The dark underbelly of the natural diamond industry is no secret; we've all read the news and seen the film Blood Diamond. In recent years, lab-grown diamonds have evolved as a popular alternative to mined diamonds, largely to appease the environmental and socioeconomic concerns of those deterred by the reputation of their natural counterparts.
Though grown by scientists in labs over the course of a few weeks - instead of beneath the earth's crust over billions of years - man-made diamonds test as 100% real on diamond testers. Optically, chemically and aesthetically, they are identical to natural diamonds.
Synthetic diamonds are cultivated using cutting-edge technology that simulates the geological process by which natural diamonds are formed.
There are two different methods used to grow diamonds in a lab: High Pressure-High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD).
A HPHT diamond begins as a small diamond seed placed in carbon. Both are exposed to temperatures of around 1,500 °C and pressurised to approximately 1.5 million pounds per square inch. The carbon melts and starts to form a diamond around the starter seed, before being cooled to form a pure carbon diamond.
A CVD diamond begins as a slice of diamond seed, which is placed in a chamber and heated to 800°C. The chamber is filled with gases, which are are ionised into plasma using technology similar to that of microwaves or lasers. The ionisation breaks the gases' molecular bonds and the carbon adheres to the diamond seed before crystallising.
An estimated 6,000 lbs of mineral waste is created and 250 tonnes of earth shifted for every 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 would not be unfair, then, to consider lab-grown diamonds a somewhat sustainable alternative.
However, diamond production labs aren't 100% innocent. Their heavy duty machinery is largely powered by fossil fuels and their carbon emissions are often gargantuan. It's important that we pay attention to the nuances of the lab-grown diamond industry; prioritising the companies making an effort to offset their carbon emissions and educate consumers on the production processes.
It cannot be denied that the natural diamond industry has a bloody reputation. Responsible for civil war, violence, forced labour and environmental devastation, it’s understandable that society’s perception of mined diamonds is largely sceptical.
However, there are millions of artisanal and small-scale diamond miners worldwide for whom the natural diamond industry tends to crucial socioeconomic needs. We're passionate about jewellery that's beneficial to the future of humanity. Lab-grown diamonds alone don't carry that potential; they only serve to stick a plaster over an industry that needs an overhaul.