Behind the Ring: White Sapphire and Diamond Alternatives

By Constance on November 7, 2017 at 10:47 am

Feeling a little put off by the pressure surrounding engagement rings and weddings in general? Believe it or not, we’re actually with you. Most of the mainstream marketing systems and tactics to date are not good for women, men, marginalized peoples, nor the collective future we want to see. Combine two giant, problematic industries — fine jewelry and weddings — and you get a monoculture largely incongruent with everything we stand for.

In this article, we’ll challenge the assumption that diamonds are synonymous with proposals and explore a natural diamond-alternative: the White Sapphire.

 

 

Bario Neal White Sapphire Illustration

 

 

Diamonds were first seen in India in the 4th century BC, but scientists believe these magical pieces of earth dust formed around 3-4 billion years ago. Used for thousands of years for human decoration, tools, and trade, this ancient mineral is one of the hardest known materials in the world. But how the diamond became de rigueur for a modern betrothal is a tale of good old-fashioned “late capitalism.”

 

Bario Neal White Sapphire Rings

Our commitment to unite design and values demands that we make only what truly exemplifies our mission and integrity.

 

In the 1930s and 40s, diamond supplies were plentiful, sales were down, and one company, De Beers, controlled the market. The era’s leading advertising agency, N.W. Ayer, coined the slogan, “A diamond is forever”, plastering it everywhere. This “slogan of the century” is the reason that diamonds are now considered the only choice for an engagement ring. The ad campaign squarely hit its target market of arguably repressed, middle-class women, and the diamond engagement ring industry was born. Then, in the 1980s, they “struck gold” again with a template for how big your diamond should be according to your social status, thereby introducing the two months’ salary concept. Fast forward to today, and the trend shows no sign of stopping; nearly 80% of engagement rings sold contain diamonds.

 

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A highly gendered and status-focused De Beers Diamond Engagement Ring Ad from 2001:  “When you’ve found the woman of your dreams, give her the diamond of her dreams. Two months’ salary guideline helps you find a diamond of quality, brilliance and breath-taking beauty.”

 

There you have it: a carefully manufactured tactic to create market authority and demand, promoting conventional femininity, sexuality, classism, wealth, and social status — and we haven’t even begun talking about the well-documented, true price of blood diamonds.

 

All that being said, like us, you still love jewelry, engagement rings, and you really care about doing the whole wedding thing — but in a way that actually represents who you are. Maybe you also like the look of a colorless center stone, but you are feeling unsure about a diamond for all of the above reasons.


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Rest assured –  we never, ever use conflict diamonds and strive for the utmost traceability. We do have diamonds to be proud of.

 

But you’re wondering, are there other options out there for a long-wearing, heirloom-quality, clear gemstone? Yes. Most people don’t know all that much about the origins of these incredible, world-changing, milestone-marking molecules, so let’s take a dive into explaining the Sapphire.

 

Sri Lankan White Sapphires

Our Sri Lankan White Sapphires in three distinct cuts: Oval, Pear, and Half-Moon.

 

Sapphires are one of the “cardinal stones” (amethyst, ruby, emerald, and diamonds make up the others), gemstones that have traditionally been considered precious above all others; and are second only to diamonds on the hardness scale. Though they are known for being blue, sapphires actually come in all colors. Fun fact: the Ruby is actually a Sapphire! If we lost you, it’s because Sapphires and Rubies are both made of the same material, known by a way less cool name: Corundum. Sapphires of any color and Rubies, which are also Corundum, get their color from chemical impurities. Rubies are red because they contain chromium. They must contain at least 1% chromium to exhibit a deep red color, and if the chromium content is lower, the stones are lighter and are classed as Pink Sapphires. If traces of titanium are also present, the stone will have a more purple hue, although attempts are sometimes made to reduce this effect via heat treatment. Blue Sapphires are blue because of a mixture of iron and titanium; if only iron is present, the stone will be a pale yellow color. Only 0.01% of iron and titanium needs to be present for a stone to be blue, which is a small amount when compared to the 1% chromium required for deep red rubies. The type of Corundum that is free from impurities is colorless or ‘white,’ so a white sapphire is Corundum in its most pure and rare form.

 

Bario Neal White Sapphire Rings

The Trillion, Trillion Dyad, Half-moon and Half-moon Dyad white sapphire rings.

 

So there you have it, white sapphire is the most natural, hard, rare gemstone second only to diamonds. Though not imbued with the same properties or “fire” as a diamond, they are more affordable and are therefore more attainable in larger stone sizes with pristine clarity that can be designed with custom cuts.

