Throughout history diamonds have been steeped in mystery, their origin often shielded from view. Over the last 20 years businesses like ours have been trying to open up the conversation, hoping to explain more to the consumer about their origin and improve the lives of the people and communities involved in their production.
Unfortunately, we now have a new issue, a fight between natural and lab-diamond advocates. This has been developing over the last 10 years as lab diamonds have become more popular and has now reached down to jewellers and self-proclaimed diamond experts who are choosing sides, muddying the facts to benefit themselves rather than the public they serve. As a jeweller focused on sustainability and responsible sourcing, we feel its time to give our own honest review of the current situation of the diamond industry. We have no allegiances to large diamond suppliers, we advocate for the consumer, the communities involved in diamond production, and the environment. If you are looking to purchase a diamond now or soon into the future I implore you to continue reading with an open mind and make your own decision.
Todays diamond market is awash with diamonds. Most luxury items are seeing huge growth in terms of value and sales but the natural diamond market is flat. In fact, as of the date of writing the last 6 months have seen a 10-15% drop in the wholesale value of mined rough diamonds (Rapaport). There are a number of reasons for this from the world economy to shifting trends, but the biggest impact is the introduction of lab diamonds and their lower cost. This is causing a lot of people in the diamond industry, especially those invested in mined diamonds to worry about their future. Some are turning to action against lab diamonds, trying to sow mistrust, to turn the public away from lab diamonds at a time when the public are choosing to embrace them. My personal view is that this will backfire. I think its incredible that the mined diamond industry, one that has caused hundreds of years of devastation to communities across the globe is now throwing shade on another.
Utopian Creations diamond history
Our business opened its doors in 2005 with the hope to provide consumers with an ethical, more sustainable approach to jewellery. For the first 5 years of our business, we did not purchase any “new” mined diamonds at all preferring to use recycled and Antique diamonds. This furthered our own education into antique cuts and built connections to recycled and Antique diamond specialists in the USA and Europe. Diamonds are the hardest natural material on earth and as such are a fantastic contender for recycling. The history of an antique diamond can be seen in its cutting pattern and read from its surfaces. They can not be perfectly recreated with modern cutting techniques and often sit well above standard white diamonds in terms of value. We still provide recycled and Antique diamonds today via our Diamond Concierge service and as part of our Create Your Ring Online service and while the value of standard round recycled diamonds may drop further in the future the value of Antique diamonds should continue to rise due to their unique old world charm.
Eventually, we found a couple of mined diamond suppliers who were as dedicated as us providing a more transparent option, able to trace their diamonds back to their origin and provide certification showing that the supply chain, miners and the environment were being cared for. This was exciting as it meant we could not only offer a better selection of diamonds but we also knew our money and our customers money was helping to better the lives of remote and often disadvantaged communities.
In 2012 we were one of the first to import lab diamonds into Australia. At the time prices were extremely high and we made it very clear to the customers that the prices would probably fall in the future. However, these were very dedicated people, customers who had done a lot of research themselves into lab diamonds and they were excited to be pioneers in a new age where we hoped lab diamonds could be produced in a sustainable way.
Over ten years have passed and the whole diamond industry now sits on a precipice with lab diamond supply increasing exponentially and prices of lab and mined diamonds continuing to fall. The dream of Lab diamonds ushering in a sustainable diamond revolution has softened somewhat by the lack of sustainable power availability in some areas but the changes it has brought have been dramatic.
What does the current diamond market mean for consumers?
- Lower prices: Whether you are looking for a natural diamond or a lab diamond prices are down and may continue to fall requiring jewellers to compete. Its a buyers market so pick a jeweller that you trust and ask them if they can do an even better price than they are offering.
- Higher quality: Lab diamond quality continues to improve thanks to new technology and its available at the same price. This is not really an area where mined diamonds can innovate. They are restricted to what nature provides.
- More options: There have never been more diamonds available, more in number, shape, size and even colours, known as fancy colours in the diamond industry. Diamonds were often seen as a little boring in the past but thats changing rapidly. Our eye is on Apricot lab diamonds.
- Jumps in sustainability and transparency: The mined diamond industry has had to increase its transparency and trade more responsibly due to consumers demands and the rise of lab diamonds. Many lab diamond businesses use 100% renewable power to grow their diamonds and lab diamond manufacturing hubs like Surat in India have vast renewable power infrastructure and government-backed plans to expand further.
