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An increasing number of jewelry brands are making the switch to lab-grown diamonds and marketing them as the new sustainable gem. Are they? We've tried to lay out the facts.

In our quest to redefine the luxury of fashion, and life, by exploring the different paths to sustainability, we come across many, many brands and companies with different solutions to the problems of our current consumption patterns. What we tend to forget though, in our search for “better options”, is that what we really should, and must, do is to simply consume less; reduce, retreat, refrain. Treating all our things, including Earth, as precious gems of significant value, and not discarding them for the next new thing. This goes for jewelry too.

Now, thinking of luxury, sparkly diamonds would be top of anyone’s mind, but they’re not exactly our kind of luxe. Natural diamonds are extracted from deep within Earth where they have been formed from geological pressure over millions of years. Mining them is a labor-intensive process that, when done irresponsibly, causes soil erosion, pollution, deforestation and force local population to relocate. Often situated in developing or underdeveloped countries with limited regulations for protecting the environment or human rights, the consequences can be ugly. Conflict diamonds, or blood diamonds, are one of the worst examples as they’ve been mined and sold to finance brutal warfare, contributing to the violation of human rights through brutality and forced labor.

Conflict-free diamonds or not, mining these precious stones simply doesn’t seem to make any sense. Lab-grown diamonds, on the other hand, kind of does. This synthetic or man-made equivalent is cultivated in highly controlled laboratories through high-end technology. The process is made to replicate the natural growing environment in the earth through methods that cause a microscopic diamond seed to slowly grow into a rough diamond over several weeks, which can then be cut and polished the same as any mined stone. Like magic, but real.
It does sound a bit too good to be true, and some people still think it is, but fact is that lab-grown stones have essentially the same chemical composition, crystal structure, optical and physical properties as diamonds grown under ground. So they basically look and perform exactly the same while being retailed for about 30-40% less.

British jewelry company Lark & Berry is one of the early adopters of the lab-grown gems, arguing that, except for being more ethical, cultivated diamonds also generate 99% less carbon emissions, 99% less mineral wastage, 85% less water and 53% less energy. But inevitably, the growing interest in these diamonds is causing some turbulence in the industry. Some actors claim that they’re simply fake, and that a gem’s rarity is what gives it value. Others stress that there’s a risk that buyers won’t know what kind of diamond they’re actually purchasing and might therefore be deceived. By laser-marking their diamonds, retailers can easily prevent any confusion though, but we definitely see the problem…

On a final note, we should also mention that mining precious metals is another big issue that can’t be overlooked, and there’s actually already plenty of it above ground to go around. So if the goal is sustainability, others should take after one of our favorite jewelers, Norrfolks, that works exclusively with lab-grown diamonds in combination with 100% recycled gold.
And to answer our initial question: Are synthetic stones more sustainable? Well, depending on the conditions under which they are produced (“lab-made” is no guarantee for social responsibility, so look it up!) we think they have great potential. 

 

What do you think? Please share your thoughts with us below.


1 Comment

Norrfolks: Hi Makeitlast, thank you for an interesting read. We’d like to give more info on your last question in the article: our diamond growing labs are highly sophisticated and technologically advanced institutions that employ selected scientists and engineers with a specific skillset and knowledge in handling those complex machines and processes, we’re talking about fusion reactors here. There are only a handful of engineers in every lab that are authorized to operate these machines. All scientists and engineers are paid above average pay and work under fair conditions. And in regards to the sustainability: all labs are powered by renewables, the cost of producing diamonds would otherwise be too expensive and the process inefficient. In case you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us. Keep up the great work! Love, Team Norrfolks
April 16, 2019

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