use is refined with 80% less chemicals compared to common methods.  We use a treatment facility to handle the ones we do use, which produces no dangerous water waste.  This is a key factor in preventing environmental contamination.

The term ‘recycled gold’ is used a lot in the industry, but the reality is that it is often far from ethical. Dangerous chemicals like nitric acid are often used to dissolve the gold, and much of it is then released into the environment as water waste.

There are also a number of workarounds that vendors use to call it ‘recycled gold’. They will buy poorly mined gold at a cheaper cost, and call it recycled because they simply get the supplier to cast it into rough jewelry shapes. At that point, they will melt it down to claim that it has been recycled.


Mined gold can also be very harmful for two main reasons. Firstly, Mercury and Cyanide are used to refine it at the mine site which can then be dumped into rivers and water sources. Mercury contamination is especially dangerous. Although the practice of using it was banned in 2011, it is still widely used.

Secondly, the conditions for the miners are often unacceptable. As well as the use of dangerous chemicals mentioned above, there are also unsafe physical conditions that the workers must endure.

So it is not only important to know whether your gold has actually been recycled, and by what method this was done. But it is also important to know, if you are not using recycled gold, where the gold has come from. 

Luckily Fairmined gold can be obtained, which too is offered by hoover & strong. Our preference is still to use the eco recycled material to ensure that no more disturbance is made to the land than is needed, but feel free to ask us about our Fairmined Gold!



There are three main areas by which the ethics of a gemstone can be measured:

  1. Was it mined in a zone of conflict, or through unsafe worker conditions? Was child labor used?
  2. Where and how was the mined stone cut, faceted, and polished into its final form? 
  3. Was the gemstone truly recycled?

Mining is a gray area. Jewelers will often claim that stones are ethical if they are non-conflict. But this only means they did not come from a conflict zone and says nothing about the mining practices used. In a large portion of cases, these practices are dangerous to the worker. They are frequently required to enter small and dangerous tunnels that can collapse. There can also be little ventilation and air circulation, bringing risks of suffocation and dust inhalation. Many stones that are referred to as ‘non-conflict’ still come from these kinds of conditions. 

The next question is where and how the stones were cut (Faceted and polished into the sparkling gemstone). Again, many cutting houses in developing countries use unsafe practices and pay low wages to their workers.

These unsafe practices can involve the creation of silicate dust that is constantly kicked up from the stone. This can also result in silicosis and other lung issues if the practices used in the cutting and polishing processes do not protect against this.

At Rigby Leigh, we only use Montana Sapphires that have been ethically and sustainably produced in the state of Montana. We purchase these raw sapphires directly from the miners, many of whom are genuine friends of ours.

David Watkins, the founder of Rigby Leigh then cuts and polishes these Montana Sapphires himself, in our Brooklyn Studio. This means that each stone is a true one of a kind, and also that we abide by the highest ethical and practice standards possible.


To be considered recycled, a gemstone must have been taken from a previously owned piece. This is most commonly done with diamonds. However, there are ways that this is faked by sellers, claiming that the diamond is recycled and then providing no proof of the diamonds source or origin. This comes down to knowing the diamond seller’s practices and how they ensure each stone is legitimately a recycled Diamond. 

All of our diamonds are recycled under close scrutiny and we mostly use Old Mine Cut diamonds that date back to the 1800’s and were hand-cut by artisan cutters over 200 years ago. If you want to ensure a truly recycled stone, this is the absolute gold (or diamond) standard.


Practices of jewelry making

Ethical standards of practice for jewelers is rarely discussed. 

It’s important to ensure that the jewelry is actually being made by the company that’s selling it. In many cases, the production is outsourced to countries where labor is cheap and the practices are harmful to those working on the pieces (much like the gemstone production).

It’s also important to consider the standards of practice within a jewelry studio. Is it well ventilated with high standards of personal protection? Are noxious chemicals being used and disposed of incorrectly? The majority of the jewelry industry uses a method of carving the jewelry piece in wax, and then fixing this in a silicate clay. The wax is then melted out and metal is poured in to take the shape of the wax now left in the clay. The silicate clay is very harmful if it’s breathed, and can cause irreversible and fatal lung damage.

At Rigby Leigh we developed a method of jewelry based on an ancient technique of casting molten gold in hand carved Oak wood molds. As well as creating once of a kind pieces, it is also almost zero waste, and does not involve the use of a single chemical or harmful substance. Our workshop is clean and green, with a slight hint of campfire.


Ready to Shop

So now you know everything that goes into making an ethical engagement ring! Responsibly sourced Gold, ethically mined and cut gemstones and good clean working practices across the board.

 At Rigby Leigh we produce very little waste, without any bad chemicals or nasty silicate dust. All of our practices, including our very own wood casting method, are ethical, sustainable and not harmful to our amazing jewelers.

Check out Our Shop to see the many hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind rings that we offer.