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The Real Impact of Lab Grown Diamonds

Lab grown diamond seeds Lab grown diamond seeds that will eventually grow into a diamond.

Looking to make a socially responsible diamond purchase? A lab-grown (or synthetic) diamond may not be your best option.

Concerns about unethical diamond sourcing have caused some consumers to seek an alternative to natural, mined diamonds. However, these buyers often operate under two misconceptions:

  1. They believe that conflict diamonds (or “blood diamonds”) are far more prevalent than they are. Following a large regulatory push from industry players and governments, experts estimate that 99.8 percent of diamonds in the market now come from conflict-free zones.
  2. They believe that lab-grown diamonds are free from any negative social or environmental impact.

You can read more about the first misconception here. Today, let’s tackle the second misconception and take a closer look at the lab-grown diamond sector.

What Does It Take to Make Lab-Grown Diamonds?

It can take up to 10 weeks to create a lab grown diamond. These lab-grown gems are formed by dissolving carbon into a diamond seed using high temperatures and pressure. Another method is to layer tiny sheets of carbon onto a diamond seed in a high-pressure microwave.

Unsurprisingly, making diamonds is not an energy-efficient process. Growing one carat of rough diamonds requires about 28 kWh of energy per carat. At this rate, many mines, such as Argyle diamond mines in Australia (which requires about 7.5kwH per carat), actually produce less CO2 emissions than a comparable lab grown diamond lab.

Who Is Making Lab-Grown Diamonds?

Because of the complex technology and expert personnel diamond labs require, only the most well capitalized organizations can break into the lab grown diamond trade. Consequently, one of the largest names in the lab-grown industry is the same name you’ll find selling and promoting natural diamonds: DeBeers.

The longstanding behemoth of the diamond industry, DeBeers shocked analysts and competitors when it launched its own lab grown diamond line after years of decrying lab-grown gems as cheap imitations. Operating under the brand name Lightbox, DeBeers offers drastically lower price points than competitors, which drives down the value of lab grown diamonds in the marketplace. Industry players have speculated that this move by DeBeers is less about tapping the lab grown diamond market and more about safeguarding the company’s main business: mined diamonds.

Whatever the company’s motivation, the relationship between lab-grown diamonds and large diamond companies is not always clear-cut.

Another complexity of the lab-grown craze is the issue of processing. Like natural diamonds, lab grown diamonds must go through a processing plant before they are sent to retailers. More than 90 percent of diamond processing takes place in India, where the majority of diamond workers make less than $160 each month. Seventy-five percent work more than eight hours a day, and many do not have access to drinking water and toilets during the workday.

Furthermore, child labor and forced labor are ongoing concerns in the Indian labor market. The same can be said of the Chinese unskilled labor market, which processes most of the remainder of uncut diamonds.

Thus, for consumers who want to avoid contributing to the underpayment or maltreatment of diamond workers, lab grown diamonds are not a solution.

Where Is the Lab-Grown Sector Heading?

Right now, lab-grown diamonds cost consumers 30 to 40 percent less than their natural counterparts. However, buyers can still drop thousands of dollars on a lab grown diamonds.

So where do those prices come from? With no rarity to lend them value, these gems derive their prices purely from the complexity (and high cost) of production. Industry experts predict that as production costs drop, the value of lab-grown diamonds will plummet. This would be a disappointment for consumers who opted for pricey lab grown engagement rings, especially since the resale market for lab-grown diamonds is nonexistent.

Other Issues with Lab-Grown Diamonds

Lab grown diamonds may not be a socially conscious substitute for natural diamonds, but they do have one thing going for them: They are virtually indistinguishable to the eye.

While this is great news for people who buy lab grown diamonds, it’s a nightmare for the natural diamond industry. Large companies like DeBeers can invest in elaborate technology to detect lab grown diamonds and avoid fraud, but smaller businesses risk losing their credibility if they unknowingly sell a lab-grown diamond to a customer who wants a real diamond. Lab grown diamonds provide an opportunity for unscrupulous sellers to sell lab grown diamonds under the guise of real diamonds.

A final concern about the lab grown diamond market is its effect on artisanal mining reform. “Artisanal mining” refers to small-scale mining projects that support their surrounding communities.

While many of these projects fail to offer safe and clean working conditions to miners, nonprofit organizations like the Diamond Development Initiative have been pushing to integrate human rights and development benchmarks into industry-wide regulations, and they’ve been gaining ground.

By diverting consumer attention and money away from mined diamonds, lab grown diamonds do more harm than good. In a statement, Diamond Development Initiative urged consumers to stop campaigning against the miner’s product in an effort to help.

Considerations Before Purchasing

If you’re in the market for a diamond and want to make sure your dollars support the greater good, don’t assume lab-grown options are the better choice.

By purchasing a natural stone, you’re investing in an industry that supports 10 million jobs around the world and contributes $8.4 billion a year to African economies. Your also supporting an industry that’s taking active steps to improve the lives of diamond workers. From international collaborations like the Kimberly Process to standalone organizations like Diamond Development Initiative, there are players at every level of the industry setting goals for improving working conditions and developing underdeveloped communities.

Gage Diamond’s Commitment

At Gage Diamonds, we source our diamonds from De Beers site holders, whom in turn source their diamonds from only a handful of the largest diamond miners in the world. We do not believe it’s possible to guarantee that all of our diamonds are completely conflict-free. However, by only sourcing our diamonds from the most reputable site holders, we believe that we can greatly limit the possibility of supplying a diamond that was mined under unethical conditions.