Ethically Sourced and Lab-created Diamonds Offer Options for Conscious Consumers

You don't have to compromise your values for beautiful jewelry.
Jan 19, 2010 9:00 AM ET

The true value of diamonds lies not in the stone itself, but rather in the expression of love, happiness, commitment and pride that are often communicated through them. More important than the size or the brand on the diamond, is the story of partnership, hard work, or perhaps family, that the gem represents.

Sadly, this has all but been lost in today’s society. Diamonds have become a commodity with a perceived value that has largely been manipulated by those who benefit the most from their sales.

The issues associated with the diamond industry (mining, manufacturing, trade) are profoundly negative from both the social and environmental perspectives and are too great to detail in this article. Suffice to say that the people most impacted by the diamond trade are not those benefitting the most from the $50 billion industry.

Of course, there is no such thing as perfectly clean diamonds – that is to say, having no social or environmental impact. But consumers need to look beyond just conflict-free to alternatives that are indeed more sustainable. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme has failed, but new options are available.

Lab-grown diamonds (synomymous with synthetic, lab-created, man-made or cultured) are a great option for conscious consumers. While they do have some environmental impact, the degree is significantly less than that of their mined counterpart. Lab-grown diamonds are chemically, optically and physically identical to mined diamonds, but are not marked by the same degree of impact given that they are not harvested from the earth.

"Conflict-free” absolutely does not address labor and environmental abuses resulting from diamond mining. Nor does it assure ethical labor in the digging, cutting and polishing of diamonds. The definition of conflict-free is indeed very narrowly focused on funding war conflict. Water pollution, community displacement, destruction of habitats, unsafe working conditions and low wages are just a few of the many issues still associated with diamonds, even those certified conflict-free. Purchasing lab-grown is really the only way to ensure that your diamonds are conflict-free.

All of this is not to say that boycotting mined diamonds is the responsible thing to do. The reality is that the diamond sector does have the power to contribute to sustainable development in some of the world’s most impoverished areas. There are a few programs in Africa whereby small scale miners are appropriately involved and benefitting from mining in their community. These ethically sourced diamonds provide meaningful employment as they are cut and polished by the community most affected by the mining.

Consumers don’t need to sacrifice their values. Lab-created and ethically sourced diamonds offer beauty and luxury that consumers can feel good about buying, gifting and wearing. These alternatives can enhance the value of diamonds as they are more directly rooted in our own ethical values, putting that much more meaning into the message of love or friendship or whatever sentiment goes along with the jewelry.