The way lab-grown diamonds and mined diamonds are typically marketed creates an adversarial relationship between the two. Proponents of LGD will say that their product is an environmentally friendly alternative to destructive, unsustainable, and exploitative mining practices, while mined diamond advocates will say that LGD’s environmental claims are overblown and that the mining industry is much more equitable and sustainable than it used to be.
These narratives create a problem for the diamond supplier or retailer who sells both. How can we sell both kinds of diamonds without making it seem like consumers who make a different choice are bad or wrong? How do we elevate one product without denigrating another? Fortunately, lab-grown and mined diamonds can indeed coexist. Here are some tips for conveying the LGD story while honoring both lab-grown and mined diamonds.
While LGD are often marketed as the ethical alternative to mining, these claims aren’t always true in every case. The mining industry has come under considerable scrutiny over the past twenty years as the public has become increasingly aware of conflict diamonds, child labor, exploitation of indigenous lands, and environmental issues. Not all of these abuses have been eradicated, but it is certainly true that some mining operations are cleaner and more equitable than others.
By the same token, lab-grown diamonds are not necessarily more environmentally friendly. It still takes a tremendous amount of electricity to grow a diamond, and unless that lab is intentionally developing responsible growth facilities or using electricity from renewable sources such as solar or wind, the process will still create carbon emissions. Those emissions can be as high per carat as mining.
So while a retailer should only make claims about sustainability when they can back them up, customers will come with their own perceptions. They may have weighed up the pros and cons of lab-grown and mined diamonds themselves and are more comfortable with the idea of lab-grown diamonds.
For many consumers, the appeal of mined diamonds lies in their rarity. This is also a matter of perception, as mined and lab-grown diamonds are chemically identical. A “real” diamond is simply a mineral composed of 99.95% carbon in a crystal matrix, so both lab-grown and mined diamonds are “real” diamonds. But even if no one else can tell the difference, the person buying the diamond will know. To them, a diamond formed deep inside the earth is a rare and finite thing. Only so many will ever exist in the world. There could theoretically be an infinite supply of lab-grown diamonds, an idea that cheapens a diamond in the eyes of the person who values tradition. The rarity of a mined diamond is what makes it valuable, and it’s what makes it the most special gift.
While many of the points surrounding the sustainability of one type of diamond or the other are contentious, and some customers value tradition more than others, there is one thing that is unequivocally true: LGD are lower in price than mined diamonds. Consumers may worry that they are getting a lower-quality product, but LGD are chemically identical to mined diamonds and graded according to the same standards. So if none of the above factors matter to the consumer, and they are only concerned about price, lab-grown is the clear choice, as it gives them more bang—or more brilliance—for their buck.
The difference in price also allows a retailer to recommend LGD for fashion pieces and mined diamonds for something more traditional, like an engagement ring. On the other hand, a customer looking for a 3 carat engagement ring might not be able to afford a mined diamond of that size. Not many people can afford a mined diamond of that size. A lab-grown diamond makes for an affordable alternative, and no one would ever know the difference.
Consumers, especially younger ones, who might not be interested in tradition or the ethical claims of lab-grown diamonds may still be drawn to the technological aspect. It truly is amazing that science and technological innovation have brought us to the point where we can create in a few weeks what takes nature millions of years. In the high pressure, high temperature method (HPHT), a hydraulic press exerts incredible heat and pressure on a diamond seed inside a carbon tube, similar to the way heat and pressure work on carbon in the Earth’s mantle. The chemical vapor deposition (CVD) method, meanwhile, is particularly fascinating to anyone interested in chemistry. Rather than subject carbon to intense heat and pressure, the CVD method places a diamond seed in a high-pressure chamber. The chamber is filled with hydrocarbon gas, and a microwave beam strips carbon atoms from the gas and layers them onto a diamond seed, building a diamond one atom at a time. A mined diamond is a reminder of the vast powers of nature, but a lab-grown diamond is a testament to human ingenuity.
Lab-grown diamonds and mined diamonds don’t have to be at odds with each other. If you tell the right story about each, they can coexist as two options for different customers, different preferences, and different occasions.