White diamonds are graded on a colour scale ranging from D (absolutely colourless) to Z (visibly yellow or brown in hue). Between these two extremities, ‘white’ diamonds display a variety of subtle tones. Meanwhile, diamonds that boast a vivid and distinct colour, like blue or pink, are referred to as ‘fancy colour diamonds’, and transcend the traditional limitations of the colour grading scale. Natural fancy colour diamonds are extremely rare to come by, historically making them highly valuable and a coveted commodity amongst society’s upper echelons.
These magnetising hues are the result of exposure to radiation, underground gases and a cocktail of chemical elements over millions of years. For example, a natural yellow hue is the result of nitrogen inclusion, whilst pink and red shades are thought to come from changes to electron structure during a diamond’s tumultuous journey to the earth’s surface.
In more recent years, however, clever technology has burst open the door to a world of new, exciting and significantly more accessible colour possibilities. Laboratories can now cultivate diamonds that are chemically and optically identical to their natural counterparts by simulating the conditions of the natural geological process, with fancy coloured diamonds formed by impersonating the process of crystallising carbon and treating stones to enhance their tones. Unlike natural fancy colour diamonds, which are formed over the course of up to 3.3 billion years, these lab-grown treats are ready in a mere matter of weeks.
When it comes to jewellery, the most fundamental rule of thumb is that the rarer the precious material, the higher its value. Of course, this means that naturally formed fancy colour diamonds will forever remain desirable and incredibly expensive. What’s fun about fancy colour diamonds that are grown in labs, then, is their reaching distance for designers like us and consumers like you. Suddenly, thanks to clever scientists, an engagement ring set with a cheerful yellow centrepiece isn’t such a far-fetched dream. “From a jewellers’ perspective, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t mesmerised by the sizes and colour palettes available to us when we delve into the realm of lab-grown stones,” explains our Creative Director, Arabel Lebrusan.
What’s more, it’s undeniable that lab-grown diamonds leave a smaller carbon footprint than their natural counterparts. An estimated 6,000lbs of mineral waste is created and 250 tonnes of earth shifted for every carat of natural diamond. To put that into context, 148 million carats of diamonds were mined in 2018, which displaced an astounding 37,000,000,000 tonnes of earth. In comparison, disruption from lab-based production is minimal, with many labs even offsetting their carbon footprint with renewable energy.
It’s no surprise, then, that the brave new world of lab-grown diamonds is so appealing to conscious consumers and jewellers alike. Without the associations that otherwise mire large sections of the natural diamond industry – from forced labour to violence, earth displacement and workplace injury - the lab-grown stone is, for many people, something of a guilt-free haven.
Well, this all boils down to how exactly you define ‘ethical’.
At Lebrusan Studio, the lens through which we currently view the world is the Doughnut Economics framework. The Doughnut symbolises Earth’s social and planetary boundaries. Humanity’s challenge in the 21st century is to ensure that no human being falls short on socioeconomic essentials, whilst also ensuring that we don’t put too much collective pressure on Planet Earth’s life-supporting natural systems. An ideal world is a world where we can all exist comfortably within these boundaries; within the Doughnut.
First and foremost, this currently means minimising our carbon footprint – prioritising recycled metals and gemstones, for example. However, it’s also crucial that we continue to support artisanal and small-scale miners, of whom there are millions worldwide who need an income. When we do use newly mined natural materials, traceability and fair-trade schemes enable us to ensure that the benefit is felt by as many players down the supply chain as possible.
To date, numerous case studies support the argument that diamond mining has the potential to be a powerful force for good. In a world where the richest 1% of people currently possess double the total wealth of the remaining 99%, responsible mining, and the social ventures generated by it, are a great place to start in our mission of liberation and distributing wealth. It’s true that the natural diamond industry is in desperate need of an overhaul. But are lab-grown diamonds the answer? As a sole entity, unfortunately not. Though they have the power to be kinder on the planet’s natural resources, unfortunately lab-grown stones simply play no part in tending to humans’ crucial socioeconomic needs.
At Lebrusan Studio, we see a world where both natural and lab-grown diamonds can coexist, provided that traceability and sustainability are the priorities always at the fore.
When it comes to colourless diamonds, we prefer to use recycled or newly mined conflict-free stones – for the sake of the Doughnut.
But, we appreciate that fancy colours aren’t quite so easy for the most of us to attain. In this instance, lab-grown coloured diamonds are an exciting opportunity. Affordable and accessible, they grant us all entry to a technicolour world of design possibilities. As our client, the choice is in your hands, and if you’re keen to explore this vibrant avenue of options, we’d be please to fulfil your vision.