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<b>Above:</b> Courbet <b>Inset:</b> Scio Diamond Tech
Above: Courbet Inset: Scio Diamond Tech

Part III: Synthetic diamond misconceptions

Over the past few years, comparisons made by the opposing ‘camps’ of natural and synthetic diamond have been rampant, with a large amount of misinformation clouding the scene.

As synthetic diamonds only further secure their place in the market, a sound understanding of how naturals and synthetics differ is increasingly important:

» FALSE – ‘Laboratory-grown diamonds are not synthetic diamonds’

Synthetic diamond is the scientific and most accurate term for laboratory-grown diamonds. Gems such as cubic zirconia (CZ) and moissanite are ‘simulants’ or ‘imitations’, and are not diamonds.

» FALSE – ‘Laboratory-grown diamonds are more sustainable’

Given the increasing concern for our planet and demands for sustainability, this one is a favourite marketing and advertising mantra of the synthetic diamond producers.

In 2019, the Federal Trade Commission issued several synthetic diamond suppliers warnings regarding “deceptive advertising” and reprimanded the use of terms such as “eco-friendly” and “sustainable", stating that it was highly unlikely these claims could be substantiated.

Various attempts at comparing the energy consumption of the natural and synthetic diamond industries have been made, often revealing that it depends greatly on the individual stone.

Realistically, the studies conducted do not factor in metals used in the synthetic presses, post-growth treatment, or the starting material. Graphite, for example, is environmentally damaging and hazardous to mine, yet necessary to produce HPHT synthetics.

Various attempts at comparing the energy consumption of the natural and synthetic diamond industries have been made, often revealing that it depends greatly on the individual stone.

It is reported HPHT synthetics use approximately 36 kWh per carat, while CVDs use anywhere from 215 kWh to 591 kWh +.

On the other hand, Californian synthetic diamond company Diamond Foundry is (through purchased offsetting) certified carbon-neutral. Within the natural diamond industry, the figures vary depending on the mine.

The Argyle mine in Western Australia has been reported to produce an impressively low 7 kWh per carat, also noting in 2017 that 91.4 percent of the water used was recycled. Synthetic diamonds do not require the water usage that mining requires.

The Russian company Alrosa reportedly produces on average 96 kWh per carat across its operations – 86 per cent of which is clean energy.

De Beers is currently working on capturing carbon dioxide, with the hope of being carbon-neutral by 2027.

Regarding land use, it is reported that the world’s largest diamond mining companies together protect three times more land than they use, across Australia, Botswana, Russia, and more.

» FALSE – 'Laboratory-grown diamonds are more ethical'

This is another common marketing ploy – the well-known horrific past of the natural diamond industry. What the public doesn’t realise is that this is indeed, the past.

Today, natural diamonds play a substantial role in various communities around the world. In 2016 alone, the industry contributed $292 million USD to social programs such as education and healthcare.

The Mutambi clinic in Zimbabwe, for example, is one of five built and supported by Murowa Diamonds. Before it was built, members of the community had to walk up to 12 miles for healthcare.

The key point is that no blanket term can be used to encompass all laboratory-grown diamonds or all natural diamonds. There is too much limitation for true comparison, as well as a lack of transparency. What is clear is the need for truthful marketing focused on the contribution each can make.

In Botswana, members of the Diamond Producers Association (now Natural Diamonds Council) support the education of around 452,000 children per year.

Overall, 60 per cent of the value the industry creates is retained locally. A whopping $6.8 billion USD is poured into communities every year through the purchase of local goods and services.

Around the world, DPA members employ around 77,000+ people – that’s more than Coca-Cola, Nike, or BP. On average, these employees earn 66 per cent more than the national average salary.

It is obvious the synthetic diamond industry could never replace the global benefits of the natural diamond industry. So back to the question – which is more ethical?

Another important note is the double-standard compared to other gems. The image of “blood diamonds” still plagues the diamond industry 21 years after the Global Witness Conflict Diamond report, whilst the Global Witness Conflict Rubies report issued only last year goes largely unnoticed.

The key point is that no blanket term can be used to encompass all laboratory-grown diamonds or all natural diamonds. There is too much limitation for true comparison, as well as a lack of transparency.

What is clear is the need for truthful marketing focused on the contribution each can make.
 


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The Gemmological Association of Australia (GAA) has over 14 years of gemmology articles freely available to read online on Jewellermagazine.com under Learn About Gemstones.

Interested in taking your gemstone knowledge to another level? Explore courses with the GAA on gem.org.au

 

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Gem-Ed
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Phone: 1300 436 338
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mikaelah Egan

Contributor • GAA Editorial


Mikaelah Egan FGAA Dip DT began her career in the industry at Diamonds of Distinction in 2015. She now balances her role at the Gemmological Association of Australia with studying geology at the University of Queensland. Visit instagram.com/mikaelah.egan For more information on gems and gemmology ,go to www.gem.org.au

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