With over 67 percent of consumers considering sustainability when shopping, it’s not surprising that sartorial savvy shoppers have turned their attention to another part of their wardrobe - their jewellery.
From reclaimed Gold to ethically sourced gemstones, the world of sustainable jewellery is vast and wide - no wonder it’s easy to feel confused or get lost amongst the noise. Here, we answer your important questions, from sustainable Diamond mining to whether lab grown Diamonds are eco friendly.
Not to mention, we introduce you to the most beguiling sustainable Diamond solution - vintage and antique diamonds, also known as recycled and repurposed Diamonds giving you all the bang with plenty of buck for the fizz!
Are Diamonds Sustainable? What is a Sustainable Diamond?
To put it simply, sustainable and ethical jewellery is jewellery that has transparent and traceable lines of production, responsibly-sourced materials and has minimal effect on the environment. This is why it isn’t surprising that new earth-mined Diamonds and other precious gemstones have fallen under the loupe in the last few years, routinely criticised for their lack of sustainability and their lack of ethics.
How Sustainable are Diamonds?
You ask, we answer. Here are the reasons why people can never make a decision over whether Diamonds are sustainable or not and whether they should buy earth-mined or lab-grown. From carbon emissions to supporting local economies and long-term value - grab a cup of tea and settle in.
For years, the Diamond mining industry has been plagued with labour abuses and a persistent lack of transparency despite commitments to reform. So far, this has meant that synthetic Diamonds have outshone their earth-mined Diamond competitors as the eco-friendly Diamond of choice.
Does Sustainable and Ethical Diamond Mining Exist?
Since the middle of the 20th century, earth-mined Diamonds have been pinpointed as both a human rights and natural disaster. From the gaping holes in the earth to the plethora of ethical abuses, the Diamond mining industry has struggled to retain its sparkly credentials - especially to the generation Z & millennial market. Diamond mining has had a dark, convoluted and colonial history, linked to slave labour and trafficking. However, when you look into the glittering facets of a round brilliant, you are so far removed from the Diamond industry that it’s easy to forget that it was once a rough-cut stone pulled from the earth.
There are two kinds of Diamond mining. One type is where you plough deep into the Earth’s crust to extract Diamonds from ancient kimberlite formations via pipes. The other type is through alluvial mining extraction in riverbeds and on the ocean floor. Whilst Diamonds can be mined in Canada, Russia, India and the USA, the country with the largest share of Diamond mining is in Africa. This is of course linked to the Global North’s colonial expansion from the 16th to the 19th century, which caused widespre, and there has been attempts to reform this through various schemes like the Kimberley Process in 2003.
What is the Kimberley Process?
The Kimberly Process was a multinational trade agreement formed by the UN to help stop blood Diamonds from entering the market. Yet, no matter how the Diamond is extracted, it requires extensive man and machine power. Informal alluvial mining, also known as artisanal mining, is the most dangerous and unethical of Diamond mines, and it is still believed that this occurs today. It is believed that 1 million African alluvial Diamond miners earn less than 1 dollar a day, and are forced to work in unregulated, often dire conditions, perpetuating the cycle of poverty that was enforced by the Global North 300 years ago.
According to Stanford University, Sierra Leone, one of the African countries ravaged by the mined Diamond industry, has suffered severe social and economical issues as a result. The war between 1991 and 1999 claimed over 75,000 lives, caused 500,000 refugees and displaced 4.5 million people. The Kimberly Process sought to resolve this, but it’s narrow terms of certification for a Diamond to be an “ethical Kimberly Process Diamond” has ignored the health and safety of working conditions, use of child labour and pay. What’s more, the Kimberly Process certificate only applies to a batch of rough cut Diamonds, so it only takes one bribe for a blood Diamond to slip through the cracks.
This all comes down to mining being a huge money making business. So, with all of this considered, it is no wonder that people are preferring to shop for lab grown Diamonds instead. Infact, clever marketing tactics have been put in place to call these Diamonds “conflict-free”. The perception of the general populace is definitely shifting, and once you plainly see how devastating new earth-mined Diamonds can be, and the slew of reasons why lab-grown Diamonds are the more sustainable and ethical option, you immediately want to go buy one. To combat this, and to save face, De Beers have been launching annual public reports showing their continual commitment towards sustainability. However, you can always doubt how sustainable and ethical a mined Diamond really is. Truthfully, it will never be definitive.
