Sparkling Rise of the Lab Grown Diamond
It's the same process used to generate natural diamonds, except lab-grown diamonds are formed in a machine rather than the Earth's crust.
A diamond may be grown in one of two ways. First, both need another diamond to serve as the "seed" (a flat slither). To create the first lab diamond, scientists used a High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) technique, which involves placing a diamond seed in a chamber heated to over 1,500 degrees Celsius and pressurized to around 1.5 million pounds per square inch of carbon monoxide gas.
Recently, a process known as chemical vapour deposition has been developed to create diamonds (CVD). This is done by placing the seed in an enclosed chamber with carbon-rich gas and heating it to a temperature of around 800 degrees Celsius. Gases "stick" to the seed in this setting and gradually build a diamond out of carbon atoms.
There have been significant developments in the technology underlying lab diamonds in recent years, enabling businesses to swiftly and affordably generate diamonds of a better grade. This trend has increased rivalry between the synthetic and natural diamond industries.
A survey commissioned by the Antwerp World Diamond Centre found that the cost to make a CVD lab-grown diamond had dropped from $4,000 per carat in 2008 to $300-$500 in 2018. (AWDC).
Recently, a demand for diamonds has been created in a laboratory setting. According to the AWDC data, the market share of young people (those under the age of 35) who purchase diamonds is growing at a rate of 15–20 per cent yearly.
As more jewellery stores begin offering lab-created diamonds and more laboratories enter the market, this trend is predicted to continue.
Impact on the Environment
But there are flaws with lab-created diamonds as well. For example, the energy required to generate a lab diamond is substantial. Yet, it is impossible to compare the carbon footprints of mined and lab diamonds due to a noticeable lack of transparency.
The Diamond Producers Association commissioned a study on the matter, and it found that mining natural diamonds results in three times less greenhouse gas emissions than lab-grown diamonds. The DPA represents seven world's top diamond miners, including De Beers, Alrosa, and Rio Tinto.
However, the US Federal Trade Commission has cautioned several lab diamond firms against falsely advertising themselves as "eco-friendly" without providing data to back up their claims.
US-based Diamond Foundry, financed by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Ada Diamonds were among them. The latter claims to be carbon neutral and powered entirely by renewable resources, as verified by an independent third party, Natural Capital Partners.
According to Diamond Foundry's published data, mined diamonds have a far larger environmental impact than lab-grown diamonds.
It takes one hundred times as much energy to mine a diamond from deep under the Earth to manufacture one on the surface. In addition, "our above-ground production uses renewable energy, whereas mining often uses polluting diesel," as stated in a blog post on their website.
Almost 250 tons of dirt must be moved for every diamond carat. To put this into perspective, 148 million carats were extracted last year. In addition, the size of certain mines has grown to the point that they can be seen from orbit by NASA's Terra satellite.
Frost & Sullivan, a consulting company, found in a 2014 analysis that mining for diamonds uses twice as much energy per carat as lab-grown diamonds.
For every carat extracted, the research estimates that 57 kilograms of carbon are released into the atmosphere, whereas lab-grown diamonds are said to emit little more than a few grams. However, this implies using renewable energy, and some in the industry have questioned the report's accuracy.
Almost 250 tons of dirt must be moved for every diamond carat.
This is far less than what was predicted by rival firm Trucost, which wrote that research for the Diamond Producers Association. Lab-grown diamonds emit 510 kilograms of carbon dioxide in each polished carat, whereas mined diamonds emit 160 kilograms of carbon dioxide per polished carat.
De Beers' parent company, Anglo American, has funded a research initiative to lower the mining industry's carbon impact by sequestering carbon dioxide inside the porous kimberlite rock. In addition, company geologist Evelyn Mervine has been working to mitigate mining's environmental impact by pioneering a " mineral carbonation technique."
However, the environmental costs of diamond mining extend well beyond the greenhouse gases produced by the process. For example, acid mine drainage from diamond mining has been connected to the contamination of drinking water sources.
As a result, the water supply becomes contaminated with minerals leached from the mined rocks. As "one of the mining sectors' top environmental liabilities," according to Canada's University of Waterloo, this is a major problem.
Researchers from the University of Waterloo have been collaborating with the Diavik diamond gem mine in Canada's Northwest Territories to lessen the impact of acid mine drainage, a common concern not only in the diamond sector but also in many metals and coal mines.
There has been widespread habitat loss due to mining in Canada and abroad. The Wall Street Journal claimed in 2016 that De Beers had drained a Canadian lake of over 18,000 fish to mine for diamonds. The already precarious status of tiger populations in India has been exacerbated, some say, by the presence of diamond mines in the country.
Acid mine drainage from diamond mining has been connected to the contamination of drinking water sources.
Consequently, although the lab diamond and mined diamond businesses have flaws, the mined diamond industry often impacts the environment more. It's true that "few sectors in the world have a deeper environmental and social imprint than mining," as former Tiffany CEO Michael J. Kowalski put it in an editorial post for The New York Times in 2015.
Origins with Flaws
Indeed, the negative impacts of diamond mining on the environment and people's lives are interwoven. For example, some diamond mines pay their people little, subjecting them to dangerous working conditions.
The Kimberley Process, implemented in the early 2000s to decrease the trade in conflict diamonds, does not guarantee that a diamond does not have a murky past. Global Witness's conflict resources team member, who asked not to be identified, thinks the procedure has several flaws.
According to her, "conflict diamonds" are defined as "diamonds that finance an armed organization that is aiming to overturn a legitimate government" by the Kimberley Process.
The history of the connection between mined diamonds and human rights violations goes much beyond that narrow definition.
