Slacker’s Syllabus: Lab-created diamonds

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Historically, we’ve satisfied our lust for diamonds by mining them. But diamond mining has earned a bad rep.

Diamond mining exacts a heavy human toll

Diamonds have fueled civil wars in Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia, and other African countries. Diamond companies have displaced Indigenous people and others who live near mines. Workers, including children, often face hazardous — and sometimes deadly — conditions.

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Diamond mining can also wreak havoc on the environment

Extracting diamonds consumes a ton of energy — usually from greenhouse gas-releasing fossil fuels — and pollutes the surrounding soil and water supply.

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353 lbs

Amount of greenhouse gases released per polished carat of mined diamond

Trucost ESG Analysis

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Some argue that lab-grown diamonds are a more ethical, sustainable alternative.

Diamonds are crystallized carbon. They form deep underground, where a combination of high temperature and pressure causes carbon atoms to bond and form crystals, often over billions of years.

Lab diamond manufacturers create carbon crystals artificially in a matter of weeks, at most. To the untrained eye, they look just like the real thing — but they tend to be significantly cheaper.

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There are two main methods for growing lab diamonds:

The high-pressure, high-temperature process subjects a carbon material (like graphite) to extremely high temperatures and pressures, similar to those under which diamonds form in nature.

In the chemical vapor deposition process, diamonds grow from a carbon-containing gas under moderate temperatures and pressures.

Gemological Institute of America

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But growing diamonds in the lab isn’t necessarily more ethical or sustainable than mining them.

Issues with lab diamonds Issues with lab diamonds Issues with lab diamonds Issues with lab diamonds

The lab-grown diamond industry has been criticized for poor transparency. The labor practices of its factories remain murky, says Jordan Halter, guest services coordinator at the University of Arizona Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum.

Diamond factories also use a lot of electricity, Halter adds.

Remember the stat we cited earlier — that 353 lbs of greenhouse gases are released per polished carat of mined diamonds? The same report found that 1,126 lbs of greenhouse gases are released per polished carat of lab-grown diamond. (A caveat to keep in mind, though: The report was created on behalf of the Diamond Producers Association, which includes diamond miners.)

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Knowing the background of the supply chain of whatever company you’re going through is the best way to educate yourself.

Jordan Halter, University of Arizona Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum

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All of this is to say, buying bling sourced in a way that aligns with your values is more than a matter of considering only mined or lab-grown stones.

Figure out what’s most important to you, Halter says. Do your homework to find a company that upholds those priorities. Perhaps you want your purchase to help fund the education of mining community members, an initiative many companies offer.

Buy from companies that only source diamonds from countries that participate in the Kimberley Process. This global certification system aims to prevent diamonds used to finance armed conflicts (a.k.a., “conflict diamonds” or “blood diamonds”) from entering the market.

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If diamonds still make you nervous, Halter suggests considering garnets, sapphires, or other colored gemstones. Not only are they cheaper than diamonds, but they’re also easier to trace to their source, because they tend to be more specific to certain regions.