'No mining' claims:
Are they true for laboratory-grown diamonds?
by Julia Griffith FGA DGA EG
Sustainability is common theme in the marketing of laboratory-grown diamonds. But are they as green as we think?
Cheremshansky Nickel Mine.
Laboratory-grown diamonds are made - not mined. A lot of marketing claims they do not involve mining at all. However, this is not necessarily true.
Almost all laboratory-grown diamonds were made with the use of mined materials. Regardless, laboratory-grown diamonds are often sold with the narrative of 'no mining' involved when this likely false.
In general, it can not be stated that laboratory-grown diamonds are sustainable simply because they were created by people as opposed to nature.
HPHT laboratory-grown diamond crystals.
How is mining involved in
Mining occurs after natural diamonds form. For laboratory-grown diamond – it occurs before.
Prior to laboratory-grown diamonds being created, raw materials need to be collected and processed ready for the transformation into a laboratory-grown diamond.
The main ingredients for creating laboratory-grown diamonds include minerals, metals, and gases. These all come from natural resources.
Other factors surrounding the sustainability of laboratory-grown diamonds include the energy used during creation and any emissions produced.
HPHT laboratory-grown diamond.
There are two main methods for creating laboratory-grown diamonds: HPHT and CVD synthesis (Learn more about these creation processes here). These growth processes are completely different from one another.
Let’s look at these in more detail...
Some of the main ingredients in HPHT laboratory-grown diamond synthesis.
HPHT laboratory-grown diamond
ingredients and creation
In HPHT (high pressure, high temperature) synthesis, a few key ingredients are required: graphite, a mixture of metals, a 'diamond seed' (another HPHT laboratory-grown diamond crystal), and the mineral pyrophyllite.
Graphite is the source of carbon for HPHT laboratory-grown diamonds.
This graphite is dissolved into a molten mixture of metals (nickel, iron and cobalt) under high temperatures and pressure. These act as a flux and break the atomic bonds of the graphite - freeing carbon atoms.
The carbon from the graphite recrystallises as a laboratory-grown diamond on top of a 'diamond seed' due to the high temperature and pressures.
Outside of this reaction, pyrophyllite plays an important role. This mineral allows the transfer of pressure to the graphite and metals. Without it, the entire process is not possible.
These key ingredients - graphite, nickel, iron, cobalt, and pyrophyllite - all come from mined minerals.
The two main ingredients in CVD laboratory-grown diamond synthesis.
CVD laboratory-grown diamond
ingredients and creation
In CVD (chemical vapour deposition) synthesis, two main gases are required - methane and hydrogen.
High purity methane (CH4) is the source of carbon.
Hydrogen (H2) faciliates the entire process allowing laboratory-grown diamond to form.
In CVD synthesis, the hydrogen gas is converted to high-energy plasma. This plasma strips apart the bonds of the methane - freeing the carbon atoms. This carbon bonds to 'diamond seeds' below, which are thin wafers of laboratory-grown diamond (either HPHT and CVD).
The gases used in CVD synthesis - methane and hydrogen - are from natural resources.
95% of industrial hydrogen is currently obtained through burning fossil fuels.
Methane is often a byproduct of oil and gas industries. This must be purified for use in laboratory-grown diamond synthesis.
Where do the ingredients come from?
The ingredients used to make laboratory-grown diamonds are sourced from all over the world. Common localities for the main ingredients in HPHT synthesis; graphite, nickel, iron, cobalt, and pyrophyllite, are listed below.
Biggest producers for the main ingredients in HPHT laboratory-grown diamond synthesis.
Can laboratory-grown diamonds
Yes, absolutely. A more sustainable product can be achieved with laboratory-grown diamonds by using renewable energy sources, offsetting carbon footprints, and responsibly sourcing raw materials.
However, sustainability is not a given for laboratory-grown diamonds just because they were created in a factory.
Green claims made by sellers must be verifiable to be valid (and to be lawful).
Statements that reference 'no mining' are almost always false. Hardly any laboratory-grown diamonds involve no mining whatsoever*.
Any green claim that can not be verified is classed as greenwashing.
*For an example on a producer whose process involves zero mining - see Sky Diamonds at the bottom of the page.
Greenwashing is the act of making a product, service, or brand appear more environmentally friendly than they actually are.
Green Claims: "Claims that show how a product,... brand or business provides a benefit or is less harmful to the environment... They do this through a range of methods such as: statements, symbols, emblems, logos, graphics, colours and product brand names.'
False green claims can manipulate and mislead consumers whilst they are trying to making informed decisions on the products they purchase.
For further information on greenwashing and the UK laws surrounding it, check out the Green Claims Code.
How can a laboratory-grown diamond be sustainable?
Both HPHT and CVD producers can choose to use renewable energy sources and act on offsetting their carbon footprint through funding green projects and charities.
Producers of CVD laboratory-grown diamonds can more easily switch to more responsibly-sourced materials compared to those using HPHT processes. 'Clean hydrogen' which releases zero greenhouse gas emissions during production can be achieved through electrolysis. Less than 5% of hydrogen is currently produced this way as it is currently expensive to set up. However, once the factories are running, the hydrogen is cheaper than mining and burning fossil fuels as well as being more eco-friendly.
A pear-shaped HPHT laboratory-grown diamond.