Want to Know More About Sustainable Jewellery?
Are Lab Grown Diamonds More Ethical?
However, in 2021 the lab-grown or synthetic Diamond industry hit the rocks with Bain & Company’s 2020-2021 global Diamond report accusing the synthetic Diamond industry of also lacking in transparency, that they are not the ultimate eco-friendly Diamonds you are led to believe. For example, approximately 50 to 60 per cent of synthetic Diamonds are produced in China, where a specific type of high-pressure technology is used rather than the clean-chemical vapour technology used in India and USA. The main difference between this is that the former technique is far more energy intensive, causing more carbon emissions. In fact, to make a lab-grown Diamond you need to simulate the same environment as a natural Diamond with carbon and a high-pressure, high-temperature environment. Essentially, lots of carbon and lots of energy. Many lab-grown Diamond companies source their carbon from the drilling and fracking of fossil fuels, also damaging the earth and releasing plenty of toxic emissions in the process. So, lab grown Diamonds are not exactly the “green” Diamonds we all initially think they are.
Plus, as mentioned before, there is an increasing investment and growth in sustainable Diamond mining. Mining companies like De Beers are reportedly focusing on reforming artisanal mines, with a particular emphasis on education around sustainable mining practices and increasing employment opportunities. The fear that Diamond mining companies place on consumers is that if the market shifted completely towards lab-grown Diamonds, the communities that rely on Diamond mines for income and stability would be lost, causing more damage than good, and therefore could be considered as an equally unethical purchase.
However, an uncomfortable truth is that the Diamond mining industry is steeped in colonialism. Vogue interviewed Dr Kathryn Moore, a senior lecturer of Critical Green and Technology Metals at Exeter University about the current state of the lab grown vs mined Diamond industry. Interestingly, Moore also makes a case that the dominance of lab-grown Diamonds will increase economic opportunities within the Global North which will lead to the economic decline of traditional mining nations. In a way, this reinforces colonial patterns. It is no secret that the West and Global North’s advent for consumerism and consumption is one of the main causes of climate change - which actually affects the Global South more through serious and life-threatening weather changes. The easiness and readiness in which the Global North can access lab-grown Diamonds over earth-mined Diamonds is, Moore argues, feeding this consumption. With this in mind, our love for new things instantly and our willingness to attack something that is not as sustainable is a double-edged sword and could be perpetuating centuries-old colonial patterns and behaviours.
Essentially, much like the entirety of this debate - there is no clear winner. De Beers and other leading Diamond companies have stated their case for reformation, from creating strict codes of practise, to bolstering local communities and contributing to significant economic growth within countries previously affected by civil wars. As Dr Kathryn Moore said, is our prevalence for lab-grown now just feeding our consumption even more, is it just ignoring rather than helping to fix the problems within the Diamond industry ultimately causing further damage and feeding the harmful notion that “west is best”?.
So, overall are Diamonds sustainable?
This debate can continue forever! Despite the undeniable brilliance and beauty of Diamonds, their sustainable credentials can easily be brought into question. No matter whether you are team lab-grown or team earth-mined you can argue both ways about the sustainability and ethics of either types of Diamonds. Do you value the preservation of the Earth more than the growth of local communities in the global south? Can we place trust that the big Diamond mining companies are committed to long-term progressive change? New evidence will always surface in the earth-mined Diamonds vs lab-grown Diamonds debate, with no clear winner.
What is clear is that Diamonds aren’t ever going to be out of fashion. Since De Beers famous “A Diamond is Forever” marketing slogan of 1948, Diamonds have solidified themselves as an iconic and premium gemstone. Simply put, they are untouchable. In the luxury sector the “real is rare” exclusivity of natural earth-mined Diamonds makes them an attractive investment choice for once in a lifetime pieces like engagement rings. Which is why, no matter how unethical Diamond mining is purported to be, it will always come down to money. But, let’s enter a new player into the mix - recycled, repurposed and second-hand Diamonds.