- Loss of value: Future value is always difficult to predict but we can see lab and natural diamond prices continuing to slide into the near future. Fancy-coloured and Antique natural diamonds should continue to buck that trend. While any loss from a lab diamond may be small as the initial buy-in is low, losses from natural diamonds may be far higher due to their higher initial cost. Over the much longer term, as natural diamond mining begins to slow there may be a resurgence in natural diamond value due to lack of supply.
- Lack of transparency: In many cases its lab diamond suppliers who are now shielding the origin and impact of their manufacturing from jewellers and the public. Many cheap lab diamonds are made using 100% fossil fuel based power and actually have a higher CO2 output than mined diamond alternatives with China being the largest producer. Transparency is still a huge problem when it comes to mined diamonds too. Currently, Australia is still importing and selling Russian diamonds but of course, jewellers are not selling them as Russian diamonds they are sold as “Conflict Free” with no origin listed. Russian diamonds may make up as much as 30% of the natural diamond market in Australia but I am yet to find one jeweller or supplier listing Russian diamonds for sale. This means they are all being sold to unsuspecting customers under the banner “Conflict Free”.
Transparency of origin is extremely important if you want to be informed about your buying decision. If your jeweller cant tell you where your diamond was grown or mined, find another jeweller or request that they source diamonds for you that do come with guaranteed origin. This then enables you to decide if the origin of the diamond aligns with your own ethics and fits the story you want to build for your family. Generally, we’d suggest you buy from us or another sustainably focused jewellery company. Unfortunately, we have recently been alerted to a number of jewellers touting their businesses as sustainable who are flat-out lying about how they describe lab diamonds both in an overly positive or negative way. This is disgraceful and goes completely against the ideals of sustainable, responsible trading.
The future of diamonds at Utopian Creations
Diamonds are normally purchased as a gift of love and longevity. If you buy a certain diamond for an engagement ring does it really matter what its worth in 20 years time, probably not.
We prefer to think in terms of stories rather than money. We love diamonds because they help create fantastic stories that due to their hardness, endure, passing down through generations. Like all stories a good start is important so we will continue to support diamonds that are produced in a responsible manner whether that be a mining venture that is giving back to local communities, lab diamonds produced using green power, expanding technical innovation and education or recycled and antique diamonds. We do a lot of research into our diamond suppliers and buy direct from the manufacturers and miners to make sure we are assured of origin. Diamond prices will continue to fluctuate but the origin stories will remain and the diamonds we supply will go on to lead incredible lives with incredible, thoughtful custodians.
One thing to keep in mind if you are considering an Antique diamond, its origin story is unknown. Many of the diamonds mined from the 1600s to the 1900s were mined by slaves under terrible conditions, stolen from indigenous people. We continue to trade these diamonds because there is no way of knowing where they have come from or how they were originally acquired and leaving them in a dark safe doesnt change anything. We believe history should not be hidden, not forgotten, and steps should be taken by museums and other owners of significant and traceable antique diamonds to repatriate them to their rightful owners. By remembering the past we can help to prevent a repeat of humans failings.
We thank you for your interest in this topic and hope to revisit the issue of diamonds here again soon. This sector is evolving through some of the largest changes in over 100 years and the advances in AI will only add to diamond value uncertainty. It wont however change the love and devotion that your diamond of choice represents, at the end of the day an engagement ring or other significant gift is priceless, and its future value is meaningless.
PS. If you are determined to purchase a diamond that will increase in value look to natural-coloured diamonds (especially Argyle pink) and high-quality antique diamonds. These can’t be recreated exactly in a lab and will continue to rise in value. Through our Diamond Concierge service, we can provide you with unique, responsibly sourced diamond options that will excite and amaze.
Natural and Lab diamond Q&A
Q1: What are lab diamonds, and how are they different from natural diamonds?
A1: Lab diamonds are created in a controlled environment with one of two techniques. HPHT, Hi Pressure Hi Temperature replicates natural diamond growing processes most closely, and they are created with a new process that isnt found in nature on earth but may be creating diamonds naturally on other planets called CVD, Chemical Vapor Deposition. Both manufacturing processes create Lab diamonds with the same chemical composition and physical properties as natural diamonds, they are just as hard and importantly, look identical to natural diamonds.
Q2: Are lab diamonds more environmentally friendly compared to natural diamonds?
