The diamond in your engagement ring might not be your first thought when thinking
about sustainability, but like everything else, where your jewelry comes from does
make a difference. Natural diamonds are formed through intense pressure and heat, which changes the
molecular composition of the graphite carbon they are made from. Most were made
around one to three billion years ago, and then made their way to the surface via an
explosion of kimberlite magma. Today, they are collected from the ground by
workers in around 35 countries.
In contrast, lab-grown diamonds are exactly as they sound. They are made using
extreme pressure and heat, but in a controlled lab environment, rather than in the
core of the Earth. There are two ways to make a lab grown diamond: the first
involves putting a small piece of diamond into a high pressure chamber, and the
second involves putting the diamond slither into a chamber of carbon gas and
heating it. Now you know where diamonds come from – but why does it matter which type is in
Mined diamonds become problematic when you take a look at the conditions the
workers operate in. Historically, there have been multiple civil wars which have been
fuelled and funded by diamond mining, and whilst that may not be the case right
now, the risk is still there in these volatile countries. Additionally, workers are often
placed in unsafe conditions, with little rights or protection, for extremely low pay – a
million diamond diggers in Africa earn under one dollar per day. However, it is possible to buy ethically sourced natural diamonds, where sellers ensure that workers are in a safe environment, are paid a fair wage, and the money for the diamonds is not used to fund those who might use it for violence.
Whilst lab-grown diamonds dodge the issues surrounding unsafe and unethical
conditions for workers, they are not without their problems. Research has suggested that lab-grown diamonds produce three times more greenhouse gas emissions than mining natural diamonds.
However, it’s important to look at the whole picture, as the overall carbon footprint of
lab-grown diamonds is suggested to be lower than mined diamonds, due to the need
to move huge amounts of soil in order to extract mined diamonds. If you can, try and
ensure that you look for lab-grown diamonds that are produced using renewable
energy sources in order to reduce the impact of your gem.
It’s important to be aware of where your diamond is coming from. Whilst both mined
diamonds and lab-grown diamonds have their problems, the best thing you can do is
do your research before you buy, and aim for diamonds that are ethically sourced.
Alternatively, you could choose a vintage diamond, which ensures that you are not
funding a new, potentially problematic stone, and either keep this in the setting that
you’ve bought it in, or get it reset into a bespoke ring.