The Kimberley Process, she continues, "has failed to keep up." Again, she uses the example of a massive diamond find in Zimbabwe in the middle of the 2000s, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilian miners. A Global Witness investigation claims the diamonds recovered here were "freely moving on international markets" in Antwerp and Dubai.
The situation becomes much more ambiguous farther down the supply chain since the Kimberley Process can no longer track a stone once it has been cut and polished.
Furthermore, on their way from mine to the retailer, diamonds often get intertwined with those from other nations due to the many trade hubs along the way. And therefore, even among Kimberley Process-certified diamonds, many businesses still have no way of knowing where their gems came from.
Human Rights Watch published findings from an investigation of four prominent jewellery retailers in 2018: Bulgari, Pandora, Cartier, and Tiffany & Co. "None of the firms can identify all of the specific mines' origin of their diamonds," the study said.
However, others worry that the demand for lab diamonds may displace workers from nations like India and China that are rich in natural resources.
"is it ethical to guide people away from buying diamonds from developing countries, where a million people or more rely on the work?" asks Brad Brooks-Rubin, formerly a special advisor on conflict diamonds to the US Department of State and now the managing director of The Sentry/Enough Project, an organization working to end mass atrocities in Africa's deadliest conflict zones.
Despite the lingering complexity of the ethical problems surrounding lab versus mined diamonds, lab diamonds do have one environmental advantage. Only 30% of all diamonds sold are used in jewellery; the remainder is marketed as industrial tools for drilling, cutting, and grinding. This is one instance where laboratory-grown diamonds may be put to good ecological use.
Research shows that applying a small layer of diamond to mechanical components may decrease friction, which benefits anything from wind turbines to automobiles.
As a byproduct of industrial processes, they may be used to purify contaminated water. For example, boron is added to the diamond-growing process to make a "boron-doped diamond," which is good at conducting electricity.
The diamond's ability to oxidize organic molecules via mineralization into a biodegradable form is activated when an electric current is sent through it.
Ada Diamonds CEO Jason Payne believes that the use of lab-grown diamonds may also greatly reduce the carbon footprints of the transportation and communication sectors. In addition, because of their superior purity and hardness, lab-grown diamonds offer a distinct advantage over mined diamonds.
Payne claims diamonds are "much superior to silicon or other materials" as the best semiconductors known to man.
If transistors were made using lab-grown diamonds, less heat would be generated during the transmission of electricity from the power plant to the gadgets, like your phone, that is charging. According to the United States Department of Energy, components made from diamonds may cut these losses by as much as 90 per cent.
Adding a small layer of diamond to any moving mechanical item, from wind turbines to automobiles, may significantly decrease friction.
Nissan found that diamond film reduced engine friction by around 40%. However, Payne says that mined diamonds lack the "purity essential for many of these applications," in contrast to lab-created diamonds.
An Optical Illusion with Diamonds
When the mined diamond business was threatened with extinction in the past, it used advertising to save the day. The widespread adoration of diamonds may be directly attributed to a strategic marketing effort initiated by De Beers in 1947.
When the corporation successfully propagated the idea that "a diamond is eternal" and that diamond engagement rings are a cultural need, they altered the way people see diamonds and engagement rings forever. Indeed, the belief that diamonds are not plentiful is another marketing hoax.
Speculation has lately arisen that De Beers may cut the number of its contractual purchasers due to the surplus of diamonds on the market. As a result, when the contracts of its rough diamond clients expire at the end of the year, the business has announced it would examine such terms.
However, the standard rebranding attempt doesn't seem to work for mined diamonds in the face of the rising popularity of lab diamonds.
China, the world's second-biggest diamond market, saw sales fall by 5% in 2019, contributing to the industry-wide oversupply and demand downturn. "As an industry, we are suffering, [owing to] missing customer trust," Simon Forrester, chief executive of the UK's National Association of Jewellers, said during a gathering for the trade held on the rooftop of a swanky London hotel at the end of November. In addition, due to low pricing, diamond giant De Beers has said it would reduce output by 15% by the end of 2019.
Do synthetic diamonds have the same lustre as natural ones?
Synthetic diamonds are grown in a laboratory with the same physical properties as those extracted from the soil. Except for the fact that they are created in a lab, lab-grown diamonds are indistinguishable from diamonds mined from the ground. There is no discernible difference between them and mined diamonds regarding their chemical, physical, or optical qualities; they both seem brilliant and burn with the same intensity.
Do synthetic diamonds become cloudy over time?
Bring the ring close to your lips to complete the test and blow gently on it. The breath's moisture and warmth will immediately cause a mild fog within the diamond. Clearing fog is a sure sign that a diamond is genuine. Conversely, a possible indication that the stone is not genuine is how long it takes to determine its authenticity.
Why does my synthetic diamond emit light when I put it in the dark?
Laboratory-grown diamonds exhibit the same fluorescence in UltraViolet (UV) light as their natural counterparts. Because of this extraordinary quality, diamonds might seem like a more brilliant white or a rainbow of colours.
Can a natural diamond be differentiated from a lab-grown one?
Is it Possible to Tell If a Diamond Was Grown in a Lab? Unfortunately, no. Even to a trained eye, Ada's lab-grown diamonds and comparable real diamonds seem identical. No diamond-grading microscope or loupe can tell the difference between a diamond created in a lab and a diamond dug from the ground.
Soon, it is likely that even more consumers will be seeking out lab-grown diamonds as a HIP alternative to mined diamonds. With notable celebrities and everyday people incorporating them into everything from jewellery to engagement rings, Lab Grown Diamonds are well on its way to taking over the diamond industry as we know it.