Lab Grown v Natural Diamond... The Ethics Debate.

Lab Grown v Natural Diamond... The Ethics Debate.


10 minute read

Like a Royal Rumble, I feel that the Lab vs Natural Diamond bout will be a long drawn out 'back and forth', with rematch after rematch. No doubt, there will be a few comeback stories for either argument, but for now, this is where I stand...

So to recap on my previous article, I was calling into question the 'sustainability' of lab-grown diamonds;

"...the lab grown alternative has been a point of focus for couples recently, who have a disposition for sustainable industry practices.

It's a natural assumption that I feel has gone at least, slightly unqualified.

I'm posing this hypothesis and then, I will begin to rummage around to see what I can find out.

The diamond industry has rightfully felt market pressures to be better, and in order to retain credibility, we, as the consumer have slapped an accountability to 'show your papers' - prove to us that your are taking measures to improve on your environmental impact." 

(READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE)

 

I genuinely didn't feel that my research would leave me is any sort of a conclusive position. I thought I would be as confused as ever with a broad swath of mis-mashed opinions pulling me in all directions. However, I actually am pretty confident in this stance (as conditions exist now in 2023) - and before I begin to unravel the long entanglement of either position, let me sum it up for you.

POINT 1.
Whilst lab-grown diamonds do require significant energy to produce, the energy consumption of diamond mining is still more intensive (within broader environmental considerations) leaving a greater environmental impact.

POINT 2. 
From a consumer perspective, IF you are looking for a clean white diamond and are not 100% set on a natural and working within a budget, then I do personal feel that you are barking mad to not at least consider a lab. The doors of possibility that are opened for a lab compared to a natural on the same budget, is incredible. You'll almost double your carat size in many cases. It's a cheeky 2 for 1 deal, jump on it whilst its hot ;)

In all seriousness, I completely appreciate the desire for a natural - our entire gemstone focus is born out of the natural characteristics of each stone and we do very much advocate for those natural diamonds 'ignored' by mainstream industry. However, for those who are bound by a budget (lets be honest, 99% of people) and you are looking for size, quality, colour, clarity and are less bothered by the origin story - then for the love of mother-nature, look at the possibilities of a lab. 

 

Answering The Daunting Question, "Woah, is that a natural!?"

You may have no anxiety around being called to question on the lab vs natural query, however it is a real thing for a lot of people. 

The sometimes uncomfortable feeling when asked "is that a natural", comes from the lack of confidence in knowing the full context of 'Lab vs Natural'. So let me ease some of that fear and allow you full conviction next time you say, "No actually, its a bloody beauuutiful Lab". 


Here we go, the main points we need to hit on...

ENERGY CONSUMPTION

Front and centre of the sustainability argument, is this fact alone. 

I've likely lost the chance to say 'preface', whilst I am deep into an article, regardless, I want to preface what I say here with the fact that in many key points of this discussion, there is very little separation in the two positions. For me to side with one vs the other in a particular area, may be by a very marginal fraction and it is definitely not to suggest that the 'other' side doesn't have a significant amount of work to be done as well. Which leads perfectly into.... Energy Consumption.

The energy consumption of lab-grown diamonds vs natural diamonds can vary depending on the method used to extract the diamond and the method used to grow the lab-grown diamond.

A recent study by the MDPI found that the energy consumption of creating a lab-grown diamond using the Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) method is lower than the energy consumption of extracting a diamond from the earth, when taking into account the entire life cycle of the diamond. The study also found that the energy consumption of creating a lab-grown diamond using the High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) method is higher than the energy consumption of extracting a diamond from the earth.

Provides little clarity right? I know, I hear you. But let me layer on some points to consider...

Let's get into;

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

Natural diamond mining, will generally be geographical located in areas with more distance to cover for the majority of the market, post-mining. The transportation effects are thus usually slightly higher. Lab-grown factories do have the ability to be situated closer to cutting locations, and throughout the world closer to consumer markets. 

The environmental impact of the mines themselves are a significant factor to consider. It is worth to note that the diamond industry is making efforts to reduce the environmental impact of diamond mining. Some mines have implemented sustainable mining practices and have been certified as environmentally friendly. Lab-grown diamonds are brewed in a controlled environment, which means they don't require the destruction of natural habitats. Therefore I feel that the aggregate conditions do lean towards natural mining having a more negative impactful affect, in this particular instance. 

We also need to appreciate the lifecycle of the reasonably new industry of Lab-Grown diamonds. So it is worth mentioning that as technology improves and the process of creating lab-grown diamonds becomes more energy-efficient, the energy consumption of lab-grown diamonds will decrease.

