Are Lab-Grown Diamonds More Ethical than Natural Diamonds?Are Lab-Grown Diamonds More Ethical than Natural Diamonds?

Lab Grown Diamonds Fundamentals Mini Course

Are Lab-Grown Diamonds More Ethical than Natural Diamonds?

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Diamonds should represent memories and promises, but unfortunately many diamonds were mined in unsafe conditions or conflict zones. It can be very difficult to make sure your diamond is in fact ethical and conflict-free. Here is your guide to purchasing an ethical diamond and becoming a more conscious consumer of diamonds, so you can buy with a conscience as clear as a well-cut diamond.

Where Diamonds Come From

First, it is important to understand where diamonds come from and how they are produced.

Diamonds are formed far below the surface of the Earth, where they are compressed into crystals over the course of millions of years. They then erupt out of pipes deep underground, forming the deposits that are mined today. There are a variety of methods that are used to mine these diamonds, but most are sourced using open-pit, underground, or alluvial mining. Open-pit and underground mining are often performed by large mining companies with state-of-the-art technology, but alluvial mining can be unregulated and is performed by hand. It requires grueling, physical labor which can be exploited by the wrong people.

Blood Diamonds

On top of the dangerous working conditions, the diamond trade in many African countries has been used to fund civil wars and fund illegitimate governments. These diamonds were given the term "blood diamonds" by the United Nations in the early 1990s, which was popularized and brought to public attention in the 2006 film "Blood Diamond" starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The term specifically describes diamonds that have been mined in a war zone, usually by underpaid or enslaved workers,  and are sold to fund rebel groups and warlords. The money is then spent on weapons and infrastructure to continue harming innocent civilians in their countries.  Rebel groups even fight amongst each other for control of diamond mines, causing even more unnecessary bloodshed. It is because of this violence and cruelty that these blood diamonds are often referred to as "conflict diamonds," and diamonds mined responsibly by private companies are considered "conflict free."

The Kimberley Process

In response, many countries in the United Nations gathered to develop the Kimberley Process. This process requires that its member countries certify their diamonds as conflict free, and requires certification throughout each step in the supply chain. This means a diamond must be continuously certified when it is mined, polished, cut, and eventually sold. Any country that is certified by the Kimberly Process must only trade with other countries certified by the Kimberly Process, which now has over 80 participating countries. Because of the Kimberley Process, 99.8% of diamonds are now certified conflict-free and there is much greater accountability and transparency in the diamond industry.

Unfortunately, just because a diamond has been certified by the Kimberly Process does not necessarily mean it is ethical or even conflict-free. There are many loopholes to the process, and far too often diamonds funding violence make their way into the glistening glass boxes of jewelry stores.

Talk To Your Jeweler

1 Carat Astor Classic Six-Prong Solitaire
All Blue Nile engagement rings subscribe to their ethical sourcing policy.
Find this Ring
at Blue Nile

In order to make sure your diamond is sourced as ethically as possible, it is important to talk to your jeweler about the source of your diamond and ask questions. You should be working with a jeweler who can tell you exactly where your diamond came from and is knowledgeable about any conflict in their country of origin. They should also be able to back it up with the proper certifications and documentation. Blue Nile, for example, has vowed not to purchase diamonds from Zimbabwe's Marange district due to human rights violations and has made a commitment to support responsible mining practices. You can browse their assortment of conflict-free diamonds and engagement rings here.

Do Your Research

Knowing the source of the diamond is only the first step, you should do a bit of research into the region it is coming from. Be wary of diamonds mined in Angola, Zimbabwe,  or The Democratic Republic of Congo where violations of human rights in diamond mines are well-documented. The best options for diamonds mined in Africa are Namibia and Botswana, where strict labor laws and environmental standards are enforced. If you buy from the right places, the diamond industry is used to fund economic development and support small artisanal miners.

RetailerEthical Sourcing StatementDiamonds Adhere to Kimberley Process CertificationLab DiamondsRecycled, Pre-Owned or Antique Diamonds
James AllenRead James Allen's process on conflict-free sourcingYesYesNo
Blue NileRead Blue Nile's statement on conflict-free sourcingYesYes, but only for earrings, necklaces and braceletsNo
WhiteflashRead Whiteflash's statement on conflict-free sourcingYesNoNo
With ClarityRead With Clarity's statement on conflict-free sourcingYesYesNo
Brian Gavin DiamondsRead Brian Gavin's statement on conflict-free sourcingYesNoNo
RitaniRead Ritani's statement on conflict-free sourcingYesYesNo
CustomMade.comRead's statement on conflict-free sourcingYesYesYes

Canadian Diamonds

Although the majority of the world's diamonds are mined in Africa, Canadian diamonds can provide a conflict-free and ethical alternative. Canadian diamonds can be a bit more expensive than diamonds of similar size mined in Africa, but you can rest assured knowing they are produced under fair working conditions and strict environmental procedures. Many diamond customers are catching on, and Canada has recently become the third largest supplier of gem-quality diamonds in the world. 

Recycled and Antique Diamonds

You can use an antique diamond in a custom engagement ring. © CustomMade

Another option to purchase an ethical diamond is to choose a recycled diamond. These can be found at antique shops and through various online vendors, and can still hold the same brilliant sparkle and clarity as a freshly cut diamond. Even though the origins of used diamonds are even less clear and well-documented than a new diamond, your purchase would not contribute to demand for diamonds and would re-purpose something already made. A used or recycled diamond is also a much less expensive option compared to a Canadian diamond if you are set on a naturally grown, but ethically sourced diamond.

Lab-Grown Diamonds

James Allen carries a large selection of lab grown diamonds.

One of the best ways to make sure that your diamond is completely conflict-free is to purchase a lab-grown diamond. Lab-grown diamonds are exactly the same as natural diamonds both chemically and in appearance, but are man-made in a lab rather than taken from natural sources. This process completely avoids the many issues that come with diamond mining across the world, and can skip all of the shady transactions that could bring a blood diamond to a jeweler. They are also the more eco-friendly option, as they are able to protect environments from the damage of digging and drilling for diamonds below the Earth's surface. If you know your diamond is lab-made there will be no uncertainty pertaining to its origin, and can give you complete peace of mind. Lab-grown diamonds come at a significantly lower price than naturally grown diamonds, so you can buy an even bigger diamond for the same price. You can shop lab-made diamonds at many online retailers like James Allen and CustomMade, where you can design the perfect, ethically made custom jewelry piece.

Amanda Butcher

Amanda is a student of geological sciences and environmental studies at Tufts University. She grew up hiking and mountain biking in the Bay Area and continues to explore nature and learn about the beautiful gems and minerals it forms in her free time.

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