A2: Yes, however it depends on a multitude of factors such as the energy source used to create the lab diamond and the method used to mine the natural diamond, but in general lab diamonds are generally considered more environmentally friendly. Lab diamonds often require less energy and produce fewer carbon emissions compared to mining natural diamonds.
“(If) the lab-grown diamond is produced using 100% renewable electricity, i.e., renewable energy is used during the lab-grown diamond synthesis and the final cutting and polishing. The total carbon footprint is 8.17 kg CO2e per grown, cut, and polished 1 carat lab-grown diamond.” Pandora
“According to industry estimates, lab grown diamond production uses between 25kWh and about 250 kWh of electricity per carat, depending on the efficiency of the producers. This means that in the worst-case scenario, for Chinese diamond producers that use 250kWh of energy per carat, emissions are about 137.5kg of carbon dioxide per carat.
Many Chinese manufacturers' emissions will be lower than this, but even this worst-case scenario compares favourably with 160kg on average for diamond mining. It is also worth noting that carbon dioxide emissions per kWh have been falling steadily in China over the last ten years, and as China continues to transition to renewable energy over the next decade, the production of lab grown diamonds will become increasingly sustainable.” Ingle and Rhode
With mined diamonds producing around 160kg CO2 per carat there are considerable benefits to choosing a lab diamond as far as the climate is concerned and these are amplified the greater the amount of renewable power is used in production.
“Producing diamonds in a lab is also far less damaging to ecosystems, wildlife, and human populations than mining diamonds. Most dramatically, lab-diamonds have less of an impact on their immediate surroundings than mined diamonds.” IGS
Q3: How do lab diamonds compare in terms of quality and beauty?
A3: Lab diamonds are indistinguishable from natural diamonds in terms of quality and beauty. They possess the same brilliance, clarity, and colour, making them an excellent alternative.
Q4: Is there a significant price difference between lab diamonds and natural diamonds?
A4: Lab diamonds are significantly more affordable than natural diamonds of similar quality. Prices for lab diamonds are usually lower because their production costs are more predictable and controlled. Even the most expensive, 100% renewable power lab diamonds are more affordable than an equivalent mined diamond.
Q5: What factors should I consider when choosing between lab diamonds and natural diamonds?
A5: When deciding between lab diamonds and natural diamonds, consider whats important to you, your budget, ethical concerns, and personal preferences. Does future value play a part in your decision or the origin story of the diamond? Both options offer stunning and durable gemstones that cann’t be separated visually.
Q1: What are natural diamonds, and how are they formed?
A1: Natural diamonds are formed deep within the Earth's mantle under high pressure and temperature over millions of years. They are mined from the Earth's crust and have been cherished as precious gemstones for centuries.
Q2: How do natural diamonds compare in terms of uniqueness and rarity?
A2: Natural diamonds are unique and but not as rare as most coloured gemstones. Each natural diamond has its own distinct characteristics, making it one-of-a-kind, although most people choose to purchase a pure clear diamond with as few inclusions as possible. Their scarcity into the future may contribute to their value and allure.
Q3: Are natural diamonds considered more valuable than lab diamonds?
A3: Yes, natural diamonds are generally considered more valuable due to their rarity and long-standing demand. They often hold sentimental value as well, being associated with significant life events like engagements and anniversaries. Natural diamonds are far more expensive than lab diamonds but its thought that they will hold their value better into the future.
Q4: Do natural diamonds have any advantages over lab diamonds?
A4: Natural diamonds have the advantage of being completely natural, carrying a long history and tradition. They appeal to those who appreciate the idea of owning a genuine product of the Earth. Production of Natural diamonds can benefit disadvantaged and remote communities by bringing jobs and funding for programs like education. The partnership between DeBeers and the Botswanan government is one example and is seen as a huge benefit to the country, bringing in enormous development and wealth not possible without the diamonds.
Q5: How can I ensure that the natural diamonds I purchase are ethically sourced?
A5: To ensure ethical sourcing, look for jewellers who specialize in sustainable jewellery. The diamonds they offer should come with guaranteed origin and transparent supply chains. Unfortunately many jewellers sell “Conflict Free” and “Kimberly Process Certified” diamonds as ethically sourced but this is not true. The Kimberly Process has nothing to do with ethical sourcing at all and a conflict free diamond is one that has just been certified by the Kimberly Process and does not include protections for the miners or environment.