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Pandora to Switch to Sustainable Diamonds

Updated: Jun 13, 2021

Emily Davies reports on the first major retailer to sell only lab-grown diamonds amid mining concerns.

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Pandora is releasing a collection of lab-grown diamond jewellery named Pandora Brilliance, and suspending sales of all mined diamonds. Releasing in the UK at first, they will expand to other countries next year with prices starting at £250.


In addition to being kinder to the planet in terms of mining, the lab-grown diamonds are being made with 60% renewable energy, with plans to increase to 100% renewables when the diamonds are launched globally next year, according to Pandora’s press release. The retailer is actively aiming towards becoming carbon neutral in four years’ time, with this development indicating they are taking this promise very seriously. This is refreshing to see in a time when greenwashing is rife.



The Origins of Diamonds

Diamonds form after carbon is exposed to extremely high heat and high pressure, forming about 90 miles under the surface of the planet before being pushed to the Earth’s crust by volcanic activity where they can be mined.


Lab-grown diamonds are made by replicating the conditions of naturally formed ones. A common way of doing this entails putting a diamond seed into a piece of carbon, pressurising it with a belt press and exposing it to intense heat (HPHT). An alternate method involves putting the diamond seed into a heated chamber filled with gases like methane, which are then ionised into plasma that break down the molecular bond and pure carbon sticks to the seed to make a diamond (CVD). These processes take 5-10 days for yellow and blue diamonds, but white diamonds take over two weeks.


Impact on People and Planet


There are two main problems with mining diamonds: the impact on the environment and the impact on people.


Downstream from diamond mines, the water of rivers and lakes is home to toxic materials which also leech into the soil, damaging wildlife and the health and livelihoods of inhabitants in surrounding areas. Even once the mines are abandoned, they can fill up with stagnant water that attracts mosquitos. The Kono District of Sierra Leone is a once-popular diamond mining area where malaria is now widespread due to an influx of the insect population. The landscape is pocketed with thousands of holes from abandoned mines, and the soil is no longer safe for farming. Areas like this are ravaged by disease, wildlife has vanished, and people unable to farm are left starving. 


Some of these areas can be saved, as local communities and international organisations are working to restore the land, and not-for-profit funds like the one set up by Brilliant Earth are helping these efforts. However, the use of lab-grown diamonds may be the answer to preventing the problems emerging in the first place.




The Drawbacks


Some critics claim that lab-grown diamonds aren’t worth anything because there is no limit to how many can be made, just like a factory churning out chocolate bars. They aren’t special. They aren’t rare. Not like a real diamond. 


Except, real diamonds aren’t rare either. As Ethica Diamonds puts it:


“Diamonds are not rare. They are hoarded. There are hundreds of thousands of carats of diamonds stashed in warehouses across the world, waiting for the right time to bring them to market. A handful of men became very wealthy on the back of this, and from creating a market in which diamonds were a sought-after commodity, especially for engagement rings.”

A notable limitation of a lab-grown diamond compared to a mined one is that a lab-grown diamond doesn’t retain value. You can’t sell your lab-grown diamond ring to a jeweller if you’re in a tight spot financially, while mined diamonds can be resold for 50% or more of their original price (despite the fact that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has confirmed that the two kinds are scientifically identical).


Nevertheless, purchasing lab-grown gems means you’ll avoid inadvertently investing in ethical concerns such as blood diamonds (diamonds mined in a war zone and sold to finance insurgency or armies) and child labour (sometimes utilised in the cutting and polishing processes as well as in the actual mining). Your main concern when investing in such products is whether the manufacturer uses renewable energy.


Pandora Brilliance may be a purely business-minded move intended to boost sales, or it may be a show of genuine concern for the planet and human rights abuses that go into producing the gems. If lab-grown diamonds catch on in other stores and consumer interest rises, then this will be good for both the planet and the people affected by the diamond mining industry.


 

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