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Natural Diamonds vs. Lab-Grown Diamonds: An expert opinion

5 min read

Natural Diamonds vs. Lab-Grown Diamonds: An expert opinion

For over 15 years now, our Creative Director, Arabel Lebrusan, has dedicated her life to pioneering the ethical jewellery movement. With sustainable jewellery shopping on the up and the conversation around lab-grown diamonds growing ever louder, we nabbed her this week to hear her thoughts on the 'natural vs. lab-grown' debate that continues to nag the industry.


The bespoke Benjamin engagement ring, crowned with a 1ct emerald-cut Canadamark diamond

What is your take on the state of the diamond industry right now?

Blimey, that’s a difficult question! Let’s just say: It’s complicated. The diamond industry, like many others, is rooted in colonialism and imperialism. If we are to establish new standards for a fairer and more sustainable future, it’s really important now that we address these historical wrongs. It’s reassuring to see how large diamond companies, once driven solely by profit, are beginning to acknowledge the advantages of investing in the communities and land where they operate. That being said, this often results in complicated relationships with the players further down the supply chain who are resistant to change, their money-orientated views deeply engrained. In other words, the revolution won’t happen overnight. However, I’m optimistic by nature, and I believe that we are in a great position to make everlasting improvements, starting at the most fundamental end of the supply chain: the mines and miners themselves.

The bespoke Barney engagement ring, set with a 0.5ct lab-grown centrepiece and an additional 0.1ct of recycled diamonds


What’s Lebrusan Studio’s working relationship with diamonds? Do you tend to favour a certain type of stone?

We’re ethical jewellers creating engagement rings and bridal jewellery, and diamonds are one of our top-selling gemstones. We currently offer three diamond options across our collections; recycled natural diamonds, newly-mined natural diamonds with certificates of origin (for example, Canadamark stones) and traceable lab-grown diamonds.

Conscious consumerism is on the rise, with significant spikes in online search terms like ‘recycled’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ reported last year. Increasingly, customers are seeking our services not just because they have an eye for beautiful jewellery, but because our principles align with theirs - and it’s important for them to feel that their jewellery is reflective of their personal ideologies. That’s why we offer three diamond options; all sustainable and transparent, but each slightly different in their ethical benefits. We want to afford our clients the freedom of choice to select the stone that they feel suits them best. A young engineer might have her heart set on a lab-grown diamond because it’s a nod to her career and lifestyle, whilst a vintage clothing designer might choose a recycled old-cut diamond because of its uniqueness and charm. ‘Ethical’ is no longer one pigeonhole!


The bespoke Alex engagement ring. Centre-stage is a 0.96ct recycled old-cut diamond, flanked by conflict-free cognac diamonds


Do you think the bad press the diamond industry receives is warranted?

For decades now, the global diamond industry has been shadowed in distrust; and for just reason. When civil war tore through Sierra Leone in the 1990s, armed conflict was concentrated in and around the country’s diamond districts. In its wake, the mass genocide left devastation on an incredible scale and a spotlight on the diamond trade’s secretive means. Like never before, the world was awoken to the reality of its favourite precious gemstone and the ginormous leaps needed to begin improving the lives of those involved in diamond supply chains. Many positive changes have taken effect since then, with the estimated portion of the market that conflict stones accounted for dropping from 20% to a reported 1% in 2004… But I wonder if it’s enough. Like many people – consumers and industry players alike – I feel that there is still a lot of room for improvement.


Can you tell us what’s already being done to turn this around? Following on from that, how could the industry do more?

All number of revolutionary steps are being taken, from all number of angles – from block-chain developments to widespread efforts to trace diamonds back to their sources and aboriginals sitting in on decision-making boards addressing issues of displacement, gender and identity. Nevertheless, the world is finally coming round to the undeniable fact that global warming has reached crisis point. No matter how fairly traded or carefully sourced, newly mined materials use up valuable resources. An estimated 6,000 lbs of mineral waste is created and 250 tonnes of earth shifted for every single carat of natural diamond. For context, 148 million carats were mined in 2018; that's 37,000,000,000 tonnes of displaced earth in one year.

It’s vital that we slow the rate at which we’re consuming, and as a jeweller, that means minimising our use of new materials. Simultaneously, if and when we choose to use newly mined materials, the benefits and profit of commercialising those should go completely and immediately to the small-scale miners that need it the most – not to the international corporations enrichening the hands of only the few. Social ventures would be a good place to start.

Lab-grown diamonds have entered the scene with a bang, with no negative historical baggage and an aura of futuristic seductiveness around them… But I’m not convinced on their role in our future society. Lab-grown stones only exist to fulfil our societal aspirations to own expensive things and the latest gadgets. They don’t lend themselves in any way to the players at the beginning of the supply chain for whom small-scale mining and production are their livelihoods.


The bespoke Josh engagement ring, set with a 0.6ct European-cut diamond once belonging to the client's grandmother


What’s the future for diamonds? Do you believe that greater cooperation between the two sides of the industry – natural and lab-grown – could prove beneficial to both?

It’s very easy to become entangled in the ‘natural vs. lab-grown’ dilemma. I prefer to take a step back. One very small positive to emerge from the pandemic context is the abundance of time that I’ve to sit and reflect. I dedicate my life to being an ethical jeweller because I truly care about the role that jewellery plays in our society, and the potential that it carries to make the world a better, fairer place. I ask myself; which of these two types of diamond fulfils these roles? Which has the potential to boost economies in the countries that need it most? To help create bonds within communities? All in all, for any of these things to happen, we need to change the natural diamond industry from the bottom up.


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Love, Arabel & Team
Ruby McGonigle
Ruby McGonigle

Ruby McGonigle is a copywriter and digital marketing professional with over five years of jewellery industry experience. After graduating with a BA in Linguistics, she combined her passions for written word and all things sparkly by joining the Lebrusan Studio team as in-house wordsmith and content creator. Among bi-monthly blog posts, notable examples of Ruby's work include a think-piece on the ‘natural diamonds vs. lab-grown diamonds’ debate, a probe into why traceable and third party certified ASM gold is so important, and an investigation of why platinum is no longer more expensive than gold.