The trend of sustainable production has affected all market segments, including the production of jewelry. We can see a beautiful piece of jewelry in the shop window, but few people know how it originated. Gold and diamond mining damages the environment and children can also work in mines in poor conditions. The trend of laboratory-grown diamonds (also referred to as synthetic diamond, manufactured diamond or cultured diamond) is expanding on the market.
Is it an ethical substitute for natural diamonds?
Every year, consumers spend about $ 300 billion on jewelry. When you buy diamond earrings, diamonds often finance war conflicts. Some brands say they sell non-conflict jewelry, but the true origins are actually difficult to trace because the gemstones pass through many dealers. Gold is often mined in ways that plunder nature in the world’s poorest countries.
Not only diamond mining but also other minerals are brutally destroying nature. Green areas are occupied, water is polluted by chemicals. Most gemstones do not come from large mines, but from small craft mines. More than a million children work in these mines. They work in unsatisfactory conditions, breathe dangerous dust, are exposed to chemicals and often cause dangerous injuries. But when the mines don’t work, many people lose their income.
Lab-grown diamonds are an ecological substitute
Natural diamonds have been created in the bowels of the Earth for millions of years. While some claim that laboratory-grown diamonds are worthless, their price on the market is similar to that of natural diamonds. In the laboratory, diamonds are grown with the help of extreme pressure and heat created by the machine. Two methods are used for production: CVD diamond (chemical vapor deposition) and HPHT diamond (high-pressure high-temperature) processes.
Diamond technology has improved in recent years. Today, the production of a diamond grown in a CVD laboratory costs $ 300 to $ 500 per carat. In 2008, it was about ten times more. Laboratory-made diamonds are often considered “ecological”. Regarding the production of CO2 in laboratory-grown diamonds, the data of individual companies vary greatly. The report, commissioned by the Diamond Producers Association, suggests that the greenhouse gas emissions produced mining natural diamonds is three times less than those created when growing diamonds in a lab.
Natural diamonds VS lab-grown diamonds
Figures published by Diamond Foundry suggest that the total environmental footprint of mined diamonds is much higher than lab diamonds. “It takes an entire factor more energy to extract an underground diamond from Earth than it takes to create one above ground … On top of this, the energy used in mining is generally dirty diesel versus renewable energy in our above-the-ground production, ”
An estimated 250 tonnes of earth is shifted for every single carat of diamond. For context, 148 million carats were mined in 2018. It estimated that 57kg of carbon are released into the atmosphere for every single carat mined.
Interesting data was presented by the consulting company Trucost. They put the carbon emissions from lab grown diamonds at 510kg CO2 per polished carat and those from mined diamonds at 160kg CO2 per polished carat. Although the artificial production of diamonds creates more carbon dioxide, it does not plunder nature as much. The mining of natural diamonds is associated with the pollution of water resources, creates permanent footprints in the landscape and kills a huge number of animals. On the other hand, demand for laboratory diamonds could take away jobs in resource-rich developing countries. Diamonds for jewelry make up only 30% of the market, the rest is sold for use in drilling, cutting and grinding. The laboratory found that diamonds are ten times more durable than natural diamonds.
The future of diamonds
The market will now be flooded with laboratory diamonds and natural diamonds. It depends on the consumer which option is better for him. The true value of diamonds (mined or grown in a laboratory) is not really about price or rarity. It’s more about emotional value. When you buy natural diamonds, you support deforestation, animal loss and the irreversible destruction of the landscape. Buying laboratory-made diamonds is always better for the environment. The market is already full of jewelry, the best choice is to recycle old jewelry and make new ones.
Below you can see infographics from stefanonavi.com, which perfectly demonstrates the difference between natural and laboratory-grown diamonds.