Should I be buying lab diamonds?
Often people assume that lab diamonds are inherently a more sustainable choice, but the question isn’t as black and white as you might assume. Let’s get into the reasons why.
Many of the original lab-created diamond companies were founded to address the environmental and ethical impacts of mining diamonds from the earth. However, the synthetic diamond game has since become big business, with an industry that already tops $6 billion annually and is expected to hit $12 billion annually by 2025. This has prompted people interested only in profit to follow suit.
Whenever a field grows so quickly, regulation is slow to keep up, and the synthetic diamond industry is no outlier. In many ways, it’s still the wild, wild west. Companies make all sorts of claims with limited transparency, and it’s very hard for the average consumer to sort through the details. Currently, 56% of lab created diamonds come from China, making it even harder to get clarity around the environmental implications of their fabrication and the working conditions of employees.
On top of the rapid growth and lack of transparency, creating diamonds requires a huge amount of power. If the power source is dirty energy, each synthetic diamond can have a serious carbon footprint. Happily, some companies are using 100% renewable energy to create their lab diamonds.
From here, it gets trickier to know what statistics to trust. According to Pandora, a synthetic diamond produced with 100% renewable energy would have just 10% of the emissions of a mined diamond. (Note: While this seems amazing, it’s still complicated. For example, some companies are using hydropower to create their diamonds, but environmental activists are worried that large dams can compromise local waterways and fish communities.) On the other hand, another study has claimed synthetic diamonds create on average three times more CO2 than mined diamonds. Here, it’s important to note that the study was funded by the mined diamond industry and may have failed to take the actual creation of the mine into account.
In order to make any sort of sense of these differing statistics, what we really need a clearer insight of the process and more data from unbiased sources. This will take time and more openness from the companies operating in the field.
What else do you need to consider?
When you are deciding between synthetic diamonds and natural diamonds, you must take into account the larger scope of your decision. It truly is not a simple choice.
On the one hand, millions of people around the world work in the jewelry industry, and a large percentage of those people are small scale artisanal miners that live in economically depressed areas that depend on mining for income. The Natural Diamond Council says that originating countries involved in diamond mining retain more than 80% of the net economic benefits of diamond production. It’s also true that the mining industry has seen huge alterations in the last few decades, and legislation has effectively created positive changes in many places. While there are still problem spots, simply turning our back on these people after exploiting them for decades isn’t a sustainable solution either. Consumers and businesses that care about these same values should take the chance to invest in advancing standards for these miners and their environments. And importantly, consumers and businesses have a chance to advocate for the miners to be involved in setting those standards and dictating what they need.
At the same time, the synthetic diamond industry also supports workers all over the globe, and many of the new companies are showing a dedication to offsetting carbon, increasing diversity in the field, giving back to their communities, and environmental protection. Buying a lab created diamond could mean buying something made entirely with renewable energy, and it is also a great choice for clients on a budget.
So, what's the takeaway?
For us, two things are clear. One, we shouldn’t be trusting the mined diamond industry or the synthetic diamond industry to police themselves. We can’t expect clear data or social and environmental change to come without oversight. And two, there’s currently no home run choice between lab diamonds and natural diamonds for clients concerned with ethics and sustainability.
There are lots of questions at play here, and fundamentally, it’s a very personal choice. You must decide what is most important to you and go from there. This can be difficult to weigh, as there are truly benefits to both sides. We are not going to tell you whether a lab-grown diamond or a natural diamond is the right choice for you, but we are happy to discuss this with you and give you as much information as you need to make a choice you feel good about.
So, what else can I do?
- Big name companies and jewelry stores have made obscene profits from mining without considering the environmental or human costs for decades and decades. They are not going to change without consumer demand. Be vocal when talking with stores and managers about what you’re looking for, and tell them you will take your business elsewhere if you don’t see change.
- Skip fast fashion jewelry. Fast fashion items are designed to break so they will need to be replaced, creating a cycle of waste. The items are often priced so low that the workers involved in the supply and shipping chain simply cannot be paid fairly.
- Instead, buy high quality pieces that will last so that they can be worn time and time again or passed on to someone else when they no longer work in your own wardrobe.
- Buy second hand jewelry. There are so many great options now for finding amazing second hand jewelry. If you’re on Instagram, try some of our favorites to start: @shopgemgossip, @erstwhilejewelry, & @trumpetandhorn
- Be wary of anyone that claims their jewelry is “ethical & sustainable” without any proof to back it up. Ask them how they define those terms and how they ensure their work lives up to the definitions.
- Work with an honest jeweler who shares your values and morals. Those of us who care in the industry have a network of trusted sources for stones and materials sourced under best practices.
- Know what questions to ask. When buying a piece of jewelry, ask your jeweler if the stone can be traced and what they know about the mine and miners who found the stone as well as the people who refined the stone. Ask your jeweler about their gemstone dealers and how they work. Ask your jeweler how the ring is fabricated and what environmental considerations are in place to protect the health of the workers and the environment.
- Familiarize yourself with the World Fair Trade Organization's list of 10 Best Practices for ensuring Fair Trade. This will help you be an informed consumer and help you brainstorm considerations involved in any purchase that you hope to make more ethical.
If you have more questions about our own values at Shop Altana, you can see our Ethics page. And we would love to have a conversation with you about our dedication to a more ethical and sustainable jewelry industry. We believe positive change is not only possible but already happening all over the world, thanks in large part to consumer demand. We are so happy to be a small part of that shift.