Is the growth of the artificial diamond industry sustainable?
Diamonds are traditionally considered one of the rarest and most precious materials on earth.
They have evolved into one of the most sought-after treasures and often feature as centre-pieces in monumentally important life events such as engagements or anniversaries.
Today, diamonds are typically seen as a representation of love and endurance. Yet, with diamonds being a finite and costly resource, it is no surprise that humans have found an alternative.
The history of lab-grown diamonds
Diamonds are the hardest substance found in the natural world.
Like their naturally occurring counterparts, synthetic diamonds are created under intense conditions of heat and pressure. The unique properties of the diamond, including its hardness, electrical resistance, thermal conductivity and transparency, first led people to try and recreate the natural form for industrial purposes.
There have been attempts to recreate the natural diamond since scientists discovered the gems are made of pure carbon in 1797. The first successfully replicable synthetic diamond was not created until hundreds of years later, in 1954.
And it wasn’t until the 1970s and 80s that lab-grown diamonds began reaching gem quality and being sold commercially.
How artificial diamonds have developed
Currently, Pandora is making plans to move away from mined diamonds. The business aims to sell exclusively lab-grown diamonds in the future.
This is a far cry from the initial reaction to artificial diamonds, which saw the gems as subpar and incomparable to the real thing. Of course, as James Sanders of London Diamonds says, much has changed within the lab-grown diamond industry since then.
The first successfully synthesised diamonds were often yellow, contained various inclusions, and were far more expensive to create than natural ones were to mine.
Over time, scientists have been able to perfect methods, and today they can create colourless gems of impeccably high grades.
Costs and value
A synthetic diamond typically costs between 30–40% less than its traditional counterparts. This vast price difference is just one of the reasons why so many consumers have begun choosing machine-made gems instead.
Not everyone can afford to purchase expensive natural diamonds, and to the untrained eye, man-made diamonds look almost identical to those found beneath the earth’s surface. Furthermore, since 1999, scientists have successfully achieved carats, clarity and size in synthetic diamonds that surpass their natural counterparts.
In many ways, it is easy to see why the market has so rapidly embraced artificial diamonds and why more and more people choose them over naturally-occurring jewels.
Environmental factors related to manufacturing diamonds
High levels of energy are necessary when creating diamonds in a factory. But how does the environmental impact of making diamonds in a lab compare to mining them from hundreds of miles below ground?
In general, lab-grown diamonds are now seen as a favourable alternative. The mining of natural diamonds comes at a high environmental price, including greenhouse gas emissions, disruption of environments, and water pollution. Diamond mining is also often associated with grave human costs because of the poor labour conditions of miners.
Recent years have seen a change in the diamond industry, with progress made at improving the environmental and ethical impacts of diamond mining.
A Frost and Sullivan study suggested that natural diamonds require almost 7 times the amount of water and consume twice as much energy as synthetic ones.
But, the reality of the situation is not so simple. It is estimated that 50–60% of lab-grown diamonds come from China and are made using high temperature and pressure technology instead of cleaner chemical vapour techniques.
Given the relative youth of the manufactured diamond industry, some uncertainty regarding the environmental and ethical impacts are to be expected. And there are already industry leaders working towards producing zero-emission diamonds using renewable energy sources to power their growth.
Why do people choose lab-grown diamonds?
While luxury goods remain in demand, even in economically trying times, it is undeniable that they are still affected by such changes.
Man-made diamonds have the potential to fill the space between consumers with large sums of money and those with less who are still looking to purchase something with meaning and value.
Nearly 70% of millennial consumers now say they would consider buying artificial diamonds. This rapid growth in interest in manufactured diamonds has developed partly because of rising awareness and concern over the ethical production of goods.
Climate change has altered many people’s perspectives on how and why products should be bought. Today’s consumers are looking for something that offers both excellent monetary value and provides an improved level of environmental and humanitarian responsibility.
How the industry is evolving
The luxury market is expected to return to pre-2019 health faster than expected, despite the difficulties of the covid-19 pandemic.
The rapid recovery of the luxury market also suggests that the diamond industry can expect increases in sales and revenue over the next few years. The market saw a significant 15–33% drop in revenue in 2020 and has not yet returned to its previous profitability. Experts believe that a complete recovery will be achieved within the next couple of years.
What does to expect for the future of the artificial diamond industry
Experts forecast that over 19.2 million carats of lab-grown diamonds will fill the global market by 2030. This prediction seems to indicate that synthetic diamonds have a prosperous future.
And this growth seems relatively sustainable given that younger generations, particularly millennials and Gen Z, feel favourably towards manufactured diamonds. Older generations may not feel the same way, but future buyers will have the greatest impact going forward.
The man-made diamond industry is still developing. While it is difficult to fully understand the environmental and ethical impacts of the business, it is clear that some are already looking to the future and prioritising the use of renewable energy.
With growing interest and developing technologies behind it, James Sanders of London Diamonds believes the future of lab-grown diamonds is exceedingly bright.