03/27/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Diamonds: No Longer a Girl's Best Friend?

Your great grandmother didn't wear a diamond ring. Before the 1930's, diamonds were rarely used in engagement jewelry. Instead, gems like rubies and opals served as the public display of holy matrimony.

The genesis of the ubiquitous diamond wedding ring stemmed from a brilliant advertising campaign led by the first advertising agency in the U.S., N.W. Ayer & Sons. Named the best advertising slogan of the 20th century by Advertising Age, the "A Diamond is Forever" campaign has proven quite lucrative. Diamonds are a $77.5 billion global retail market, of which De Beers holds roughly 40 percent market share.

But is the age of diamond supremacy waning?

Saying No to Diamonds
I've been hearing more from women who say diamonds are far from their best friends. Many of the arguments originate from ethical concerns made popular by the 2006 film Blood Diamonds. "When we were shopping for rings, we made the decision to go with a solution that ... didn't involve the negative environmental and social impacts associated with diamonds," said Meaghan Hundley, who is engaged. "A diamond is supposed to represent purity and commitment, but the actual history behind the diamond is the complete antithesis of that. I would never put anything on my body that symbolizes such negativity," she added.

The jewelry industry is one of the last frontiers to be conquered by technology, but as more Americans, including celebrity Jamie Foxx, shun traditional diamonds that destroy rivers, permanently pollute the African water supply, and fuel human rights abuses by warlords, hi-tech simulated diamonds like Diamantine are becoming attractive alternatives. Hundley, who chose a diamantine ring said, "It has the brilliance of a diamond without compromising my wallet or personal values."

Saying No to Bling
Yet other women find the look of diamonds vapid and passe. "They're terribly boring to look at and are so common," says Marjorie Asturias, who chose a custom-designed (by her now-husband) sapphire engagement ring. "Sapphires are nearly as strong as diamonds but are much more beautiful and interesting".

Bridgette Raes opted for a yellow sapphire: "Why? Well, not only are diamond rings really trite, but they are also overpriced. I also found that, with my coloring, a yellow stone looked better on my hand."

Rebecca Myers argues that men should have more room for creativity. "What if your boyfriend gave you a sapphire ring because he said it made him think of your blue eyes? Or an emerald if you, say, loved forests and it reminded you of them? Wouldn't that be more unique -- and more of a symbol of the relationship -- rather than the same diamond that everyone gets?"

Saying No to Rings
Other women opt out of an engagement ring altogether. Feminist Scholar Dr. Natalie Wilson opposes the "ownership" model of the practice which champions both ownership of women and showy capitalism. When asked what she proposed as an alternative she responded, "Why is it even necessary to 'put a ring on it'?"

As for me, or rather, my future husband, I'd like a moonstone. I think it says: "You're Out of This World." TAKE ACTION
  • Human rights group Survival International are encouraging people to write a letter in support of the Bushmen of Botswana who have suffered terribly as a result of the diamond industry.
  • In 2009, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting the serious human rights abuses in the Marange diamond fields by the Zimbabwean military, including forced labor, child labor, the killing of more than 200 people, and other grave abuses. Help stop blood diamonds and tell member states that they need to take action to end the smuggling of blood diamonds.
  • Despite its pledge to support the Clean Diamond Trade Act, the Diamond Industry has fallen short of implementing the necessary policies for self-regulation. Learn how you can send a strong message to your local jewelers that their role in diamond-fueled conflict must end.
  • And of course, ask before you buy!

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