Danish jewelry manufacturer Pandora, the world's largest jeweler, announced it will only sell diamonds crafted in laboratories and will stop its sale of controversial mined diamonds, as per a report by the BBC.
The diamond industry is steeped in controversy due to the fact that the gemstones have been used to fund conflicts in Africa for years. Diamond miners on the continent generally work under unsafe, often deadly conditions for wages as low as $1 a day, according to a post by Ohio State University.
Environmental concerns have also led to an increased demand for lab-grown diamonds over the traditional mined alternatives.
Lab-made diamonds are cheaper and more sustainable
Surprisingly, perhaps, there is also a large price incentive when it comes to bringing lab-made diamonds to consumers.
"We can essentially create the same outcome as nature has created, but at a very, very different price," Pandora's chief executive, Alexander Lacik, explained to the BBC. The lab-made diamonds can be made for "a third of what it is for something that we've dug up from the ground," he continued.
Lacik also said that changing the lab-grown diamonds is simply the "right thing to do," and that it is part of a sustainability drive by the company moving forward.
Diamonds only make up a very small share of the 100 million jewelry pieces Pandora sells globally per year.
However, Lacik believes the cheaper price of lab-made diamonds will boost sales — the company's new line of diamond jewelry will sell starting at £250 ($350).
Though there are question marks surrounding the use of coal-powered electricity to power the manufacturing process behind lab-made diamonds (more on that below), manufacturers are making efforts to stay sustainable.
For example, Diamond Foundry, the largest US producer of lab-made diamonds says it is "100% hydro-powered, meaning zero emissions".
What is the difference between lab-made and natural diamonds?
For all intents and purposes, lab-made and natural diamonds are the same material. Both are composed of the transparent crystallized form of carbon, and both refract direct light into a kaleidoscope of spectral colors.
It is the method in which they reach the wearer or machine part — approximately 80 percent of diamonds are used for industrial purposes, such as cutting tools — where the difference lies.
As a report by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) explains, lab-grown diamonds first entered the market five years ago. "Although identical in appearance to natural diamonds, they have very subtle differences that can only be detected by trained gemologists and sophisticated equipment designed for that purpose," the report explains.
Natural diamonds, on the other hand, are formed deep below the Earth's surface under high temperatures and extreme pressure. The process for a natural diamond to form can take between 1 and 3.3 billion years.
How are lab-made diamonds produced?
Lab-made diamonds are typically made using one of two widely-used methods. High pressure, high temperature (HPHT) diamonds are produced in a laboratory setting where manufacturers can reproduce the conditions in which natural diamonds are formed under the Earth's surface using advanced machines that can reach temperatures as high as 2,600°C.
The other method, called chemical vapor deposition (CVD) ionizes the molecules of a carbon-rich gas, such as hydrogen or methane, allowing the pure carbon to attach itself to a "diamond seed," making it grow in size. Both methods typically take a month or two to produce a full diamond gemstone, according to the GIA.
According to the BBC, lab-grown diamond production grew to between six and seven million carats last year, while the production of mined diamonds fell to 111 million carats.
Due to the role the diamond industry has played in fueling conflicts in Africa, the Clean Diamond Trade Act was instated in 2003, a global initiative aimed at regulating the commercial sale of diamonds.
Pandora's lab-made diamonds are being manufactured in Britain, and the company will first start to sell the synthetic gemstones in the United Kingdom before rolling the product out worldwide at a later date.