Jewellery Designer & Goldsmith

Sustainability in Diamonds versus Lab-grown Diamonds

sustainability in diamonds versus labgrown diamonds

Introduction

Artemis GEO hosted an event on the 28th of October 2022, with guest speaker, Iris Van Der Veken. Iris talks about her start-up company with Cartier & Kering, focusing on sustainability and gender equality. During the evening someone in the audience asked Iris; “Why are we still mining for diamonds when we are able to replicate them perfectly in laboratories?” 

This question struck me, as the predominant topic of the evening is “Sustainability”.  It also makes me question, where the real sustainability is in diamonds versus lab-grown diamonds. Which is more sustainable? It is a heated topic in the jewellery trade and one where we can debate on for hours. 

sustainabitity in diamonds versus lab-grown diamonds
image from KP Civil Society website article: "Grassroots research on local diamond mining impact"

ASM diamond mining in a nutshell

We all know that diamonds are naturally formed deep down in the earths’ depths. They start off as pieces of charcoal, which, under immense pressure, turn into diamonds and work their way to the surface on various levels under and even above ground. 

Approximately ten million people, globally, work directly or indirectly in the diamond mining industry, of which twenty percent are in artisanal small-scale mining (ASM). 

What is an artisanal small-scale miner? It is a miner who is not officially employed by a company but works independently. Mining minerals using their own tools, working predominantly by hand. 

Lab-grown Diamonds in a nutshell

Lab-grown diamonds are synthetic diamonds. They are generated or produced in factories, using high-tech machines operated by people.

In 2019 China produced 56% of the global lab-grown diamond production, which makes them the highest producer, worldwide. Approximately 85% of their production goes to Europe.

sustainability in diamonds versus lab-grown diamonds
Image from the article written by the Jewellery Magazine

This leads me to the question; “Why continue to mine for diamonds, when they are perfectly replicated by man?”

It is a valid question and one certainly worth thinking about. But if we stop mining for diamonds and only create lab-grown diamonds, then I ask myself, where does that leave sustainability? Isn’t making diamond mining obsolete, causing less sustainability? Isn’t taking away the livelihood of thousands of mining communities around the world, causing more poverty and famine, an unsustainable solution?  

Diamonds versus lab-grown diamonds

The impact of the above statement is consequently devastating. If we only produce, sell and buy lab-grown diamonds, subsequently, approximately two million people fall without work or a means to support themselves. Entire communities, who are already living below the poverty line, will starve.

All ASM happens in developing countries, for example, the DRC is one of the largest ASM producing countries for diamonds. So as you can see, ASM is an important socio-economic sector for the rural poor in many developing nations, many of whom have little or no means for supporting their families other than mining.

On the other hand, think about where, and how lab-grown diamonds are produced.  China is known for its terrible working conditions, pollution, and human rights violations… “but they use solar powering, and it isn’t extracted from nature” is their biggest selling point. It is important to dig deeper (no pun intended).

What does sustainability mean to me?

Sustainability is not just taking care of mother earth, by way of replacing natural with synthetic (or man-made), it is also taking care of its people; making sure there is a future for the next generation. 

Another key point about sustainability, in my opinion,  is that it should apply to all living creatures as well as mother nature. Learn to live in harmony with our earth, this is something we have lost, through our greed and selfish acts, by creating a throwaway society. Should we not make sure that future generations, on all sides of the globe, live and work in decent conditions, and can benefit from earths resources in a responsible, conscious and circular way? 

If we work together to “clean up” the ASM diamond mining, why can’t it continue. Creating a circular working policy. Making sure there is work safety, gender quality, and communities thrive from ASM diamond mining, so their children can go to school and miners can earn a decent living. 

Is it possible to mine sustainably?

Yes it is possible. Just look at the success story of Fairmined. It is a perfect example of sustainability. 

Fairmined are a non-profit organisation supporting ASM in the gold mining areas in Colombia and Peru. We see here that the miners have a good salary, work in a safe environment, there is gender equality and a sustainability policy. The mining sites operate with a circular system for the water supply, and the earth of the excavated mine(s). Fairmined gold is completely traceable from mine to market. So if it can be done in the gold mines, surely we should be able to implicate the same standards and ideals and work ethics in the ASM diamond mining industry? 

Interested in finding out more about commissioning responsibly sources raw materials for your bespoke jewellery? Contact Saskia directly via email or book an appointment and visit her in the workshop to discuss your ideas. 

three diamond engagement ring
Engagement ring with customer's own old-cut diamonds from vintage piece of jewellery which was broken. Giving diamonds a second life
ethical wedding rings
Handmade Fairmined eco gold wedding rings. Hers is set with responsibly mined champagne diamonds from the Argyl mine in Australia
diamond engagement ring
Wedding ring in Fairmined eco gold and set with a 1ct lab-grown diamond at the customer's request, because, personally, I do not think there is enough transparency about the resources of lab-grown diamonds

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