Not all engagement rings have diamonds. In their quest for something more personal and unique, many couples are now choosing sapphires, rubies, or a “stone” that’s not a gem at all. As The New York Times reports, the “smog-free ring” is gaining traction with couples looking for an affordable, eco-conscious symbol of their love.
The smog free ring features a stainless steel band set with a cube packed with compressed air pollution, which forms the dark center of the stud. It’s a custom design available only by request, and purchasing one supports ongoing efforts to purify the air in cities around the world.
The designer is Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde, who’s made a bit of a name for himself on the smog-free scene. In 2015, Roosegaarde built a 23ft tower designed to suck up polluted air, filter out the contaminants, and release the newly purified air back into the atmosphere. He called it the Smog Free Tower.
It’s already been successfully deployed in Rotterdam, Beijing, Krakow, and Tiajin, China, where the tower has cleaned 30,000 metric meters (or 1 million feet) of smoggy air per hour. This is all partially in thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised roughly $133,100 for the project.
The ring is an outgrowth of the tower, since it puts the smog collected through the tower to use. According to The New York Times, Roosegaarde stumbled upon the idea after examining the air pollution under a microscope and discovering that half of it was carbon.
“When you put carbon under high pressure, you get diamonds,” he told the paper. “That’s when we said, ‘Let’s make jewelry out of it, let’s make something personal that people can share.’”
Studio Roosegaarde, the designer’s eponymous company, uses sales from the rings to fund new towers, like the one expected in Mexico City this fall. One smog free ring costs 250 Euros (or roughly $294), making it a cheaper alternative to many traditional engagement rings, which run about $6,351 on average in the U.S.
Couples can customize the ring by selecting the source of the smog — i.e. a city where the Smog Free Tower has been deployed. “If we have a tower there, we can do it,” Roosegaarde confirmed to The New York Times. While the list is rather short for now, it’s set to grow with the new tower in Mexico City, as well as potential additions in India and Colombia. Studio Roosegaarde is currently negotiating with both countries to bring the Smog Free Tower to their cities.
While the sales figures for the smog free ring are unknown, it’s attracted enthusiastic fans. Chloe Stein, whose now husband Deepak Panjwani proposed with the ring in September 2016, believes it struck the appropriate chord for her marriage.
“The normal paradigm is for you to start your marriage by buying something that causes harm to the environment and the people who are working to get out the diamond,” she told the Times. “By not buying into the system, we started our marriage not only with a clean slate, but an environmentally positive state.”
Single environmentalists can also buy into Roosegaarde’s eco-friendly jewelry line, through the complementary cufflinks. Like the smog free ring, the cufflinks come in a cube shape and support the cleaning of 1,000 cubic meters of polluted air. And at least one famous man has them in his formal wear collection — Prince Charles received a pair in early 2016.