ARE LAB CREATED DIAMONDS A BETTER ALTERNATIVE TO EARTH MINED DIAMONDS?
The popularity of lab created diamonds has been on the rise in the jewelry industry. This is because the younger generation of diamond buyers is attracted to them due to their affordable price, transparency, and environmental considerations. Based on a report from the AWDC (Antwerp World Diamond Centre), the market for lab created diamonds is experiencing an annual growth rate of 15% to 20%. We expect that this percentage will increase in coming years because jewelers are becoming more inclined to sell these diamonds and more laboratories are springing up to add to the number. As earlier mentioned, young people are turning away from earth mined diamonds because of the negative environmental and humanitarian impacts associated with their extraction.
In 2019, Meghan Markle caught the world’s attention when she wore a pair of dazzling drop earrings embedded with lab created diamonds during a London outing. These diamonds, made by Kimaï, a company co-founded by Sidney Neuhaus and Jessica Warch, took just five days to create. Both Neuhaus and Warch come from diamond families, with Neuhaus’s father owning a diamond jewelry shop and her grandfather having a diamond career after World War Two at De Beers, the renowned diamond company. Despite their family backgrounds in the diamond trade, Neuhaus and Warch decided to venture into lab created diamonds due to their concerns about the environmental and humanitarian impact of traditional diamond mining. Just like Neuhaus and Warch, nearly 70% of millennials consider lab created diamonds as an alternative but the question is how do these diamonds compare as an alternative? We’ll talk about that as you read further.
What are lab created diamonds, and how are they different from naturally earth mined diamonds?
Before anything else, you should know that lab created diamonds are diamonds too. They are identical to earth mined diamonds in terms of their chemical, physical, and optical properties. The one thing that differentiates both types of diamonds is the way they’re both made and of course, the price. Find prices of lab created diamonds at Diamonds-USA.
How they are made
Earth mined diamonds are formed inside the earth’s mantle as a result of its immense heat and pressure, being 100 miles underground. Most diamonds were formed between 1 billion and 3 billion years ago when the planet was much hotter than it is now. Just like naturally occurring diamonds, lab created diamonds are produced with extreme heat and pressure, but the process is done inside a machine, instead of underground.
There are two methods of growing diamonds in a lab. Both methods start with a “seed” from an existing diamond, which is a thin slice. The first method used is called “High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT),” which involves placing the seed in the presence of pure graphite carbon and subjecting it to temperatures around 1,500°C while applying pressure of approximately 1.5 million pounds per square inch within a chamber.
The second method which is more recently used, is known as Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD). It entails placing the seed inside a sealed chamber that is filled with gas rich in carbon. The seed is then heated to approximately 800°C as part of the process. Under these conditions, the carbon atoms from the gas adhere to the seed, gradually growing a diamond layer by layer. Lab created diamonds are created using intense heat and pressure within a machine, replicating the natural process.
The technology behind lab created diamonds has made significant advancements in recent years, enabling companies to produce higher quality diamonds more efficiently and cost-effectively. This has led to increased competition between lab created and earth mined diamond companies. The cost of producing a CVD lab created diamond is currently $300 to $500 per carat, compared to $4,000 per carat in 2008, as reported by the AWDC.
How Do They Impact the Environment?
Lab created diamonds do come with certain environmental disadvantages. The lack of transparency in the industry makes it challenging to obtain accurate data for comparing the carbon footprints of earth mined and lab created diamonds. Nonetheless, the energy required to produce lab created diamonds is significant. As per a report commissioned by the Diamond Producers Association (DPA), the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from mining natural diamonds are three times less than the emissions produced during the cultivation of lab created diamonds. It’s important to note that the DPA represents major diamond miners such as De Beers, Alrosa, and Rio Tinto.
Some lab diamond companies, including Ada Diamonds and Diamond Foundry backed by Leonardo DiCaprio, have received warnings from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US regarding their claims of being “eco-friendly” without substantiating evidence. However, Diamond Foundry states that it has obtained carbon neutrality certification from the third-party organization Natural Capital Partners and exclusively uses renewable energy.
Figures provided by Diamond Foundry indicate that the overall environmental impact of earth mined diamonds is significantly higher than that of lab created diamonds. According to a blog post published on their website, extracting a diamond from beneath the Earth’s surface requires significantly more energy compared to creating one through above-ground processes. Also, in mining operations, the energy used predominantly comes from fossil fuels such as dirty diesel, whereas our above-ground production relies on renewable energy sources.
What else is at stake?
It is common knowledge that the diamond mining industry has provided employment and income for a substantial number of people in resource-rich developing countries. As such, we cannot talk about an alternative to diamond mining without talking about these people and the jobs that will be lost. Brad Brooks-Rubin, previously serving as a special advisor on conflict diamonds to the US Department of State and presently holding the position of managing director at The Sentry/Enough Project, raises ethical concerns about discouraging individuals from purchasing diamonds originating from developing nations. These countries often have millions of people dependent on employment related to the diamond industry. It is, thus, necessary for there to be a balance between steering people away from earth mined diamonds and encouraging people to embrace lab-made diamonds, unless some sort of safety net has been put in place to cushion the effect of the unemployment that will be caused by this innovation.
Based on all that has been said, we can’t reach the conclusion that lab created diamonds are a better alternative to naturally occurring diamonds. Even though they are gaining popularity as a more sustainable and ethical alternative, there’s environmental and ethical issues surrounding them. Nonetheless, there’s nothing that exists that is void of its advantages and disadvantages. We cannot deny that the fact that they share the same characteristics as natural diamonds and can be produced at a lower cost is a plus for them. Also, we believe that if laboratories have come this far as to make artificial diamonds, they can work towards eliminating the downsides, thus making them, undoubtedly, a better option.