Lately there has been another avalanche of press releases and media attention drawn to Laboratory Grown Diamond (LGD) producers and retailers who decide to jump on board of the LGD train. Before everybody starts to scream bloody murder, the whole LGD debate, this opinion piece included, is not about one versus the other. The point is precisely the opposite. LGD and natural diamonds do not need to be add odds with each other, as they are different products, with different values, both in an emotional and financial capacity. They can reinforce each other and even grow the market as a whole, which would be beneficial for both natural and LGD in the end. What does not help, is to throw mud at each other, make false claims, and deny the facts.
Let’s take this one article, recently published on a prominent media site referring to the diamond industry. While the piece was well written, some outdated information had been shared which could have serious ramifications on the diamond industry, both natural and synthetic.
The article refers to a jewelry company founded in 2020, the diamonds they use are laboratory-grown, and the jewels are easily transformable thanks to their design model. While the whole concept is exciting, especially for young consumers looking for customizable jewelry, the articles quote the owners of the brand with statements, disguised as facts, that in 2021 are by no means exemplary of how the natural diamond business operates today.
Take this phrase: "People don’t understand that this rarity [natural diamonds] often translates to extracting tons of earth, blood diamonds, child labor, and human rights violations."
While these topics are concerning, the natural diamond industry, along with governing bodies and international organizations have made great strides in minimizing, if not eliminating, these issues. I can strongly recommend anyone to browse through the Natural Diamond Council's vast resource platform to find relevant information and data, but let’s go through a few things.
Here you can find a graph that at first glance appears to be the environmental footprint of natural versus laboratory-grown diamonds. In the text alongside the graph the owners of this company state they “researched the facts” and came to the conclusion: “it turns out it takes an entire factor more energy to extract an underground diamond from earth than it takes to create one aboveground” and more so “this means that regardless of their energy consumption [company] diamonds can be created using renewable energy whereas mined diamonds have a very large carbon footprint.” Pastel colored bars in the chart are supposed to support this claim. Apart from the fact the (lack of solid) logic in these sentences is enough to make one squirm, indulge me and look at the graph a little more closely. As far as the source for this “research” goes, it seems that it does not exist, unless http://weneedapropersourcetolinkto.com is a solid source on carbon footprint research. (spoiler alert, it is not) Now look at the mining regions. Last I checked, there are very few meaningful diamond mining operations in China, yet in this chart, their mined carbon footprint is through the roof. Strangely, even though 60% of LGD’s today are produced in China in coal-driven mega-factories (not labs, factories) consuming huge amounts of energy, the carbon footprint of LGD production in that very same China is so small and insignificant it is barely visible on the chart. What would make sense, is that the owners of this brand mixed things up and consider the LGD production in China as a “modern mine”, but my guess is they didn’t. Here’s the punchline: a fact should be based on real, verifiable information. If you don’t have the facts, don’t make the claim. And that goes for anyone who is making claims, in the natural and in the LGD business.
Although diamond mining very simply put is extracting resources from the earth in mechanical process that doesn’t involve any chemicals whatsoever, diamond miners are required to remediate the land once the mine ceases operations. One example is the Argyle diamond mine in Australia which was decommissioned in 2020 after nearly 40 years of operation. Following closure, the land is now being prepared to return to the Traditional Owners as the custodians of the Country. The miner, Rio Tinto, is working with custodians to repurpose the land for activities such as cattle grazing, tourism, cultural use, and possibly small-scale agriculture and native food production.
“Our approach to supporting regional economic development includes a strong focus on economic diversification. We endeavor to foster wider economic activities alongside national and local governments and community development plans," reads to website. "We provide career support and training opportunities to help the local workforce – including our own – transition to new opportunities as operations wind down. And we work with local Indigenous groups to ensure areas are looked after for future generations – right down to the kind of plants we use to regenerate the land. This reflects our commitment to sustainability as well as our aim to have communities thrive long after our operations close.”
To date, 90% of the Argyle employees who wanted to be redeployed have found new roles within the company. And this is what happens all across the globe in countries where diamonds are mined. The global movement towards sustainability is one that was put in motion in the diamond industry long before sustainability and awareness even became a “thing”.
The Kimberley Process (KP), a multilateral trade regime, was established in 2003 to prevent the flow of conflict diamonds. The core of the regime is the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) under which States implement safeguards on shipments of rough diamonds and certify them as “conflict-free". The KP unites administrations, civil societies, and the industry in reducing the flow of conflict diamonds - ‘rough diamonds used to finance wars against governments’ - around the world.
The regime consists of 56 participants representing 82 countries, with the European Community counting as a single participant. The participants include all major rough diamond producing, exporting, and importing countries. The diamond industry, through the World Diamond Council, and civil society groups are also integral parts of the KP. These organizations have been involved since the start and continue to contribute to its effective implementation and monitoring. Today conflict diamonds constitute less than 0.1% of the world's production of rough diamonds. The KP is working with the United Nations and neighboring countries to stop these diamonds from entering the legal market. Am I claiming our work here is done? By no means, there is a ton of work still to be done, but in all fairness, the diamond industry is the only minerals industry that can claim it has been addressing these issues for two decades now, and the focus on building a sustainable business (think of all the efforts on traceability, SDG’s, transparency and accountability is increasing even more, at a rapid pace.
Often overlooked is the positive impact the created wealth has had and continues to have on the development of the rough producing countries. Instead of conflict, money has helped contribute to peace and prosperity. Diamonds lifted Botswana from poverty and allows all children until the age of 13 to have free schooling. In Sierra Leone, legal exports increased 100-fold since the end of the war in 2002, bringing benefits for the estimated 10% of the population who depend on the diamond industry for their livelihood. Overall, millions of people on the African continent alone have access to proper health care, food and water, education and jobs, thanks to revenues and mining operations.
Again, we still have quite a bit of road ahead of us, whether it is about the impact on the environment, on human rights, on empowering local communities, and perhaps the industry has failed to speak about this for too long, but you’d have to be blind not to see that things have changed in the past two decades and are changing still.
To conclude, there is a place in today’s market for every product, be it natural or synthetic diamonds, but also cubic zirconia, moissanite, swarovski crystals – but by sharing downright false or factually incorrect information, we are harming the industry in its entirety. In the end, what will stick in the back of the minds of consumers, is a negative perception on the product as such. And let’s be honest, no one wants that.
Karen Rentmeesters is Senior Manager PR&Communications and Industry Relations at the Antwerp World Diamond Centre.