How to know if a
laboratory-grown diamond is sustainable
The only way to know how sustainable a particular laboratory-grown diamond is to know exactly which producer created it.
It all comes down to traceability.
Traceability is easy when one purchases a laboratory-grown diamond directly from a producer or an exclusive stockist of a producer. Diamond Foundry, Aether Diamonds, Bring Diamonds, Sky Diamonds... these are all producers who sell their stones directly to consumers.
Such companies are easy to research, can provide third-party proof of any green claims, and they can answer questions directly.
Some producers inscribe their stones with their logo. This is very helpful as they can be traced where ever (and whenever) they are traded.
Sellers that buy from suppliers or open markets may find traceability is much harder. It can be very difficult to find out which producer created such stones and, therefore, learn anything about their impact on the planet.
HPHT and CVD laboratory-grown diamonds.
Why it traceability can be difficult
Most laboratory-grown diamonds are sold through suppliers not the producers themselves. A supplier may source stones from several different producers and then sell these on the open market.
Unless the supplier keeps a record of the producer that made a particular stone - the producer information is lost and, with it, any information about how the stone may have impacted the environment. Producer information is rarely found on accompanying laboratory-grown diamond reports.
As soon as the producer's information is lost - the stone loses traceability. Unfortunately, this is true for the vast majority of laboratory-grown diamonds on the market.
Tracing the source of laboratory-grown diamonds can therefore be exceptionally hard if not impossible.
When the producer is unknown - no claims regarding sustainability can be made. Such claims are impossible to prove. Sustainability can not be assumed as so many laboratory-grown diamonds are made from mined materials and have be produced using non-renewable energy sources amongst other considerations.
Ironically, it can be a bit of a minefield when it comes to proving the sustainability of laboratory-grown diamonds.
As an example of traceability issues, I recently purchased three 1ct laboratory-grown diamonds from the open market.
I made a request to the trading platform to find out the producer of each stone - they could not help me.
I know the suppliers names so I popped these into google. Unfortunately, none of them have websites. Two are on another trading platform that allows me to send a message. One has instagram. I have sent off messages where possible to see if I can find out who produced these stones. So far, one is definitely untraceable. I'll keep you updated on the other two. (Update: as of 20/03/2023, I have received no responses).
Three laboratory-grown diamonds that are difficult to trace back to the producer despite knowing the wholesale supplier names.
Responsible options for diamonds and
There are a few ways to find yourself the sustainable laboratory-grown diamond of your dreams.
Please do not write off the positive impacts of natural diamonds. These can be responsibly sourced and have positive economical and humanitarian impacts in many places. If you wish to avoid developing nations, Canadian diamonds may be a good choice for you. Diamonds from many locations can now have SCS-007 certification (see below).
Sustainably Rated Diamonds (SCS-007)
Both diamonds and laboratory-grown diamonds be put forward for SCS-007 certification.
This certificate (definitely a certificate - not a report) can be assigned to stones that have successfully adhered to the '5 pillars of achievement'.
These include a verified traceable origin, meeting environmentally, social and governance requirements, climate neutrality, sustainable production practiced, and investments into community and environment projects outside of the company.
Diamonds are forever, unless whacked with a hammer (and even then they may survive).
Diamonds circulate the diamond industry. Some stones have been out the ground for decades. Purchasing a secondhand diamond can be a way to reduce social and environmental impact.
Here a list of a few laboratory-grown diamond producers that spring to mind regarding sustainability.
Note: Any company claiming sustainability needs to be verified from an independent third-party company to ensure their claims are valid. Check out the Green Claims Code.
CVD-grown laboratory-grown diamond in the UK. Methane created from carbon-dioxide captured from the air. Hydrogen created via electrolysis in their own facility using rainwater as the source of H2O. Solar-powered energy source. Fully traceable supply chain.
CVD-grown laboratory-grown diamond in the USA. Methane created from carbon-dioxide captured from the air. Unknown hydrogen source (not on website). 100% renewable energy source. Consideration: Until now, gas transported from Europe to the USA.
CVD-grown laboratory-grown diamond in the USA. 100% renewable energy source (hydropower). Unknown hydrogen or methane source (not on website). Dedicated suppliers such as VRAI making traceability easy. Laser inscribed with the producers logo for future traceability. Consideration: Some do not consider hydropower to be 'renewable'.
CVD-grown laboratory-grown diamond in the UK. Hydrogen sourced via electrolysis. Uses "one of the cleanest and most energy efficient methods of producing [laboratory-grown] diamonds" by using nuclear power as the main power source. Created, cut and polished in the UK. Involved in planting tree projects, and UK conservation and wildlife charities. Fully traceable supply chain.
Greenlab Diamond (sold through other suppliers)
CVD-grown laboratory-grown diamond in India. 100% solar-powered energy. Funding into tree planting projects equivalent to one tree plated per laboratory-grown diamond produced.
There are a lot more. These producers are the ones I've done research into already (or met!). If you know of a company that makes conscious efforts regarding sustainability, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with details of their process and I'll happily add them into this article.
Check out my Gem Dictionary YouTube series! Helping the jewellery world to understand common industry phrases. Still a long way to go with the word in this video: 'synthetic'. Don't be mad at the phrase 'synthetic diamond' - it's the OG phrase! Check out this definition in my YouTube video below. Click the subscribe button in the bottom right to subscribe to this YouTube channel.