Are mined diamonds going to die?Are diamonds really forever? They can certainly last eternally, but they can’t be dug endlessly. Therefore, the diamond industry faces a dual challenge. How to sell more diamonds to an ever-increasing set of clients while mines are producing less and less gems all over the world? Diamond producers, such as the well-known De Beers, answered this problem with two simple actions. They have increased prices and multiplied explorations to find new unexploited diamond seams. And then came both a revolution and a blessing: synthetic diamonds. Nowadays, diamonds can be grown from seeds in a lab, where all the conditions of diamond creation are reproduced. As synthetic diamonds are easier to produce and cheaper to sell, natural diamonds can’t compete with this new product.
Once upon a time, there were conflict diamonds
“Blood diamonds” became widely-known in the 90s, after several scandals and testimonies linking the diamond and fashion industries to some African civil wars. These stories cast a light on the problem of traceability of diamonds. Very precious, and often extracted in very poor, rural, or conflict-stricken areas, diamonds usually cross many borders before getting to their actual buyers. Hence a lack of transparency about their origins or what they finance.
Despite some regulatory actions, like the implementation of the Kimberley Process in 2003, the diamond business still faces strong human-right-related and environmental criticisms.
Synthetic diamonds shall win
Synthetic diamonds are a solution to the diamond industry’s predicament. Like mined diamonds, artificial ones are made of compressed carbon. Unlike imitations such as zirconia or moissanite, synthetic diamonds are not fake diamonds. They have the exact same optical, chemical and visual properties. The only difference is the way they are produced. The process of creating diamonds is considerably sped up. Diamonds need millions of years to form below the ground, but only a few weeks in a lab. The illusion is perfect: human eye cannot tell apart mined and synthetic diamonds, they have to be analysed by a machine in a lab to be identified.
Not only can they put an end to abusive mining and reduce the environmental impact of the industry, artificial diamonds are also less expensive to produce. For the consumer, a lab-grown diamond costs 30 to 40% less than a mined one. They are also of a (much) better quality. For the same amount of money, you would get a better clarity, a better colour, and a better size. To sum it up, artificial diamonds are bigger, prettier, and cheaper.
The last specificity of lab-grown diamonds is the possibility to change their properties when you grow them. For instance, you can make them stronger, tougher, or simply change their colours.
As a consequence, synthetic diamonds are on their way to become the new norm. They are expected to represent a $28.6 billion market by 2023, according to Crystal Market Research. The giant De Beers is even building a $94 million factory for Element Six, its synthetic diamond company, in Portland, Oregon.
Even though the value of artificial diamonds and their purity is contested, they are likely to be the future of the jewellery industry. If they turn out to be produceable on a large scale, they could also induce several changes in other industries such as in electronics. American researchers are currently studying the properties of diamonds to outperform the traditionally used materials. Synthetic diamonds would be a means to use them a lower price. High-performance diodes are built by using diamonds instead of silicone for instance.