This post was sponsored by Clean Origin, all thoughts my own.
Diamonds are, quite literally, one of the most expensive things you can spend your money on. Whether it be an engagement or an extremely special gift, diamonds have become a cultural mainstay over the centuries.
But what people often don’t know is that not all gems are created equal. Many come with a hefty environmental footprint, biodiversity loss and human rights violations in tow. These problems can be found all across the long and complex supply chains of these gems, making it hard to find anything that is truly transparent.
There is another way, however. Clean Origin is doing things differently through their lab-grown diamonds that are ethical, sustainable, transparent, and less expensive too.
Here’s what you need to know.
The problems with traditional diamonds
You may have heard the term blood diamond or conflict diamond. These are defined as ‘illegally traded to fund conflict in war-torn areas’. Buying conflict diamonds has previously directly funded conflict in areas such as Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to Global Witness, diamond mining is responsible for up to 4 million deaths.
This is also an issue with other stones. For example, 80% of the world’s rubies come from Myanmar, where funds from gemstone mining are partly controlled by and distributed to the country’s military, where the Rohingya are still at risk of genocide.
Nowadays, many gems are certified as conflict-free. In 2003 over 70 countries, the United Nations, the World Diamond Council, and the European Union agreed upon the Kimberley Process to trace and certify gems as conflict-free. However, there are doubts about whether this process actually works at all, as it doesn’t go far enough.
Unfair labor practices and human-rights abuses don’t disqualify diamonds under the protocol, while the definition of conflict is so narrow as to exclude many instances of what consumers would, using common sense, think of as a conflict diamond. Conflict diamonds under the Kimberley Process are defined as gemstones sold to fund a rebel movement attempting to overthrow the state—and only that. So when, in 2008, the Zimbabwean army seized a major diamond deposit in eastern Zimbabwe and massacred more than 200 miners, it was not considered a breach of the Kimberley Process protocols.
Estimates also suggest that 5-10% of the world’s diamonds are still illegally traded.
The United Nations has recently reported that poor controls are allowing up to $23 million of conflict diamonds from Côte d’Ivoire to enter the legitimate trade through Ghana, where they are being certified as conflict-free
Diamond supply chains are long, as each stone is mined, transported, cut, polished, graded, then shipped to any part of the globe. Attempting to truly trace the ethics in each part of the supply chain is, therefore, extremely hard. Companies may promote their conflict-free diamonds, but there’s no way to guarantee their gems are truly ethical.
Beyond conflict diamonds, there are larger problems with human rights and working conditions in the diamond industry. There are up to 1 million diamond diggers in Africa, many of whom earn less than $1 a day while most profit goes to middlemen, traders and exporters. Working conditions are extremely dangerous: diamond mines are vulnerable to collapse and explosion, shootings, beatings, detentions and exploitation are regular occurrences, and workers often deal with health issues such as increased cancer risk, hearing loss and lung problems. Overall, mined diamonds result in 1 injury for every 1000 workers per year.
Child labour is also rife in the industry: children as young as four have been found working in diamond mines in Africa, the jade industry in Myanmar and the Indian gem industry. It is currently estimated that one million children work in mining worldwide. Human trafficking can also be rife, as adults and children are forced to work as slaves in diamond mines.
The statistics are awful but the truth remains that, even if we could eradicate all human rights issues from the diamond industry, there is still the environment to consider too.
Many diamonds come from large industrial mines, which disturb huge amounts of land to dig miles beneath the Earth’s surface. The average diamond in an engagement ring requires the removal of 200 million to 400 million times its volume in rock, requiring heavy machinery, explosives and hydraulic equipment, and causing deforestation and soil degeneration.
A mined diamond also consumes more than 126 gallons of water per carat and creates large quantities of wastewater, pollutants in surface water, and waste rock that contributes to acid rock drainage. When it comes to energy, mined diamonds used 537.5 million joules per carat, producing more than 125 pounds of carbon and 30 pounds of sulphur oxide for every carat.
