Lab-Created Diamonds: An Emerging Movement to Protect People and Places

EthicMark® GEMS has started asking consumers to pledge to never purchase a mined stone and instead look for sustainable options like Lab-created diamonds.

In 2015, 135 million carats of diamonds were mined. In that same time period, children as young as 11 years old worked alongside adults (Amnesty International). In any given year, some mining operations create enough salty water to fill 40 Olympic-sized swimming pools every day, and a 1.0 ct diamond requires moving as much as 1,750 tons of earth. Humans like to adorn themselves whether with paint, tattoos, fabric, metal or stone. We cannot expect jewelry to disappear, nor would we want to limit this form of creativity. Instead, we can strive to do no harm, or at least do less harm to the important resources on this limited planet: people, land, water, biota. An important alternative is lab-created diamonds and gemstones.

The advantages of lab-created gemstones over mined stones are so extensive that a movement has started asking consumers to pledge to never purchase a mined stone.

Gems created from human ingenuity have many advantages. They do not require pillage of the land. The labor pool is educated and of age. Energy and water resources are a fraction of that used in gem mining. No children are maimed. There is a vocal industry group promoting lab-created diamonds, asking that the diamond cartels adhere to fair practices and allow the market to determine best value. The US Federal Trade Commission has been formally asked to even the playing field with judgement-neutral language in its standards on jewelry.

The movement toward lab-created gems is at an early stage. Ethical Markets Media is taking on this initiative with its EthicMark® GEMS standard created by sustainability pioneer Hazel Henderson, founder of Ethical Markets Media, setting standards in investing, finance and advertising.

EthicMark® GEMS challenges the global mining of gems – unnecessary, now that human science creates gems indistinguishable from those mined.  EthicMark® GEMS certifies only gems created by Earth-friendly materials science, are conflict and cruelty free, more humane and sustainable. This early phase of the movement is not unlike that which curtailed the fur industry. Once the cruelty to animals solely for fashion was made prominent, many in the public eye came out against wearing furs, thus changing the fashion.

Lab-created diamonds
[Image Courtesy: EthicMark® GEMS]
The horrors of conflict diamonds go beyond cute animals and persist despite the Kimberley Process prohibiting diamond sales to fund civil wars. Even if one assumes the horrors of conflict diamonds have ended, one might question whether the income to miners in otherwise impoverished areas justifies the practice. Diamond miners make an average of $0.07 per day. One can purchase a 1.0 carat stone, cut and polished, at a retail store in the US for between $3,500 and $5,500 (H-color, very good cut, VS1 clarity). While there are certainly intermediaries, artisans, marketing and distribution considerations, is it really a value-added hundreds of times more than the miner is paid?

 

Looking more closely at marketing, the diamond retail industry has created an artificial need for diamond engagement rings and even put a price tag on love – two months’ salary. Sentiment aside, mined diamonds are often touted as a long-term investment, however the Wall Street Journal reports that investments in mined diamonds lost half their real purchasing power between 1978 and 2015. Increasingly Millennials are rejecting the artificial and inconsistent symbology of mined diamonds as tokens of love in favor of wise use of current funds. Faced with education debt and a challenging job market, Millennials are turning to the many other options available: from resale websites such as IDoNowIDont.com and Circa Jewels; to alternative materials – glass, found stones, synthetics; to lab-created diamonds which can retail from 80% even down to 10% of the cost of a mined stone, for example MiaDonna, and Stauer. Even Leonardo DiCaprio, star of the movie Blood Diamonds, now produces lab-created gems in his company Diamond Foundry.

 

Clever marketing has also turned lesser-valued minded diamonds, such as brown diamonds typically used for industrial purposes, into a high-demand fashion statement. Brown diamonds are now referred to as “chocolate” or “champagne” when they are actually the most common color of mined diamonds with significantly reduced sparkle. If bling is the objective, IGI (International Gemological Institute) has certified the largest grown colorless diamond, a 10.02 ct emerald cut fashioned from a 32.26 ct lab-created rough stone. Spreading increasing awareness that lab-created diamonds are equally beautiful and far less damaging than mined diamonds, the incipient movement to divorce love from cruelty is gaining ground.

 

10 COMMENTS

  1. How exactly do you plan to ‘transition for miners to sustainable jobs and livelihoods’? For example what is the next biggest employer in rural Sierra Leone after mining and agriculture?

    Unless you really can sort this out, Lab created diamonds can’t really be considered ethical. I agree that mining conditions can be terrible and wages pitifully low but take away that source of income from people and what do they have?

    If the people behind initiatives like ‘ethic mark’ really cared about the people who work in terrible conditions ( its quite clear they don’t and are just jumping on the ethical bandwagon) then their main priority would be to improve the conditions that they work in rather than taking away their livelihood and using their suffering as a stick to beat the existing diamond industry with.

