Empathy Engagement Rings

Curtis Dorosh


Light a candle, turn the lights down low, close your eyes and open them slowly, take a deep breath inhale for five and exhale for five, think about a loved one, think about those that you care about, think about those in need.  Read this proposal while listening to change the world very quietly in the background (if that is distracting listen once first then read).  After I wrote this proposal I really felt like it was lacking heart and passion for what it is attempting so this is my attempt to add some feeling.

I argue that both the act of mining a nonrenewable resource (industrial impact on the environment; resource depletion, ecosystem impacts and exploitation) and the astronomical cost, both in terms of conflict diamonds (social) and dollars (economic), that we choose to pay for diamonds, particularly for diamond engagement rings due to the monopoly of DeBeers on supply and the false creation of demand, the social norm, is not sustainable (what a mouthful!).  I am going to propose a simple solution that involves changing an existing social norm (diamond engagement rings) in the hopes of changing the world one couple at a time.  I do this with the intent of getting peer review of my idea and generating ideas on where the research and idea need to evolve in order to be effective and ultimately implemented.  I would like to share this with everyone in the class in some form for discussion.  What I am really saying is that I would like to take on this project!  

The Short History of Diamonds and Engagement

The first myth I will touch on, ‘diamonds are forever’.  “Prior to the 1930s, diamond rings were rarely given as engagement rings. Opals, rubies, sapphires and turquoise were deemed much more exotic gems to give as tokens of one's love (Bonsor, 2001)”  The social norm of diamond engagement rings came in the 1950’s after World War II was over and De Beers started an advertising campaign to increase demand for the product they controlled supply.  De Beers coined the phrase “A Diamond is forever”, named by the prestigious US magazine, Advertising Age, the most successful marketing slogan of the twentieth century (Kaplan).  The campaign included a speaking tour across the USA hitting all of the elementary and high schools with the message ‘diamonds = true love = forever’ (Epstein).  The campaign included giving diamonds away to Hollywood writers to use them in the movies and to actresses to be seen with them in public, on television and in magazines.  The campaign was about selling “the idea that diamonds were eternal forever linked with romance, emotionally valued, and a necessary luxury (Bonsor, 2001).”  Absolutely brilliant!  It worked, diamond engagement rings are the norm in North America, Brazil, Japan and Europe.


"Diamonds are forever" it is often said. But lives are not.
We must spare people the ordeal of war, mutilations and death for the sake of conflict diamonds."
  - Martin Chungong Ayafor, Chairman of the Sierra Leone Panel of Experts (United Nations, 2001)

Today the United Nations estimates that greater than 99% of diamonds are conflict free, thanks to a certification system called the Kimberley Process Certification (Bonsor, 2001).  But depending on where you get your information it is argued that conflict diamonds (slavery like conditions, child soldiers, civil war and rebel forces) have absolutely not been eliminated and possibly 30% or more of diamonds by value are still conflict diamonds (D NEA, 2005).  Conflict diamonds are not the only social problem surrounding diamonds, human rights issues abound in diamond rich nations and diamond processing countries like India (Bonsor, 2001).  Low wages, poor treatment of employees in mines and processing facilities and the use of child labour for their small fingers and good eyes all occur in the industry.  I argue engagement diamonds do not contribute to a more socially sustainable and equitable society.  They further segregate the rich and poor, creating class distinctions, generating ‘wanting’ from some and loathing from others.


Figure 1: Mir Diamond Mine in East Siberia, Russia. The Mir mine pit spirals 2000 feet deep into the landscape. The first mine here was open at 1957 and spawned the entire city. It is so deep that a truck comes from the bottom of the mine would take 90 minutes to reach the surface. (gahsoon, 2006)

Figure 3: The Kimberly Diamond mine was dug over a period of 48 years (1866-1914) and yielded 2,722 kg of diamonds.  This was found on a cite advertising Earths most impressive holes… (gahsoon, 2006)

Figure 2 Canadian Diamond Mine - not much better... (KHAN, 2004)

Seen enough?  It looks like diamonds really are forever…  Diamonds are mined from several types of open pit, alluvial or artisanal mines.  This method of extracting diamonds changes the lay of the land, digging up soil and plant life, altering water hydrology patterns, destroying habitats, and leaving a big aesthetic mark on the earth’s surface.  Typically it also takes large quantities of water to process the diamonds from the rock and sand they are found in (D NEA, 2005).    

 “Animal-rights activists have just as much at stake in diamond industry regulation as human-rights organizations.  According to the Animal Welfare Institute, African primate populations are dwindling -- in 15 to 20 years, apes will become extinct. The chimpanzee population has declined to only 150,000, and with 600 gorillas being poached yearly, they're facing extinction as well.  The dwindling primate population may be partly attributed to poaching, but not all poaching is for sport.  Some hungry diamond miners with no other food source depend on these animals for survival (Bonsor, 2001).”  This behaviour is not sustainable for the chimps or the people who depend on them.  It is truly sad.  I hope that my proposed solution addresses poverty and will help to alleviate it in all regions.  By diverting money from engagement diamonds to empathy engagement and spending less money (government subsidy, energy, labour, materials and processing dollars) on diamond mining, the door opens for more sustainable industries and livelihoods in diamond mining regions.  


