Lab-Created Diamonds: An Emerging Movement to Protect People and Places
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 1.0ct diamond requires moving as much as 1750 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.
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 10.02ct emerald cut fashioned from a 32.26ct 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.