Natural vs. Synthetic
Any debate surrounding the ethics of jewellery is one that interests us, but one that everyone keeps coming back to is around the pros and cons of natural vs synthetic diamonds. There have been advances in technology and improvements in companies’ attitudes to their social responsibility on both sides of the debate, so… has anything really changed?!
To be honest, it’s hard to know. Most people who take part in discussions have a vested interest in the outcome, and as a result each side accuses the other of manipulating the figures or simply ‘greenwashing’ their business. What we do know is:
Any mining is dirty. Digging up land is hard work, and when the miners are unregulated it can be particularly dangerous to both people and the environment. Diamond mining has been used to fund wars that have killed millions over the years. Large scale mines can afford to invest more in protecting their workers and the environment, but leave scars on the landscape that are hard to ignore.
When seen from this perspective, it is easy to think that avoiding all mining entirely is the best thing we could do, and so laboratory grown (shortened sometimes to ‘lab-grown’ but also known as ‘synthetic’) diamonds can seem like the obvious alternative. When diamonds are created by a machine rather than geological conditions it happens in clean factories, run by people who are well paid and by companies who often offset their carbon emissions to ensure that the stones they produce are as environmentally friendly as possible. They don’t have the same romantic appeal of a diamond formed in the earth for billions of years, but they are ‘clean’ and the science behind the construction of a diamond is fascinating.
What this ignores is the human factor. Diamond mining supports millions of people every year, and the countries where diamonds are mined rely on their mineral wealth. Simply avoiding mining altogether would be of no benefit to those people at all, especially as the pandemic has already hit them hard. As seen with Fairtrade Gold, responsible mining on a small scale can be beneficial to both people and the environment as the miners are fairly paid and their community supported. They are also helped to ensure that what they do has as small an environmental impact as possible so that the land can be returned to its original state after the gold is mined out. At the moment it is hard to find diamonds that are mined under similar conditions (COVID slowed down all sorts of things) but we are always looking for a project that will bring that dream to life. Mining will go on happening anyway; if we as a company disassociate ourselves from that part of the industry, we will not be able to challenge working conditions / gender equality / safety / environmental degradation or anything else.
This is why we tend to use natural diamonds in our collections, although we are more than happy to source a synthetic diamond for a customer and sometimes include them in our Ready to Wear collection too. We genuinely believe they are a good ethical choice and also recognise that they are less costly than natural stones so can help with choice when budgeting.
The thing that we all need to be aware of is the opportunity that people now have for selling a synthetic diamond as a natural, mined stone. We have testing facilities in our studios that we use to test any stones that come in - as to the naked eye you cannot tell the difference – chemically, they are both real diamonds and they sparkle the same way. It is sad to think that someone in the future might inherit a ring with a synthetic diamond where the description has been lost over time and then discovers that the stone is not natural, but hopefully this will be avoided as other jewellers and dealers begin to take responsibility and test gemstones in the same way that we do.
We appreciate that everyone has different concerns for their jewellery and we believe that the laboratory grown vs natural mined diamond discussion is an important one. We consider ourselves really fortunate in being able to talk to our customers about these decisions and to offer both options so that people can make the choice that feels right for them. Sometimes finances come into the discussion, but often the choice is down to what ‘feels’ right. In a nutshell – if your concern is for the environment, then you may prefer to choose synthetic stones to avoid mining. If your concern is for people, then you may prefer natural diamonds to support the miners. Either way, your choice is a valid one and a decision only you can make.