From #MarilynMonroe to #Rihanna, diamonds have inspired many generations of artists and celebrities, who have admired and celebrated their multi-faceted splendour. A diamond is, possibly, the most coveted gem on earth. An epitome of luxury and wealth, as well as love and romance.
Despite the blinding beauty of the precious stone, however, one barely needs to squint to see what deep darkness hides behind it. A long and not-so glamorous history of imperialism and abusive systems that have caused harm to entire communities and ecosystems. Countries stripped off their resources, pockets lined with the blood of overexploited and abused workforces (not to mention child labour).
Not only songs, therefore. Diamonds, unsurprisingly, have also been the object of many inquisitions and investigations.
There are three mining processes currently used to recover them: pipe (open-pit and underground), marine and alluvial. Although different, the three have one thing in common — they all contribute to pollution and destruction, even leading to natural disasters. Not to mention, “the median amount of carbon dioxide per karat of a mined diamond is around 108.5 kg per carat”
In countries like Zimbabwe, for instance, what initially had been a promise of ‘economic growth’ quickly turned out to be not only an empty promise, but quite the opposite of growth: a series of untransparent and corrupted practices that eventually led to an economic crisis, as well as the unfair distribution of the wealth derived from the discovery of the Marange diamond fields.
That being said, it should also be noted that not every stone is a symbol of exploitation and imperialism. There are entire communities in Botswana that depend on diamond mines, the local economy thriving because of them. Investigating the reasons for this, rare, success, it seems that it has to do with the way the country has “managed its diamond revenues in a prudent and transparent manner [...] contributing to sizable savings that can be used to stabilize the economy in case of a downturn and save for investments and future generations.” The Botswana Government, in fact, made it a priority to invest into “health, education, social assistance, and public infrastructure.” The impact of mining on the environment, however, is a different story.
Perhaps due to an increased environmental awareness, in recent years diamond-lovers seem to have turned to what seems to be a safer, more sustainable, and guilt-free alternative, provided by science and technology: lab-grown gems. In these labs, diamonds are created using one of two processes: high pressure high temperature (HPHT) or chemical vapor deposition (CVD). The former consists in heating a small diamond “up to over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and pressure of around 1.5 million pounds per square inch,” while CVD diamonds are made using “carbon-filled gasses and heat of around 1500 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Both production methods, therefore, require a lot of resources and energy. Albeit less damaging to the environment than ruthless mining, in fact, the process of creating one lab-grown diamond “releases 511 kg of greenhouse gases”. The main issue here seems to be a lack of transparency and regulations, with the majority of producers relying on the methods mentioned above rather than, for instance, solar power, which would reduce emissions and the overall negative impact of lab-grown diamonds on the environment.
The takeaway here is that the world of diamonds is much more complex that one might think. It could be easy to say, ‘let’s ban diamond mining forever,’ when in reality many lives depend on it. Countries like Botswana, for instance, where there are actual regulations and policies in place and a government that is using the diamond-money to invest into healthcare, local businesses and education.
When it comes to lab-grown diamonds, on the other hand, it wouldn’t be correct to say that they are fully sustainable. They aren’t, but, there’s definitely room for improvement. Hopefully, with the advancement of technology and research, new, more sustainable techniques and methods will be discovered and implemented. And, who knows, maybe one day our future selves will be able to purchase and show off precious stones that are also truly eco-friendly.