 

Bario Neal White Sapphire Illustration by Tessa Kennedy

White sapphires don’t come with all the trappings of diamonds and can be a conversation-starter with a unique story.

 

But that’s not all. There are more reasons for why we are so excited about White Sapphires! Bario Neal has the maxim–  4 C’s & an “S” or the Source. For us, a perfect gem needs a perfect source, and we are pretty proud of this one. Choosing one of our white sapphires directly supports an artisanal, family-run mine in Sri Lanka.

 

Bario Neal has the maxim–  4 C’s & an “S” or the Source.

 

Sri Lankan White Sapphires

Sri Lanka’s gem industry has a long and colorful history. The South Asian Island, once called Ratna-Dweepa, or “Gem Island,” was called “Ceylon” under British colonial rule until 1972, a term now synonymous with sapphires.

 

All of our natural, high clarity white, pink, yellow, apricot, and a variety of blue sapphires are extracted and cut by an artisanal, family operation that helps to protect the ecosystem of this island paradise. Here, the father, though older, still participates in this three-generation operation, that started 60 years ago on his grandfather’s land. So how does this differ from a Diamond mine?

 

“Diamond mining, for the most part, is on a giant scale, creating huge pits in the earth, using large-scale machinery, with a huge environmental impact. This type of small-scale mining, however, removes the precious gems using a combination of hand tools and small machinery, creating minimal environmental impact.” –Kerin Jacobs of The Raw Stone

 

Since only a very small area of earth is removed, making an environmental impact that is usually smaller than the footprint of the average US home per year. No heavy machinery is involved, so there are no emissions, no fuel usage, and no noise pollution. No suction machines are used, as these can cause instability of river banks.

 

Instead of being run by a far-away shadowy company, operating on borrowed indigenous land, these owners are involved in all aspects of the mine’s daily operations and have a vested interest in keeping the methods sustainable– their future depends on it. Because they are licensed by the government, yearly inspections ensure everyone is using up-to-date equipment in a clean, safe environment.

 

Cutting White Sapphire Half Moons at the Sri Lankan Mine Photo Courtesy of Kerin Jacobs The Raw Stone

Cutting White Sapphire Half Moons at the Sri Lankan mine. Photo Courtesy of Kerin Jacobs/The Raw Stone

 

Plus, all cutting and polishing are done on-site at the mine, eliminating outsourcing to a cutting facility where human rights abuses often occur. Human rights abuses can include forced labor, child labor, forced child labor, poor hygiene at busy sites, poor and dangerous working conditions, low pay, indentured labor, violence and intimidation, and removal of local people from the area. Keeping things in-house also allows for custom-cuts and design right at the mine despite being thousands of miles away! Orders are placed and conducted over video, meaning the supply chain for these magical gemstones go beyond current “mine to market” standards. We have gorgeous custom cuts in magical, gleaming shapes – that are born out of our relationship with our source in Sri Lanka.

 

Though it might never end up as the slogan of the century, we think you will be pretty stoked to say, “Actually that’s a White Sapphire.” Stay tuned for our upcoming in-depth interview with Kerin Jacobs of The Raw Stone and shop our White Sapphire Collection.

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A New Signature Setting: The Lash Collection

By Constance on September 27, 2017 at 12:17 pm

In an ode to playful minimalism, we’ve re-imagined The Lash into a new collection featuring ethical Diamonds, Sapphires, Garnets and Andalusite. These bright and colorful gems shine when showcased in our subtly asymmetric, surrealistic, signature setting. An instant classic for modern celebrations calling for equally expressive, interesting jewelry.

 

New Bario Neal Lash Collection Featuring Ethical Diamonds, Sapphire and Garnets
This season, we refined and evolved the Lash into a shiny fleet of endearing, enduring options.

With a wink and a nod, the Lash setting debuted last year with our simple studs. Created to showcase our collection of ethically-sourced Emeralds, Andalusite, Champagne Diamonds and Iolite, with a twist– moving beyond an ordinary setting. The Lash’s unexpected, balanced asymmetry shines as a solitaire, grouped into a linear design or mixed with other settings for a brilliant cluster.