There are 90,000 plus hits on Google for ‘how many months salary for diamond engagement ring’?  Wikipedia even tackles the subject.  The conclusion; between 2 – 3 months’ salary and the American average was $2,100 (Wikipedia contributors, 2010).  Think about the economic term opportunity cost, are there other things we could be spending this money on that would actually improve our lives, others lives and our relationship without the negative social and environmental impacts associated with diamonds?  A few come to mind; experiences, trips, adventures, dates, kids, health, donations, college funds… Annually, (2005 data) more than 70 billion US dollars are spent on diamond engagement rings (DiaMine, 2007).  Now that is a lot of money that could be put to good in the world.  According to the United Nations only 17 billion dollars could ensure that a child wouldn’t die of poverty every 2 seconds and only 15 billion dollars would allow every child in the world to go to school (MetoWe).  Is there a better more sustainable way?  Are there some questions we should be asking before making that diamond purchase?  Are there alternatives that still empower women and leave everyone feeling loved?  

The case for an alternative, more sustainable approach to engagement.

Epstein argues diamonds have not been forever and may not continue to be forever better than I can:  “The diamond invention is neither eternal nor self-perpetuating. It survived for the past half century because two critical conditions were satisfied: the production of diamonds from the world's mines was kept in balance with world consumption; and the public refrained from attempting to sell its inventory back onto the market. Both achievements may prove to be temporary phenomena. The diamond craze of the twentieth century could end as abruptly as the tulip mania of the eighteenth century. Under these circumstances, the diamond invention will disintegrate and be remembered only as a historical curiosity, as brilliant in its way as the glittering, brittle, little stones it once made so valuable. (Epstein)”

My idea – Empathy Engagement Rings (for couples who care)!  

What is empathy (Rifkin, 2010)

The vision – a charitable organization with the goal of building empathy in the hopes of changing the world one social norm at a time.

How it works – Instead of purchasing a multi- thousand dollar diamond engagement ring for the one you love, decide together on a ring design (using the brand/design criteria given) and make a donation (time or money) to a charity of your choice anywhere in the world (couples who care).  What if 1% of the population started doing this, what if 50% started… 1% of the diamond market would equate to 700 million dollars in donations and 50% would equal 35 billion dollars for good!  

What donors get

Brand / design criteria (need a jewelery designer to support here)

Celebrity – need one or more celebrities that would wear and promote empathy engagement rings (Obama, Dicapprio, Angelina, etc)

Other products – Empathy Rings – for the person who has everything – bronze, gold, silver levels– donations to a charity of your choice, a predesigned ring (fair trade, sustainable, non conflict) that can be selected online.

Other complimentary pieces to the idea - Empathy gift exchange, empathy wedding, empathy wedding bands.

Looking to the future – Free Building Empathy Curriculum available online in the essence of No Impact Man curriculum and taking ideas from the MetoWe Foundation, Mark and Craig Kielburger’s new book: The World Needs Your Kid: How to Raise Children Who Care and Contribute. 

It seems like there is a tipping point where after you have lived with soo much for soo long you come to a point where you really want to give back!  I believe that this idea, properly developed, could have the ability to change the world (Reid, 2010)!    

Works Cited

Belew, B. (2009, March 9). Greenpacks. Retrieved September 20, 2010 , from Greenpacks.org: http://www.greenpacks.org/2009/03/09/the-earths-10-most-amazing-holes/

Bonsor, K. a. (2001, July 16). How Diamonds Work. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from How Stuff Works.com: http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geology/diamond5.htm

D NEA. (2005). D.Neadiamonds. Retrieved September 19, 2010, from D.Neadiamonds: http://d.neadiamonds.com/conflict-diamond

Epstein, E. J. (n.d.). The Diamond Mind. Retrieved July 2010, from EdwardJayEpstein.com: http://www.edwardjayepstein.com/diamond/chap13.htm

gahsoon. (2006, July 26). Flickr from Yahoo. Retrieved September 20, 2010 , from Flickr from Yahoo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gahsoon/198968563/

Inc, D. E. (2007). DiaMine Explorations Inc. Retrieved September 20, 2010, from DiaMine Explorations Inc: http://www.diamineexplorations.com/web/index.php?id=147

Kaplan, B. (n.d.). Forever Diamonds. Retrieved September 19, 2010, from Gemnation.com: http://www.gemnation.com/forever_diamonds_1.jsp

KHAN, N. P. (2004). Ekati Diamond Mine. Retrieved September 20, 2010, from Jewelinfo4u.com: http://www.jewelinfo4u.com/Ekati_Diamond_Mine.aspx

Lonhro Mining. (2007, November 29). Diamond Market. Retrieved September 20, 2010, from Lonrhomining.com: http://www.lonrhomining.com/Diamond_Market/default.aspx?id=749

MetoWe. (n.d.). MetoWe Speakers Mark and Craig Kielburger. Retrieved September 20, 2010, from metowe.com: http://www.metowe.com/personalities/marc-and-craig/

Reid, J. (2010, July 8). YouTube. Retrieved September 2010, from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mM3QaKaBAM&ob=av3e

Rifkin, J. (2010, May 6). RSA Org The Empathic Civilization (original). Retrieved July 2010, from Youtube (accessed from): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g

United Nations. (2001, March 21). Diamond. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from United Nations: http://www.un.org/peace/africa/Diamond.html

Wikipedia contributors. (2010, September 12). Engagement ring. Retrieved September 19, 2010, from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Engagement_ring&oldid=384388936