Other common mining methods also include:
- marine mining, which involves deploying large ships that drill into the seabed to reach diamond deposits, destroying and disrupting sea life as they suck up everything in the way
- alluvial mining, using walls and dams to redirect water flow and catch diamonds that have reached the surface of river beds through natural erosion. This hurts water quality and life within the rivers, as well as threatening local ecosystems and biodiversity.
Overall, mined diamonds cause an average of 4.5 environmental incidents (events that either breach environmental regulations or have a significant impact on local human, plant or animal life) every year.
To put it simply, we don’t need large industrial diamond mines at all.
We now have the technology to ‘grow’ diamonds under controlled conditions instead, which poses no risk to human life and has a much smaller environmental impact.
Lab-grown diamonds aren’t artificial or imitation gemstones. They’re identical chemically, visually and physically. By applying heat and pressure labs can mimic the natural underground formation of diamonds, growing a stone in about a month as opposed to mining those that have grown over millennia. Once grown, cut, polished and graded, they have the same quality and structure of mined diamonds, while also being safer and healthier, for workers and the planet.
Lab-grown diamonds emit just 6 pounds of carbon, 4.8% of what mined diamonds produce, while producing no sulphur oxide. In total, the air emissions of one carat of mined diamonds are 1.5 billion times higher than a lab-grown counterpart. Lab diamonds also require 85% less water and 50% less energy for production (and most of this energy is renewable) while disrupting only 0.07 square feet of land per carat. Overall, the impact of a mined diamond is more than seven times higher than one grown in a lab, and you can’t tell the two apart.
I was trained in diamonds since I was in diapers and I couldn’t see the difference
– Alexander Weindling, third-generation diamond merchant and Clean Origin founder
Clean Origin’s Approach
Founded by three jewellery and gemstone experts who come from families that have been in the business for over 100 years, Clean Origin sells a variety of jewellery, all of which only feature lab-grown diamonds.
Their gems are grown using a technique known as CVD, or Chemical Vapour Deposition. In this process a diamond seed is placed in a sealed chamber which is then filled with a carbon-rich gas such as methane. This gas is heated and ionised, causing it to break apart into its elements, and the carbon released crystallises around the seed to form a diamond.
All of Clean Origin’s diamonds come with a complete Grading Summary certificate from the International Gemological Institute. Each gem is subject to the same cutting, polishing, thorough inspection and rating processes as mined diamonds. They are truly identical on a molecular level, to the point that it’s highly unlikely that a jeweller, even at the highest skill level, could tell if their diamonds were lab-grown or mined.
Because the supply chain of a lab-created diamond is much shorter than a mined diamond, they are also usually 20-40% less expensive, meaning that, in this case, the sustainable option is better for your wallet too. Whether you’re looking for an engagement ring, wedding band, or any other kind of special jewellery, lab-grown diamonds are the most trustworthy and transparent option while also being more affordable, eco-friendly and high quality.
On the Clean Origin website, you can find a mix of ready-to-ship jewellery items including earrings, bracelets, stackable rings, wedding bands, anniversary bands, and engagement rings, but you’ll also find fully customisable options, which is ideal if you’ve got specific engagement ideas in mind. Items can be customised based on gemstone shape, setting, metal type and design, giving you a vast array of options to explore.
Plus, Clean Origin also recognises that purchasing diamonds is a big choice, especially if it’s for a wedding, so it should feel right for each individual. For this reason, they offer a 100-day money-back guarantee for all products if it isn’t.
Overall, opting for a Clean Origin diamond is kind of a no-brainer. Beyond the guaranteed ethics, the sustainable supply chain, and the vast options to perfectly personalise it for you, Clean Origin has created a system so effortless and easy to understand that it blows the other options out of the water. Add the bonuses of transparency, better pricing, and the decades of experience that they bring to the table, and there’s really nothing else you could hope for. So if you’re looking for a diamond that doesn’t cost the earth, both literally and metaphorically, then this is the company for you.