Lab-grown diamonds have been proposed as the ultimate solution to the ethical and environmental issues that are inherent to the mining industry.
Virtually indistinguishable from real diamonds, the only significant difference between the two types of stones is an “LG” inscribed at the base of some, though not all, lab-grown diamonds. That and, of course, the fact that one was forged over the course of billions of years deep within the heart of the earth, while the other was simply grown in a laboratory for six to ten weeks.
Lab-grown diamonds have flooded the market in recent years as improvements in technology have made them much faster, easier, and cheaper to create. In the last few years, the retail prices of gem-quality lab-grown diamonds have been cut in half and wholesale prices have shrunk threefold. Today, the cost per carat to grow a diamond is only between $300 and $500, according to the Antwerp World Diamond Centre’s Global Diamond Industry Report.
Leaders in the lab-grown diamond industry tout their products as conflict-free and environmentally-friendly, while their mining counterparts focus on the intrinsic value of the stone itself as well as the benefits for communities of mining, if done right.
At a fraction of the cost, are lab-grown diamonds really the most environmentally and ethically-sound choice?
Condensing a multibillion year process into just a few short weeks requires a significant amount of energy. In fact, a striking report published by Trucost and S&P Global, commissioned by the Diamond Producers Association, on the socio-economic and environmental impact of large-scale diamond mining found that the process of growing diamonds actually produced three times more greenhouse gas emissions than mining natural stones. However, we can’t be sure exactly how accurate this statistic is because the Diamond Producers Association represents, naturally, diamond producers. Coincidentally, the DPA rebranded this summer and is now formally known as the Natural Diamond Council.
On the other hand (or left ring finger to be exact), there is a distinct lack of transparent carbon footprint data across the diamond industry as a whole. Interestingly, in 2019 the United States Federal Trade Commission sent letters of warning to eight simulated diamond companies due to ads that raised compliance concerns under the FTC’s Jewelry Guides. The Guides put it this way:
It is unfair or deceptive to use the word “laboratory-grown,” “laboratory-created,” “[manufacturer name]-created,” “synthetic,” or other word or phrase of like meaning with the name of any natural stone to describe any industry product unless such product has essentially the same optical, physical, and chemical properties as the stone named.
It is unfair or deceptive to use the word “ruby,” “sapphire,” “emerald,” “topaz,” or the name of any other precious or semi-precious stone, or the word “stone,” “birthstone,” “gem,” “gemstone,” or similar term to describe a laboratory-grown, laboratory-created, [manufacturer name]-created, synthetic, imitation, or simulated stone.
Semantics and industry regulations aside, a diamond is forever. When you purchase a diamond, it is a forever investment — not just in the physical ring or piece or metal — but also in the story of the diamond. A diamond can be worn forever and will never go out of style. The same cannot be said for synthetic stones.
We value diamonds for their physical characteristics but also for their mythology, their allure, and their rarity. And when it comes to family stones, passed down from one engagement ring or generation to the next, we value the personal connection.
Reusing and recycling diamonds and other precious stones is by far the most ethical and sustainable way to acquire these resources.
Remember, recycling jewelry can reduce emissions by more than ninety-nine percent.
Choosing an heirloom stone bestows your piece with intimacy and individuality that can be passed down or redesigned forever.
Start your revival today.
(1) Antwerp World Diamond Centre & Bain & Company, 2018: “The Global Diamond Industry 2018.” https://www.bain.com/contentassets/a53a9fa8bf5247a3b7bb0b10561510c2/bain_diamond_report_2018.pdf
(2) Trucost & The Diamond Producer’s Association, 2019: “The Socioeconomic and Environmental Impact of Large-Scale Diamond Mining.” https://www.trucost.com/publication/the-socioeconomic-and-environmental-impact-of-large-scale-diamond-mining/
(3) Federal Trade Commission, Press Release; April, 2, 2019: “FTC Sends Warning Letters to Companies Regarding Diamond Ad Disclosures.” https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2019/03/ftc-sends-warning-letters-companies-regarding-diamond-ad
(4) Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, 2020: Title 16, Ch. 1, SubCh. B, PART 23—GUIDES FOR THE JEWELRY, PRECIOUS METALS, AND PEWTER INDUSTRIES §23.12 Definition and misuse of the word “diamond.” https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=fd94fda060cd5953071e45ba0d9166d1&mc=true&node=pt16.1.23&rgn=div5#se16.1.23_112
(5) Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, 2020: §23.25 Misuse of the words “ruby,” “sapphire,” “emerald,” “topaz,” “stone,” “birthstone,” “gem,” “gemstone,” etc. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=fd94fda060cd5953071e45ba0d9166d1&mc=true&node=pt16.1.23&rgn=div5#se16.1.23_125