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Choosing an Environmentally Friendly and Conflict Free Engagement Ring: Our Personal Journey

Here at Ada Diamonds, our founding story is a very personal one. Our founders, Jason Payne and Lindsay Reinsmith, are a husband-wife team who were early adopters of lab grown diamonds. In 2011, they set out to include lab grown diamonds into an engagement ring. The process was confusing and information was limited. Since then, Jason and Lindsay created Ada Diamonds to offer fully custom fine jewelry using exclusively lab grown diamonds in order to increase access, awareness, and availability of these sustainable, beautiful stones.

Here in her own words is Lindsay’s documentation of their journey:

For years, I knew that I didn’t want a traditional or conventional engagement ring.  Frustrated with the artificially inflated cost and socio-economic and environmental impacts of mined diamonds, I knew I wanted a colored stone (sapphire) with conflict free diamond accents. Unfortunately, unless you go and dig up a diamond, cut, and polish it yourself, there’s no way to know an entire history of a mined diamond.  That’s because mined diamonds that are cut and polished aren’t regulated by the Kimberly Process, a loophole that makes conflict diamonds pretty much impossible to distinguish from non-conflict mined diamonds.

Plus, the mining of diamonds wreaks havoc on our planet, polluting water supplies, using significant amounts of energy and fossil fuels, and damaging the soil. To produce a one carat natural diamond, miners may use an open cast strip-mining method to extract the diamonds from the earth. This method destroys the ecosystem as it extracts 275 tons of ore from the earth. It also further destroys the outlying environment putting massive stress on the region.

The mining of colored stones in some parts of the world can also be detrimental.  That’s why I was most interested in a Ceylon sapphire, not just because they are beautiful, but also because legal mining practices in Sri Lanka as a whole are generally considered more responsible than other geographies with similar gemstone resources. This is due to Sri Lanka’s heavy government regulation and the country’s thousand year-old traditional mining practices.  Government regulation is focused on reducing negative environmental and social impacts – use of heavy equipment and strip-mining are prohibited. Most mining operations in Sri Lanka are small-scale operations in which each participant shares in the profit of the venture.

Knowing my reservations about mined diamonds and my love affair with Ceylon sapphires, my now husband Jason picked a sapphire in October 2011.  Now, let me be clear, I would have been fine with a lab sapphire (which have been around for years).  Lab sapphires are significantly less expensive and are not ridden with any environmental or socio-economic issues.  However, Jason looked at several lab sapphires and found the colors to be too dark or too purple.  Inclusions are actually a good thing in sapphires because they help break up the color and make it interesting looking, whereas lab sapphires tend to be one solid color. With that, he felt comfortable with the origins of the stone given that it was from Sri Lanka to buy natural.

Jason worked with a jeweler in San Francisco to set the sapphire in a basic solitaire setting under the assumption we would change it together since he wanted the proposal to be a surprise. I was indeed surprised!  He proposed over Thanksgiving 2011. Today, Ada offers similar proposal settings so that couples can build her dream ring together.

In December 2011, we started to research how we would add to the stone.  I originally wanted light blue sapphires in a halo setting around the main dark blue sapphire.  We looked at some light blue sapphires, but they didn’t quite sparkle enough.  It was also difficult to find enough light blue sapphires of the exact size and color we wanted.

After looking at settings online, we figured out the type of setting we really wanted: a three-stone setting with smaller diamonds on the band with a matching wedding band of small pave stones (half way around).  We knew we wanted all round stones and the side stones to be about 4mm and the band stones around 2.3mm given some of the settings we had seen. We found one ring in particular at a jeweler in Palo Alto that we really loved and wanted to emulate. So we set out to find the right provider that could get us these stones in the size and color we wanted.  I was still very interested in light blue stones as opposed to colorless or white stones.

Lab Diamonds

Jason had read an article about lab diamonds, but I was skeptical.  I thought he meant CZ’s but he was referring to actual diamonds that maintain the same chemical properties of mined diamonds, only without the potential for conflict. Lab diamonds have been used for industrial purposes for years, but only recently have they been cut and polished to be used for gems and jewelry.  

Intrigued, we started researching how to find light blue lab diamonds.  We wasted a lot of time on web sites that purported to sell “created diamonds” only to discover after more research that they were really just selling CZ’s. As an individual, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with CZ’s and I don’t think couples should be ashamed of making that decision.  It’s a cost effective way to get a beautiful piece of jewelry. As long as you know it’s not the same as a diamond and you want it, then go for it!  A CZ was not what I wanted for a ring I would wear every day for the rest of my life, so we kept looking.

We’d also read a lot about Moissanite, a man-made stone that isn’t the same as a diamond but looks similar.  From the Moissanite stones I looked at and from what I found online, the stones almost sparkled too much and didn’t look authentic. At the time, the Moissanite on the market was too yellow to be considered colorless and would have clashed with my sapphire. We couldn’t find any in light blue anyhow, so we kept looking.

Here’s something we learned very quickly about lab diamonds: they’re rare.  Mined diamonds enter the market in the millions each year, whereas lab stones enter in the thousands.  Back in 2012, if you wanted a large colorless white lab diamond, it did not exist. Today Ada sells D color, internally flawless 5 ct diamonds, but that was just a dream in 2012.  In fact, in 2012, the largest size I had seen for a colorless lab grown diamond was 1.25ct with several in the .4-.6ct range.  

Finally after enough Internet researching and reading diamond forums, we figured out there were really only a handful of options for colored lab-made diamonds at the time. We tried to purchase lab grown diamonds via a retailer in Los Altos who price gauged so horribly (twice normal retail pricing) that we decided not to move forward. That jeweler has since gone out of business.

We decided to buy loose light blue lab diamonds from another online retailer, but back in late 2011 early 2012, it was difficult to obtain matching light blue diamonds in the size we wanted. We had to wait. And so we did. After four months, we heard that the diamonds we wanted had been grown and we ordered them. They were spectacular! Indoors they appeared colorless, but in the sun they had a gorgeous light blue color.

We took the light blue stones to our SF jeweler a few days later.  They were admittedly very impressed with the diamonds. We sifted through dozens of settings before we found one that perfectly emulated what we were looking for. The jeweler was so patient with us, letting us sit there for hours mulling over every little detail. We handed over the stones and then began waiting.  We received renderings for the ring and I love them.  They even included a proposed wedding band that used the same light blue diamonds.  It was exactly what I wanted.

I ordered the lab diamonds for my wedding band and took them to the jeweler again where I was presented with a wax mold of my ring. It’s a little hard to tell what your ring will look like from the wax, but it is perfectly to scale.  I was so excited to get my rings, but knew I would have to wait.

Nearly two months later, I received an email that my rings were ready.  When I saw them, they were even more beautiful than I had imagined!  The light blue diamonds were cut so beautifully that they sparkled in every light.  

For our one year anniversary, Jason and I added a second wedding band on the other side of the engagement ring.

Jason and I learned a lot of lessons along the way in creating my custom rings. Notably, we learned that there was not a single place, virtual or physical, that a customer could visit and get fully custom jewelry that used lab grown diamonds. Instead, as customers we were forced to learn everything independently, find suppliers of stones, and hire jewelers to help us with design. We decided to change that.

Today, Ada Diamonds operates as a full custom fine jeweler that uses exclusively laboratory grown diamonds. We are committed to providing our customers with the peace of mind that every stone they buy from us is fully conflict free, sustainably grown, and set in jewelry right here in the United States. And most importantly, we are committed to quality; to ensuring our customers have access to the best cultured diamonds on earth and 100% satisfaction in their purchase.