By Chere Di Boscio
Notoriously opaque and sometimes secretive, the diamond industry’s reputation is justifiably far from brilliant. From the very birth of the industry, it has been associated with price fixing and antitrust behaviour, but more recently, its reputation has been badly damaged as the public learn about the environmental and social implications of diamond mining.
For example, mining for gemstones creates extreme environmental damage, including logging to create the mine and removing 1750 tones of earth to mine just one single 1.0ct diamond. There’s also contamination resulting from leakage of the chemicals used in mining, which affects the health of the local population.
Even so-called “conflict-free” Canada diamond mines are often built in environmentally fragile ecosystems, have significant ecological footprints, and impact badly upon the caribou, wolverine, bears, ptarmigan and fish populations which provide food for Aboriginal peoples.
And of course, most people know about “blood diamonds,” the term used to describe gems that bankrolled regional conflicts in Africa, killing tens of thousands of people in the 1990s and beyond.
The mined-diamond industry argues that the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was established to certify the origin of rough diamonds in order to curb the trade in conflict diamonds, but this has proved to be ineffective. The problem with the Kimberley Process is that its definition of “conflict diamond” does not include some of the practices in diamond mining and sale that consumers find troubling, such as environmental degradation, child labour, worker exploitation and state-sanctioned violence.
As an article in TIME Magazine demonstrates, the majority of diamonds that come from African diggers aren’t registered at all, making it easy to sell these dirty diamonds to fund conflict by smuggling them into other nations and mixing them with ‘clean’ gems. In short, it’s well near impossible to truly trace a diamond’s origins unless it’s certified Canadian or Australian – but even then, as mentioned, the diamond’s impact on the planet is likely to have been devastating.
So no wonder diamond sales are plummeting.
To fix this issue, some manufacturers are offering lab grown diamonds as an alternative to traditionally mined ones. But what the heck are lab grown diamonds? And are lab grown diamonds ethical? We asked Dan Decker, Customer Care Manager for diamond specialists Robbins Brothers, to shed some light.
Are Lab Grown Diamonds Ethical?
What’s the process of creating a lab grown diamond?
Most of the gem quality lab-grown diamonds use a process called Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD). A diamond seed is placed into a high pressure chamber with a plasma formed with Methane and Hydrogen, then heated to upwards of 2200 degrees Fahrenheit. The gases attach to the seed and the carbon crystal grows for up to a month (longer for higher carat weight diamonds). Once the crystal is formed, it is removed and sent to a diamond cutter to get the maximum size and brilliance possible.
How much energy does this take, compared to mined diamonds?
Lab-grown diamonds require far less energy to produce than a natural diamond. Although energy is required to produce the high pressure and temperatures required with a lab grown diamond, it is still approximately a third or less of the energy required to mine a diamond. Less energy translates to less fuel and pollution. Also, many of the lab-grown vendors are also using large amounts of solar and wind generated power.
What’s the price point difference, if any?
The price difference varies based on the market and rarity of the diamond shape and size, but in general, most lab-grown diamonds are 20% to 40% less than a similar mined diamond.
Is there any difference in quality? Would a master jeweler be able to tell the difference?
Lab-grown diamonds have the same optical, physical and chemical properties as a mined diamond and a master jeweler would not be able to tell the difference. Lab-grown diamonds should be certified and engraved so there is no confusion with a mined diamond. A lab-grown diamond can be separated from a mined diamond at a reputable grading lab by using a machine that goes down to the molecular level to see how the diamond crystal formed.
How are the workers who create lab grown diamonds treated?
These are highly specialised, highly trained technicians. Only those who are at the top of their profession are selected to design and produce synthetic diamonds. You can rest assured their pay grade is rather high!
What would you recommend to a lovestruck couple who seriously care about the planet?
Our eco-friendly E3 Diamond Collection features exclusive E3 lab grown diamonds in a collection of 14K recycled gold engagement rings, wedding bands and fashion jewellery. Every E3 diamond has been hand selected and grown in a laboratory and has the same exceptional color, clarity, beauty and brilliance as mined diamonds. It is identical in composition to mined diamonds and is 100% guaranteed conflict and mining free.
So, what’s the bottom line? Are lab grown diamonds ethical?
I’ll be honest with you. Recycled jewellery is by far the most ethical option for any jewellery lover. And heaven knows there are tons of existing diamonds out there already that you can buy second hand and upcycle into a new piece. But if you want a ‘new’ diamond, lab grown diamonds are far more sustainable than anything mined.
All images except main picture: Akind lab grown diamonds