Lab diamonds vs natural diamonds?

Lab diamonds vs natural diamonds?

Possibly the most divisive topic in the jewellery industry right now, lab-grown vs natural!

Firstly, I think we all know by now that the whole ‘diamonds are forever’ slogan was a marketing campaign by De Beers in 1948.

It remains one of the most successful of all time, orchestrated to reinvigorate the faltering diamond market after the great depression, and cemented De Beers' position as the world's biggest diamond producer. Diamonds are not, nor have ever been rare. Another myth. Yet this nonsense is peddled so much it can be difficult for the consumer to know what to believe. 

Before 1948 diamonds were not the ‘go-to’ stone for an engagement ring. Sapphire, ruby, and emerald were generally more popular. That’s not to say diamonds weren’t used, they were, but not in the volume they are now.

 As we become much more aware of the provenance of our diamonds and the ethical sourcing it opens another conversation. Should we be looking at alternative ways of producing gemstones that don’t involve potential conflict? Now this is a HUGE topic that I am in no way educated enough on to get into, and I don’t pretend to know it all (be wary of anyone who claims to). I have one source for my diamonds but in all honestly, can I trace them back to the exact mine and check their practices are ethical? No. I trust my supplier but there are so many parts of the trail and I’m personally wary of anyone who claims to be able to trace every step. While the ‘Kimberly process’ has undoubtedly helped where conflict diamonds are concerned, it doesn’t consider the human cost of mining and the risks involved. That said, mining creates billions in revenue and supports developing countries that rely heavily on the mining industry for their livelihood.

If you can’t get on board with lab-grown but also don’t want to go for mined diamonds, then there are the lesser-known ocean diamonds. These marine diamonds are formed over billions of years and over time end up on the seabed off the West Coast of South Africa for specialist diamond divers to locate. The company ‘Ocean Diamonds’ claims they’re ethical, sustainable, and conflict-free and are something I will be looking at offering after researching further.

Firstly, to clear up any confusion, a lab-grown diamond IS a diamond, no matter what Pete down the pub says. It is NOT a simulant or copy. A diamond simulant is a stone made to resemble the look of a diamond, like cubic zirconia. Whereas both lab-grown and mined diamonds are made entirely of carbon and have the same properties, it’s just the process that’s different. Natural diamonds are formed over billions of years under intense heat and pressure below the earth's mantle, whereas lab diamonds are grown under the same conditions but in a controlled environment. The benefits of this are they’re much cheaper (sometimes up to a tenth of the price), have more clarity, and to the naked eye are indistinguishable from a natural diamond even to a trained gemmologist. However, this could cause problems going forward. If they infiltrate the market (which they no doubt have) and are sold as natural by some unscrupulous traders, then what’s to say you even know what you’re getting? There’s a lot of investment being made into the technology to spot a lab vs natural diamond, but it's going to be expensive and not the sort of thing your local jeweller down the road will have access to. Secondly, they may be conflict-free but they’re certainly not environmentally friendly. The huge infrastructure required to make them is colossal. It takes a huge amount of energy and weeks to make a diamond. Ultimately you must pick your poison here as both have their positives and negatives. There's a fantastic documentary called ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ which is well worth watching.

I’m not here to push my views on this topic. Honestly, I don’t have enough clear understanding and knowledge about either practice. As a jeweller, it's my job to educate you and show you what’s available and explain as well as I can the differences and cost implications but ultimately, it’s your choice. Both have their place; it comes down to personal preference and budget. I think we’re all getting a bit ‘wise’ to these marketing tactics and the younger generation is shunning a lot of ‘tradition’ and looking at completely different gemstone options which is great!

You can read my blog on picking an engagement ring for help on which stones may or may not be suitable for everyday wear. There are many overlooked gemstones, a favourite being moissanite. They’re more refractive, making them super sparkly, and are a close second to diamonds on the MOH’s scale of hardness. They are also about a tenth of the price, putting them in a similar price bracket as a lab-grown diamond. Regardless, what matters here is your commitment to one another and not how much has been spent on the stone.  

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