Are Lab-Grown Diamonds the Truly Ethical Choice?

Are Lab-Grown Diamonds the Truly Ethical Choice?

These diamonds are promoted as the morally responsible substitute for blood diamonds.

Lab-grown diamond vendors promote the environmentally and socially responsible attributes of their stones, which are produced in a factory. This messaging is attracting engagement ring customers seeking alternatives to traditional mined diamonds, which are associated with a history of exploitation.

Michael Hill in George Street is showcasing laboratory-created diamonds. These diamonds have been produced in a lab, rather than being mined from the earth. The exhibition provides an opportunity for visitors to see and learn more about these man-made gems.

The assertions made by marketers about lab-grown diamonds have been met with skepticism by industry experts, who contend that such diamonds may not necessarily be any more ethical than their mined counterparts.

Not many sellers of lab-created diamonds have the ability to follow the entire production process of their jewelry. This means they are unable to verify whether the process used to create the diamonds is environmentally friendly, and do not have any knowledge of whether the facility where the diamonds are cut and polished provides protection to employees against illnesses like silicosis.

The World Jewellery Confederation and the Jewellers Association of Australia are demanding more supervision in the sector, which involves verifying the lab-grown diamond dealers’ questionable assertions through third-party certification.

Restricted Accreditation and Rigorous Examination

It is anticipated that the market value of laboratory-created diamonds will reach $34.7 billion by 2025.

The majority of the world's lab-grown diamonds, which is 56 percent, are manufactured in China, while India accounts for 15 percent and the United States for 13 percent.

Diamonds that are naturally formed and ones created in a lab have the exact same chemistry. You can tell the difference between the two because a tiny symbol is etched into the lab-made diamond. The US Federal Trade Commission regards both kinds of diamonds as genuine.

However, lab-created diamonds come at a significantly lower price range - almost 70% cheaper than the traditional mined diamonds, and can be produced in just a few weeks.

What is the Process of Creating a Lab-Grown Diamond?

Lab-grown diamonds can be developed through two effective techniques. The initial approach is the high-pressure and high-temperature (HPHT) method that requires a carbon seed. The second technique is the chemical vapor deposition (CVD) method, which is more widespread, and needs a mixture of various gases, including methane, introduced at a low pressure. Both methods lead to the growth of carbon around the seed, eventually producing a diamond.

These diamonds are promoted as "ethically sound". They are created in a laboratory under strict regulations that ensure the safety and well-being of workers. Additionally, factories that utilize sustainable energy methods produce diamonds that have a limited impact on the environment compared to their natural counterparts.

It's difficult to determine the exact size of the lab-grown diamond business because it depends on various transactions between importers, wholesalers, and jewelers. However, Rami Baron, the president of the Diamond Dealers Club of Australia, approximates that one out of every five engagement rings sold in Australia for less than $10,000 has a lab-grown diamond. This is a significant increase from only 5% within the last three years.

However, according to Roy Cohen, the Director of the Diamond Certification Laboratory of Australia, reports that trace the origin of lab-grown diamonds are still in the early stages of development.

He mentioned that there hasn't been any need for them because they're not related to mining in regions of potential disagreement.

What types of certifications are offered?

Out of the 10 jewelry stores approached by The Sun-Herald in Melbourne and Sydney, only four were capable of tracing their entire diamond supply chain from beginning to end.

In the diamond and jewellery industry, there is only one benchmark for sustainability known as SCS-007. It was created in the year 2021 and evaluates a producer's dedication to social responsibility, governance, sustainable practices, and environmental criteria. It also considers factors like workers' safety, stone traceability, and accuracy and transparency of public claims.

Michael Hill Jewellers is the single Australian firm to offer this certification. Up to now, only six manufacturers of lab-grown diamonds on the planet have met the requirements for SCS-007 approval.

Responsible Jewellery Council, a worldwide non-profit organization, likewise provides accreditation for responsible supply chain management and sourcing practices. However, the number of companies enrolled in the program is only 1573, in spite of its global reach.

Pandora and Moi Moi Fine Jewellery are among the companies that are using external inspections to evaluate the labour, environmental, and ethical standards of their suppliers. These suppliers typically use automated methods to cut and refine diamonds in the same facilities where they were originally made.

The director of the Australian Jewellery Association, Ronnie Bauer, stated that although natural diamonds undergo strict monitoring and inspection, artificial diamonds are not subject to the same level of scrutiny.

