Jewelry: Politically Correct Karats

Those about to propose have always had to consider the four C's of engagement rings: cut, clarity, color and carats. Now there's a fifth consideration: is it P.C.? Nineteen jewelers, including Tiffany & Co., Ben Bridge and Zales, have joined the "No Dirty Gold" campaign—which added 11 new signees on Valentine's Day—to spotlight concerns about the trade's impact on human rights and the environment. Campaigners say mining can produce 20 tons of waste per 18-karat gold ring (the World Gold Council disputes the figure), while displacing local dwellers and polluting drinking water.

Spurred also in part by the film "Blood Diamond," potential jewelry buyers are taking notice. Sales at ecofriendly Brilliantearth.com, which offers "clean" Canadian diamonds and recycled gold, have more than tripled in the past year. "We're seeing people that like diamonds, and want to buy diamonds, and have recently learned about these issues," CEO Beth Gerstein says. "It's not just the vegan who does yoga every day." GreenKarat.com, an online retailer that sells recycled gold and synthetic diamonds, is launching a program encouraging couples to turn in gold items donated by friends and family, which will be refined and recast into an engagement ring or wedding bands.

Carley Roney, editor of wedding megasite TheKnot.com, says she's seen an increase in political chatter lately. "Even women who already have their ring want to find out about its history," she says. "Before, it wasn't considered luxury to be politically correct, or green. We were supposed to be above that; that's not the case anymore." But Holly Rawson, 33, a Woodbine, Md., bride who chose a pearl-and-silver engagement ring, says: "Everybody still asks, 'Where's your diamond?' "