CONSUMABLES & WASTE

Where I feel that Natural gets the edge over Lab, is in the consumables used during the growth process. 

The diamond growth process requires a significant amount of water for cooling and other processes. This can be a concern in areas where water is scarce.

Chemical use: Some lab-grown diamond producers use chemicals in the diamond growth process, which can be harmful to the environment if not properly handled.

Waste disposal: The diamond growth process also generates waste materials, such as carbon, which must be disposed of properly to avoid environmental harm.

Similarly to the environment impact off-set from the Natural Diamond community - it's worth noting that some lab-grown diamond producers are taking steps to reduce their environmental impact, such as using renewable energy sources, recycling materials, and implementing sustainable practices.

LABOUR CONDITIONS

With a substantial effort in recent years to vastly improve labour conditions (I say substantial, as this should be an ongoing focus for everyone in the industry and we can always be doing more) - thankfully, the flow of diamonds from conflict areas exploiting child labour, has been greatly reduced. 

On this aspect alone, natural need to have the receipts to show.

Of course, lab-grown should not be off the hook to demand improved working conditions in areas that have historical concerns within similar practices (gemstone cutting etc.). 

 

QUALITY

Now, with our ethical needs tickled, we of course need to be sure on the quality of the rock perched on your knuckle. 

With the lab-grown process replicating the earths conditions and material used for natural diamonds, just condensed in time period, they are (almost) perfectly identical in terms of appearance. They both are exposed to the same quirks of clarity and colour, which was actually something that surprised me when I first looked into Labs - that they do come out with the same inclusions rendering the full clarity grades from I or SI (Included or Slight Included), through to Flawless. 

Before the owl-eyed diamond kings jump in on this - yes, I do understand that there is comparative differences between Natural and Lab. The same way, there is probably a difference between an 1869 Chateau Lafite and a red wine from a silver sack... But I sure wouldn't know it. Put it this way, you would be hard pressed to find a handful of jewellers in Australia to accurately and consistently identify lab grown diamond compared to a natural.  

 

I want to dispel a myth, or 'misconception' at least around the price of diamonds being tied to scarcity alone. Those within the jewellery industry and consumers alike, use this is both a badge of honour or wrecking ball (depending on what side of the argument you are on). 

From the diamond industry; "All the natural, earth made diamonds are already created so there is a finite number of them. Lab made diamonds, on the other hand, can be produced at scale meaning their value is not tied to their rarity as they can be made limitlessly" - a quote from BlueNile.

This is a ridiculous claim by BlueNile. If we are defending the natural finite flow of diamonds being an indicator of value and rarity, then let's allow that volume to dictate market prices, unimpeded by any macro forces... such as corporations controlling what is able to enter the market and at what price. That is just as much of a 'man-made' construct as a lab grown diamond. 

On the other hand, if you're out to tarnish the reputation of diamonds scarcity - you'll claim that they 'are not even that rare' or 'their rarity is controlled by big-corp'. As mentioned above, both of these statements are true. 

However, I want to simply highlight that this isn't where we feel the value should be tied to.

Diamonds are amazing stones. Bottomline. When you shoot a diamond under a macro lens for the first time, you can really appreciate how these minerals dance. Then couple this with the durability of your 'every day ring'. The value holds court on these two aspects alone.

Now, is the price at where it should be? Not sure. Maybe not. However, I just wanted to make a point of mentioning why these stones, whether lab or natural diamond, have a tremendous value proposition for your engagement ring that is well beyond 'rarity'. 

At the end of the day, the individualism, will come from the uniqueness of the design, the pairing of the accent stones or cluster - those finer touches. If you've been with us for a while now, you'll know that we characteristics of the piece that make it special - really comes down to the choices that you make. That always mean the most to her. Believe me.

FINAL SUMMARY

We love natural. Which is why we look for unappreciated natural diamonds that come at a significant price advantage for no other reason than the industries unreasonable denouncement of the "undesirable" nature of these types of diamonds.

Diamonds such as, warm white diamonds in the S+ range. Or heavily included champagne diamonds. There are plenty of opportunities for beautiful and 'rejected' natural diamonds that work amazingly within a budget. 

However, if you are set on a clean, high clarity white diamond and you're not set on a natural, consider the bang for your buck that you'll gain by flipping over to lab-grown world.

 

Either way, our focus is linking you up with the gemstone or diamond that best represents YOU. We're essentially a gemstone dating app, for couples looking for that perfect 'one'.

So just let us know where you stand and we'll put together the options, bias free, without industry riff raff and let you hit it off!

Lei è - The Unique Engagement Rings. A non-traditional approach of creating and highlighting the individualistic characteristics for your engagement ring. 

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