    Take the example of someone like Gregg Valerio who’s actions over the last 15 years improved the lives of people working in mines all over the world. His work with fairmined and fair trade gold has shown that it is possible for mined materials to be both genuinely ethical and have minimal impact on the environment. To write an article about ethical issues and to not mention that not all mined materials cause suffering and damage to the environment makes it clear that you care more about promoting your product than the ethical issues that you talk about. Its not as simple as Lab grown = Good, Mined = Bad

    I’m not against lab-grown diamonds but to try and capitalize on peoples suffering to promote a product is wrong. The really good work is being done to improve the lives of people in mines all over the world.

    • What do you think they are going to do when the mine runs out in 10 years time? Thats if they’re not dead from health and safety ‘oversights’. At least lab diamonds don’t leave us with a bloody great hole in the ground and land and waters that are no longer much use for either fishing or farming.

  2. Dear entranceticket, thank you for your passionate response. We do not represent the lab-created industry nor do we provide such a product ourselves. Rather, we support and encourage the movement. We agree completely that there should be better alternatives for employment. All the pieces move in conjunction. As an organization, we set the highest standards possible. We know there are challenges to meeting those goals. We laud the efforts of Valerio, Brilliant Earth and others. This is necessary to a transition to more sustainable livelihoods away from mining for luxury. We pointedly do not enter the debate in reference to minerals.

  3. By promoting initiatives like ‘Ethic Mark’ you have entered the debate in reference to minerals.

    My point is that you should not be ‘promoting a movement’ that takes jobs and wages away from some of the poorest people in the world, without detailed plans for their future employment,when there is an alternative. If you have detailed plans for their future employment then I’d be delighted to hear them.

    However, if you do, it begs the question – why has this not been implemented before now? If you have all these wonderful, sustainable jobs for artisanal diamond miners from all around the world to walk into ,why have you waited until now to tell everybody?. The problem of unemployment in much of the world is a huge problem yet lab-grown diamond producers have waited until they have a viable lab-grown diamond product to tell everybody that they’ve worked it out. This doesn’t stack up.

  4. We have not “worked it out.” We are working it out – reducing demand of mined gems is one aspect. The miniscule wages and great poverty of miners and their communities reflects in part misallocation of resources at the national level. As you know, education and other public works, improving health and access to clean water and food play a role, requiring political will and ending conflicts. The multi-billion dollar mining industry is not alleviating poverty. The jobs created are important, so there needs to be alternative employment – agreed. It may be that lab-created gems can be manufactured in impoverished areas. We welcome the discussion and the valid points dialog brings to light. There is no single solution.

  5. I am glad you are ‘working it out’ but I think it is irresponsible to post articles which paint such a biased and simplified picture of what is a complex issue. The tone of the article suggests that it is ‘worked out’ and that customers shouldn’t even consider that a mined diamond can have a positive impact on the people who mine them. Its the same tactics that the traditional diamond industry uses to try and prevent people from thinking too much about their product.

    ‘It may be that lab-created gems can be manufactured in impoverished area’s’ – What a vague answer. The likely hood is that they won’t be. Industrial operations like creating lab-grown diamonds need significant amounts of energy, infrastructure and a trained workforce which aren’t available in area’s where artisanal mining provides a large proportion of peoples income. Why build a diamond growing Lab in rural Congo when you can use existing facilities in somewhere like Hong Kong and save yourself plenty of time and money. Please be realistic, there is virtually no chance that the people working in artisanal mines will end up working for diamond labs.

  6. Alot of times, people have jewelery lying around that they don’t wear anymore, maybe some Tiffany jewelry, maybe a diamond necklace that you haven’t worn in years. Instead of taking up used space, why not make some money from all those jewelry pieces you haven’t even looked at for a long time? Sell jewelry, sell diamonds, sell watches, or even antique coins. Doesn’t matter, these items will always have great value. And theres no better place than NYC to sell jewelry, where the heart of the diamond district is. You can sell diamonds in NYC, you can sell gold in NYC, doesn’t matter. In the Diamond District, anything goes.

  7. A lot of times, people that have jewelry laying around can either sell jewelry or pawn jewelry. If they are in the NYC area they can go to the diamond district, the best place to sell jewelry

    around that they don’t wear anymore, maybe some Tiffany jewelry, maybe a diamond necklace that you haven’t worn in years. Instead of taking up used space, why not make some money from all those jewelry pieces you haven’t even looked at for a long time? Sell jewelry, sell diamonds, sell watches, or even antique coins. Doesn’t matter, these items will always have great value. And theres no better place than NYC to sell jewelry, where the heart of the diamond district is. You can sell diamonds in NYC, you can sell gold in NYC, doesn’t matter. In the Diamond District, anything goes.

  8. When it comes to diamond mining operations, diamonds most certainly aren’t forever. those miners that everyone is fretting about will be out of work within 15 years anyway when the mine dries up. Or, considering the human rights and health and safety issues surrounding many of the african mines, probably dead, along with their children who are working in the mines with them.

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