Lab Grown vs Natural Diamonds
In the diamond jewellery industry, there are usually two factors that matter most: cost and design. For men, the cost of a diamond takes precedence in the purchase decision for an engagement ring, followed by the design. For women, its design is first followed by the carat size, which goes hand-in-hand with cost.
But with the world’s focus on ethical practices, the diamond industry is also searching for ways to be more sustainable, which is why we’re analysing which ones between lab-grown and natural diamonds is the kindest cut.
The war of words between the two sectors about which better answers the consumer’s growing demand for a more sustainable product, hardly helps clear things up. The truth is, that it cannot be a competition between the two as they’re just not the same thing. Lab-grown diamonds, created in factories using methods requiring extreme heat or extreme pressure, are marketed with words such as ethical, sustainable and carbon-neutral. Mined stones, meanwhile, have moved on from De Beers’s 1948 tagline, “A diamond is forever”, to promote positive social impact and natural provenance.
Lab Grown Diamonds
Lab-grown diamonds are created in plasma reactors and have only been recognised as diamonds by the US’s Federal Trade Commission since 2018, but they have already spawned a $6bn industry, a figure that is expected to double by 2025!
Jewellery luxury brands’ attitudes towards lab-grown diamonds (LGD) have also shifted in the last few years as they’ve started to invest in these stones. For example, jeweller Pandora launched its Brilliance collection featuring lab-created diamonds in 2022. Set in sterling silver or 14-carat gold, their pieces are affordable, easy, minimalist and the sort of thing you’d buy for yourself, your kid or your friend; making diamonds something that is not just forever, but for everyone too. The luxury conglomerate LVMH, which includes brands such as Louis Vuitton and Tiffany, invested in an Israeli lab-grown producer last year. Tag Heuer, another LVMH brand, introduced the Carrera Plasma last March, the company’s first timepiece adorned with lab-grown diamonds.
There is a common assumption that lab-grown stones are fundamentally more ethical than mined diamonds as it is easier to trace their provenance. Like many centuries’ old industries, the history of diamond mining is steeped in colonialism and abuse of human rights and the environment. But, according to statista.com, 56% of lab-grown diamonds come from China, a country that does not have a good reputation when it comes to working conditions, and brands taking on these new stones don't seem to be providing us with proof that states otherwise.
When we think about mined diamonds, we automatically think about the history behind this and how the practice was at the base of centuries of human rights’ abuse and environment. Nowadays, we can almost certainly say that mining of natural diamonds has some sort of positive impact on other economic sectors in poor countries all over the world. In addition to generating jobs for local workers, the natural diamond industry also generates billions of dollars worth of benefits to local communities as they help pay for local goods and services to sustain their operations.
Botswana is an example of a country that has benefited from diamond mining. Once one of the poorest nations in the world, it is now a middle-income country thanks to its thriving diamond mining industry. The country is also proof that sustainable and environmentally friendly mining is possible. Together with Canada and Namibia, Botswana maintains some of the highest environmental and ethical employment standards for earth-mined diamonds.
Although this might be true for these countries, we are not actually 100% sure that the same conditions are carried in countries such as Brazil, China, Russia and South Africa.
The ethical choice
With all the environmental and humanitarian repercussions of natural diamond mining processes, it would be safe to assume that man-made diamonds offer more in the way of long-term sustainability, than those pulled from the earth.
At the same time, the processes of producing lab grown diamonds are responsible for a massive amount of carbon emissions, which are estimated to be three times higher than the carbon footprint of earth-mined diamonds. This is because growers need to generate and consume large amounts of energy to recreate the conditions in which diamonds are formed.
All in all, it appears that there isn’t an answer just yet on which option is the most sustainable one. At Scarlet Destiny, we believe that the way to choose a more ethical diamond is to pursue recycled and repurposed diamond jewellery, whether they are natural or lab-grown.
Circularity in the jewellery industry is all about creating closed loops where both waste and new materials are minimised and existing materials are repurposed, repaired and recycled. As such, recycled diamonds fit the bill perfectly. With no new mining required, recycled diamonds have close to zero environmental impact, making them the most responsible jewellery purchase by a long way. Circularity is not just about avoiding the need for further mining, however, it is also about sustaining legacies. Choosing a diamond that has been worn and loved before means that you will be continuing to write that stone’s story while wearing a little piece of history.
In terms of cost, recycled diamonds win hands-down too. A fraction of the cost of a newly mined diamond, at roughly 30% cheaper, recycled diamonds hit the sweet spot between sustainability and affordability. For example, revived 19th-century luxury jewellery label Oscar Massin is entirely making its collections from recycled and reclaimed gold and lab-grown diamonds. The Montreal-based jeweller, Ecksand Jewellery, uses recycled gold and natural diamonds as its sustainable option. Brooklyn-based Catbird Jewelry carries jewellery featuring 95% recycled gold and recycled brilliant-cut diamonds.
Spurred by a growing awareness of the impacts of their shopping choices, consumers are increasingly prioritising ethical, social, and environmental standards when it comes to their purchasing habits. We can only hope that consumers will shift their priorities and start relying on recycled diamonds brands more and more, too.
Info sourced on forbes.com, vogue.co.uk, theguardian.com and the-ethos.com
Images sourced on canva.com