Bauer stated that the rules should be equally enforced for any item produced in a factory or refined in a polishing facility.

What are the reasons behind the decreasing popularity of mined diamonds?

Illicit activities involving natural diamonds have been conducted to fund warfare and conflicts in various regions of west and central Africa. Despite the implementation of the Kimberley Process in 2003 for preventing the entry of these diamonds into the rough diamond market, the system still lacks efficiency. The negative impact of diamond mining on the environment is quite massive; such activities have been recorded to cause deforestation, erosion, and hazardous chemicals have been found being dumped or spilled into water and soil. Mines present in different parts of Africa have also been linked with activities related to child labor, forced labor, and dangerous work conditions. A recent report released by Human Rights Watch in 2018 highlighted the continued prevalence of human rights violations in the natural diamond industry.

The vibrant city of Surat located beside the river in eastern India is known worldwide for its exceptional skills in cutting and polishing diamonds and precious stones. India receives more than 90 percent of the world's diamonds to work on them by removing their outer layer to shape and refine them.

Cutting a diamond's polycrystalline silicon covering can be very dangerous. Inhaling the dust produced can result in the development of cancer and silicosis, which is a fatal and incurable respiratory illness.

The workers are examining and shining diamonds at a factory located in Surat, Gujarat. Dhiraj Singh is credited with the photograph.

Although lab-grown diamonds are marketed as a more socially conscious option, a substantial number of them are still cut and polished in perilous conditions. This underscores the importance of carefully monitoring the entire production process for every individual diamond.

Indian factories that cut and polish diamonds have switched one-fifth of their production to lab-grown diamonds in the last year.

A recent study conducted by Sphera, a company specializing in risk management, revealed that the handling process of certain materials posed a significant risk of dust exposure. This exposure was found to be directly linked to the development of silicosis, a serious lung disease. The study also uncovered similar risks associated with quartz-based semi-precious stones like Amethyst and Citrine.

During the year 2018, a probe conducted by Reuters uncovered that 5,000 cases of self-inflicted deaths occurred in regions where laborers of diamonds reside, and amongst these cases were six suicides involving workers of the diamond trade.

Dr Lynda Lawson, a prominent researcher from the Sustainable Minerals Institute at the University of Queensland, went on a trip to various gemstone cutting and polishing facilities located in the eastern region of India in 2018. During her visit, she came across questionable practices that raised major concerns.

According to her, in Surat specifically, there exist a considerable amount of workers who operate from their homes and are responsible for carving less expensive gems.

"She mentioned that the parents have put their baby in a hammock and are working continuously either day or night."

The harm inflicted on the lungs by silicosis is truly terrifying.

The government of India introduced a plan in 2019 to give compensation to those who have silicosis and their wives. As a result, more than 41,586 individuals have come forward to enroll in the program.

According to Lawson, you can stop silicosis from happening by implementing safety measures such as using water for saw cutting, installing ventilation systems to suck dust away from workers, and providing respiratory masks. She also mentioned that as people became more aware of the dangers, more businesses have been implementing these safety measures.

According to Steven Benson, the Communications Director of the World Jewellery Confederation, the issue of silicosis within the diamond industry has been a concern for the past three decades.

According to him, any mineral that produces dust which can enter someone's lungs poses a health risk.

The impact on the environment when creating lab-grown diamonds is not straightforward and relies heavily on how they are mined and produced. A study conducted in 2019 discovered that mined diamonds have a lesser carbon dioxide output of about 69 percent per carat compared to lab-grown diamonds. However, when businesses utilize renewable energy, the carbon footprint of lab-grown diamonds could be significantly reduced compared to mined diamonds.

According to Benson, the matter of greenwashing in the field of lab-grown diamonds is significant.

He mentioned that companies should only declare their ecological contributions if they can prove them with credible evidence from outside sources.

It is problematic and unreliable for the industry to assert that their products are eco-friendly through a general statement.

Benson disagrees with companies labeling lab-grown diamonds as "socially responsible". He believes that if mines have proper supervision and oversight, they can provide support for people in developing countries.

A recent survey by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission discovered that more than half of 247 companies across eight industries were making misleading environmental statements. The jewellery sector was not included in the investigation, but the ACCC confirmed that they are investigating similar cases in various industries.

Benson is requesting lab-created diamond sellers to provide third-party proof to support their promotional statements. Additionally, he urges consumers to investigate both alternatives.

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