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Real Diamonds Vs. Lab-Grown: Which is More Sustainable?

Naman Bajaj
January 26, 2024
hand-with-diamond-ring

You have probably heard the phrase, "A Diamond is Forever." It was one of the most successful advertising slogans in history. This slogan, coined for the De Beers company in 1947, significantly increased the popularity of diamonds over other gems like rubies and sapphires despite their higher price.

But diamonds are not the most sustainable and socially responsible gems, as they have a history rooted in colonialism and the exploitation of the planet. In recent decades, a new contender has emerged: lab-grown diamonds. These diamonds are claimed to be better for both people and the planet. But are lab-grown diamonds sustainable? Let's find out.

The environmental impact of diamond mining

Natural diamonds are formed deep beneath the Earth’s surface when carbon atoms arrange themselves into a crystalline structure. This structure gives diamonds their extraordinary strength and brilliance.

These diamonds can be brought to the surface through volcanic eruptions or mining operations.

Mining is harmful to the planet. The overall mining industry is responsible for 4-7% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. Mining for diamonds is no different. According to a 2021 report, mining for one carat (200 milligrams or 0.007 ounces) of diamond requires the extraction of 1,000 tonnes of earth, the use of 101 kilowatt-hours of energy, and the consumption of 3,900 liters (1030 gallons) of water, generating 1.13 kgs (2.5 lbs) of atmospheric particulate pollutants, 2.7 tonnes of heavy metals, 4.3 tonnes of rock debris and 1.9 kgs (4.2 lbs) of industrial waste.

One carat of diamond has an average carbon footprint of 108.5 kgs of CO2. If we extrapolate it to 147 million carats (the amount produced in 2018), that would add up to about 16 million tonnes of CO2 per year, the equivalent of almost 3.5 million cars.

These environmental consequences cannot be overlooked.

Lab-grown diamond: An alternative to natural diamond

Lab-grown diamonds are created in controlled laboratory environments using advanced technology and innovative processes. There are two primary methods used to create lab-grown diamonds: Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) and High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT).

These methods replicate the natural process of the formation of diamonds, but they can be made in a shorter period. The hardness, brilliance, and durability of lab-grown diamonds are similar to natural diamonds, and they have the same chemical composition at the molecular level.

Unfortunately, there haven’t been a lot of studies done on the environmental impact of lab-grown diamonds, but the one done by consultancy Frost & Sullivan in 2014 touts lab-grown diamonds as a more sustainable alternative. It concludes that lab-grown diamonds consume seven times less water, use less than half the energy, emit less than 5% of the CO2 of natural diamonds, and do not alter ecosystems.

Should you buy lab-grown diamonds?

Based on the latest research, lab-grown diamonds provide a more sustainable alternative for environmentally conscious consumers. Lab-grown diamond brands such as Aether and Skydiamond claim to have a negative carbon footprint by using CO2 captured from the atmosphere as their raw material.

If you are skeptical about lab-grown diamonds and prefer natural ones, consider opting for secondhand diamonds, as they do not contribute to new mining activities.

You can also explore other gemstones from these 9 Sustainable Jewelry Brands That Offset Their Emissions.

Naman Bajaj
January 26, 2024

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