They are marketed as the “ethical alternative” to blood diamonds.
Manufactured in a factory, lab-grown diamond retailers spruik claims about the stone’s conscientiousness and sustainability, drawing in brides-to-be across the globe as shoppers distance themselves from the mined diamond industry’s exploitative past.
But industry experts have raised concerns about these marketing claims, arguing lab-grown diamonds may be no more ethical than ones mined from the ground.
Few lab-grown diamond retailers can trace their jewel production line. They cannot say whether the energy-intensive process to grow the diamond is green or whether the factory where the stones were cut and polished protects workers from incurable diseases such as silicosis.
The World Jewellery Confederation and the Jewellers Association of Australia are calling for greater oversight in the industry, with third-party certification to back up lab-grown diamond dealers’ “spurious” claims.
Limited certification and scrutiny
The lab-grown diamond industry is estimated to be worth $34.7 billion by 2025.
China produces 56 per cent of the world’s lab-grown diamonds, followed by India at 15 per cent and the US at 13 per cent.
Natural and lab-grown diamonds are chemically identical, with a small marking inscribed at the base of a lab-grown diamond to differentiate them. Both are considered diamonds by the US Federal Trade Commission.
But there’s a huge price difference: Lab-grown diamonds can cost up to 70 per cent less than a mined diamond and can be developed in a matter of weeks.
They’re marketed as “socially responsible”: Laboratory settings mean the diamonds are produced in a controlled environment with occupational health and safety regulations, while factories that use renewable energy produce diamonds with a smaller environmental footprint than natural stones.
It’s hard to know just how large the lab-grown diamond industry is due to individual deals between importers, wholesalers and jewellers, but Diamond Dealers Club of Australia president Rami Baron estimates as many as one in five engagement rings sold for under $10,000 in Australia features a grown stone, up from 5 per cent just three years earlier.
But Diamond Certification Laboratory of Australia Director Roy Cohen said provenance reports tracing a lab-grown diamond’s production are still in their infancy.
“Because they’re not linked to mining in any areas of potential conflict there hasn’t been [a demand] for them,” he said.
Of the 10 jewellers contacted by The Sun-Herald across Melbourne and Sydney, just four were able to trace their entire diamond supply chain from start to finish.
There is just one sustainability standard in the diamond and jewellery market, the SCS-007. Developed in 2021, it assesses a producer’s adherence to social responsibility and governance, environmental, and sustainable practices criteria, a stone’s traceability, occupational health and safety for workers, and truthfulness and transparency in public claims.
Michael Hill Jewellers is the only company in Australia that provides this certification. Only six lab-grown diamond producers in the world have so far been accredited with SCS-007.
Global non-profit Responsible Jewellery Council also offers certification on traceability and responsibly sourced practices, though just 1573 companies have signed on across the globe.
Companies such as Pandora and Sydney-based Moi Moi Fine Jewellery have turned to third-party audits to assess their suppliers’ labour, environment and ethics performance, with diamonds cut and polished in the same facilities they were manufactured in, often via automation.
Director of the Jewellery Association of Australia Ronnie Bauer said while there were stringent checks and balances on natural diamonds, lab-grown diamonds weren’t held to the same level of scrutiny.
“The same provisions should be applied to anything grown in a factory or polished in a polishing house,” Bauer said.