“The Lash setting grew out of a desire to move beyond the classic prong or bezel settings and to innovate with something that plays to BN’s proclivity for balanced asymmetry.” -Anna Bario, Designer and Co-founder

The story behind the collection’s origin matches the luster of these incredible gems. We’ll begin our new favorites for wedding season– Lash Dyad, Triad and Linear Cluster rings feature ethically sourced, neutral-toned gemstones in fresh, energetic combinations. These sparkling jewels, harvested from beautiful locales with the utmost care and intent are ready to ride high as you as you toast to your new forever.

 

New Bario Neal Lash Collection Featuring Ethical Diamonds, Sapphire and Andalusite

Our Lash dyad, Triad and Linear Cluster rings include Champagne diamonds from Australia, Half moon Sapphires from Sri Lanka and Andalusite from Madagascar.

 

Kimberley in Western Australia was once so abundant in diamonds that it is the only location in the world where Ant Hill Diamonds have been observed. (Yes, diamonds were once mined by ants!) After these early discoveries and prospecting, a human-sized mining operation was installed and today the Argyle diamond mine is famous for producing the most prized diamonds in the world.

 

 

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Known the world over for its unique pink and red diamonds, the mine produces many shades, including the champagnes we use in our Lash Diamond Cluster Ring.

 

The Argyle mine is close to the end of its commercial life, due to close in 2020, the diamonds produced from the mine are bound to become even more prized and valuable. Because the mine is in one of the world’s richest, most developed nations, it is subject to strict working and environmental standards and regulations. Traditional families and elders retain genuine control and empowerment over the exploration and development process, with the future of the land always in mind. As of 2011, all mines in Australia must follow a mine rehabilitation program for creating another use for the area when mining has ceased.

As for our other sparkler, Sri Lankan White Sapphire, we did a deep-dive into the story of the Sri-Lankan white sapphire in a recent feature with Catalyst Wedding Co. In a nutshell, these are the most-diamondy-diamond-alternatives you can get straight from the earth and cut into these cool half-moon shapes, with close to no environmental impact.

 
New Bario Neal Lash Collection Featuring Ethical Diamonds, Sapphire and Andalusite

We use Pleochroic Andalusite from Madagascar for its hues of red and green, sourced from an ethical jewelry pioneer who spent time in Sierra Leone developing a traceable diamond supply chain.

 

We segue from the diamonds once mined by ants, to the only gemstone still mined by those cute, tiny workers– Ant Hill Garnets. As the name suggests, these garnets from the Navajo Nation are brought to the surface by ants building new colonies. The ants dig out the stones, carry them to the surface and then deposit them at the top of their ant hills. They are then washed down to the bottom of the pile and cleaned by rainwater, ready to be collected by Navajo gem hunters. Generally small in size, because the ants dig around the bigger stones and leave them put, ant hill garnets are rarely more than 1ct in size when cut.

 

Ant Hill Garnets

Our new Lash Linear Garnet, Lash Solitaire Garnet and Garnet Cluster Rings feature Arizona’s Ant hill garnets.

 

While we can’t vouch for the working conditions of the ants involved in this process, (we assume most colonies enforce rigorous health and safety protocols and workers are paid fairly) we are able to tell you exactly how these stones make it from the moment they are collected to when they are set here in our studio.

Being from inside the US, the stones are free from any issues surrounding conflict minerals and you won’t find a more environmentally friendly, less invasive mining process. We source our Arizona Ant Hill garnets from a true innovator in the field of ethical gemstone sourcing and production. Once collected by the Navajo the stones are sold to gemstone cutters and polishers, otherwise known as lapidarists, to be prepared for the jewelry market.

 

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Meet our new Signature Sapphire Solitaire- it plays well with everything and can be personalized with almost any gemstone!

 

Another gem proudly mined in the USA features in our new signature solitaire, the Lash Blue Sapphire Ring. Discovered by gold prospectors 150 years ago, these Sapphires are a sought after dark blue from Rock Creek, Montana. We adore working with different sapphire colors and shades, Montana is such an exciting ethical source, given it has the widest variety of color of sapphire anywhere on earth.
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Our Lash collection is colorful, playful, minimal and classic. Have fun mixing and matching it up!

 

In addition to being designed as suites or companions, the Lash Collection is designed to show off almost any of our ethical gemstones. Want to create a Lash Diamond Solitaire, a Blue Sapphire Lash Dyad Cluster or an Lash Linear Emerald Ring? Just fill out our Custom Design Questionnaire with your idea for Personalization and we’ll get back to you right away. If you see something you know someone in your life will love, don’t delay– we make everything by hand, so be sure to place your Holiday orders by November 15th and the deadline to create a Custom ring is October 15th.