If you are familiar with sustainability - you probably have heard of a little motto - reduce, reuse and recycle. But, what most Diamond lovers don’t know is that you can have recycled Diamonds; Diamonds that have been repurposed, re-cut and then re-fashioned into a new sparkling piece of jewellery. Recycled Diamonds, as a sustainable Diamond solution, stops future harm from improper and unethical Diamond mining practises. This is why buying antique, vintage, recycled or repurposed Diamonds is easily the most sustainable Diamond option of all. They are already pre-existing Diamonds, and can also save you a little bit of cash in the process. Not to mention, they become dignified heirlooms and if you are buying an earth-mined antique Diamond, they retain their value.
The ultimate eco-friendly engagement ring, antique Diamonds may be gems of the past, but they can help your future.
What are carbon negative Diamonds?
Radical investment in sustainable science has paved the way for a new kind of lab-grown Diamond to enter the market: carbon-negative Diamonds. One of the arguments against lab-grown Diamonds is that they are still incredibly energy intensive, and they still require carbon from fossil fuels. This is where carbon negative Diamonds come into play.
One of the leading carbon-negative Diamond companies is Aether.
So how exactly are carbon negative Diamonds created? Atmospheric collectors pull carbon dioxide straight out of the atmosphere and the CO2 is captured in a special filter - a one of a kind process. According to Aether, for every 1 carat of Diamond sold, 20 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere is removed. The captured CO2 is then synthesized into usable hydrocarbon raw material, the perfect growing conditions for a Diamond. This entirely removes the carbon that was traditionally obtained from fossil fuels and drilling and fracking. Not to mention, the entirety of their production is carbon offset.
But, how expensive is this for us as a consumer?
Well, an Aether 1.00ct round Diamond solitaire ring in 18K fairmined Yellow Gold retails for just shy of 6,400 US dollars (approximately £4,700). In comparison to an earth-mined Diamond ring from Blue Nile this is over £7000 or around 9,500 dollars. And, a sustainable rated lab grown Diamond ring from Brilliant Earth is £2430. So, Aether sits right in the middle of both options.
Of course one of the best and most affordable options is through vintage diamond rings. Take this Art Deco Diamond solitaire, although just shy of 1.00ct the 0.85ct Diamond ring is £1995 - the most affordable option of all, and it has not been recreated, newly earth-mined or made.
How To Buy Eco Friendly Diamonds
Ethical Diamond Buying Guide
So with all of this in mind, is it ethical to buy Diamonds?
If you don’t know exactly what you are looking for, buying the right kind of Diamond for yourself can be a trying process. There are multiple Diamond buzzwords which can even confuse the most dazzling Diamond denizen, from certifications to colours, cuts and carats. Ultimately if you want to buy an ethical Diamond or a sustainably-sourced Diamond, it’s all about researching the claims that companies are making. Companies will always want sales, so clever marketing tactics are put in place to lead you into a false sense of security. Don’t be afraid to pop them an email or Instagram DM. For example, why not ask them about third party certification if they claim to be sustainable and if they aren't forthcoming with information consider that to be a red flag. According to the World Diamond Council, 14 percent of Diamonds comes from informal Diamond digging, which is a far greater percentage than 0.
One of the third party certifications to keep your eyes peeled out for is the SCS-007. This new form of certification can offer an independently verified proof of a Diamond’s origin and journey through custody. This information is given to dealers, designers, retailers and customers, making it much harder for conflict Diamonds to enter into the mix.
Buying a second hand, vintage or antique Diamond ring is one of the best options for buying a no-impact Diamond. Buying a 1.00ct antique Diamond ring can save over 100 kgs of CO2, 2.6 tonnes of heavy metal leaking into the soil, over 100 kwh of energy and 1.8kg of industrial waste, and so much more. We are more than happy to chat to you about any queries or questions that you may have about our antique Diamond engagement rings!
Eco Friendly Diamond Engagement Rings
Finding the right vintage jewellery shop that works for you is like a badge of honour - which is why we want to share the loveliness of Lillicoco with the world. Our selection of eco friendly Diamond engagement rings are a cut above the rest, each handpicked from history.
If you are looking for antique sustainable diamonds in the UK and beyond, our scintillating collection should certainly be a consideration.