Thanks to clever marketing by DeBeers, purchasing a diamond engagement ring has become a cultural norm. Indeed, American couples spend billions each year on engagement jewelry. With millennials looking to make eco-friendly choices, more of this generation is turning to recycled engagement rings, and the broader pre-owned wedding economy, as the best way to limit environmental impact and maximize value.
Movies like "Blood Diamond" have helped shed light on the humanitarian aspects of diamond mining, yet little has been publicized regarding the significant environmental impacts of diamond and precious metal mining. For diamonds, open-pit mining can lead to the disturbance of vast, complex ecosystems and the loss of surface and ground water. Alluvial mining, which takes place in waterways, contributes to wide-ranging marine ecosystem destruction.
The mining of precious metals, including gold, can have an even greater environmental impact. Gold is often found in rock characterized by acid-generating sulfides. When disturbed, this rock experiences a chemical reaction that produces acid and toxins. These toxins often run into lakes, rivers, and streams, where they pose serious dangers to aquatic ecosystems.
Many buyers hoping to purchase the same diamond and gold jewelry with significantly less environmental impact have turned to pre-owned engagement rings. These rings may have been worn for a year, a month, or not at all, and offer a compelling value proposition. The emergence of specialty pre-owned ring retailers has added additional safety measures including gemologists who verify every item sold. These forums ensure that buyers will receive an authentic diamond and that the color, clarity, and carat of the ring will match the seller's representations, all while saving up to 50 percent off retail.
As more millennials embrace an environmental and budget-friendly ring option, specialty pre-owned retailers have experienced a surge in growth. CEO Philip Johnson credits this growth to a broader awareness of the value of pre-owned rings, and an increased interest in peer-to-peer economies. Johnson estimates that purchases of recycled rings on his site in 2014 alone will save over 5,000 tons of ore and waste rock that would have been produced to create new rings (Source: http://www.earthworksaction.org/files/publications/20TonsMemo_FINAL.pdf).
The growing trend in recycled weddings is mirrored in the pre-owned wedding dress market. Leading pre-owned dress marketplace, PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com, has experienced at least double digit growth every year since its 2004 inception, including triple digit growth in 2008 and 2009. Founder Josie Daga states that "buying a pre-owned wedding dress is a smart way to afford the wedding dress you really want." Daga's site helps brides save hundreds or more on luxury brand dresses that were only worn for a few hours, and offers an eco-friendly way to recycle the perfect dress, rather than leaving it to sit in a box.