Because there’s more than one kind of ‘diamond’. We’re not talking about all the aforementioned aesthetic details, but rather the way in which the diamond is formed.
Traditional, natural diamonds – which are no doubt the majority of diamonds you’ve seen up until now – were formed over 3 billion years ago deep within the Earth’s crust under conditions of intense heat and pressure. The majority of natural diamonds are found in Africa, and the extraction process often requires extreme labour. Despite this, millions of African diamond miners earn less than a dollar a day.
They’re one of the few jewellery details that appeals to almost everyone. You can have a preference for daintier pieces or super chunky ones, lots of layers or simple singles, yellow gold or white (or even rose), but even the least traditional amongst us – whether we like to admit it or not – go a little weak at the knees for a truly mega diamond.
Asscher cuts, brilliant rounds, emeralds, radiants, cushions, ovals, pears, princess… carat weights, GIA grades, clarity, colour – you’re likely aware that there are seemingly a million different decisions to make when buying a diamond, but did you know that there’s actually a whole other decision that needs to be made before you even get to this level of specificity? A decision that’s usually made for you without you even knowing it, all thanks to ‘tradition’.
But not every natural diamond is extracted under such questionable circumstances, and there are a number of efforts and initiatives underway to improve the ethics of diamond mining. What is rarely discussed, however, is the alternative; lab-grown diamonds.
A relatively self-explanatory concept, lab-grown diamonds are diamonds that have been manufactured by humans in a controlled environment. They don’t require the back-breaking labour. They don’t require the same amount of time (3 billion years would be one long waiting list). And they’re almost always far cheaper than natural diamonds – likely due to the historical lack of awareness and subsequent demand.
As the popularity of lab-grown diamonds begins to gather pace, we caught up with the girls behind Kimaï – a luxury ethical jewellery brand specialising in lab-grown diamonds – to discover the truth about the phenomenon, and why their family backgrounds in natural diamonds encouraged them to make the move to lab-grown…
Q Talk us through your family’s history in natural diamond mining?
A Sidney: Jessica and I are childhood friends and grew up together in Antwerp, Belgium. Our families were both in the diamond and jewellery industry; Jessica was born into a family of [natural] diamond traders and both my father and grandfather were well established Belgian jewellers, so from a young age we grew up with knowledge and an understanding of the industry.
Q What made you decide to branch out into lab-grown diamonds?
A Jessica: Thanks to our families’ background, Sidney and I were both granted an unusual insight from a very young age into the diamond and jewellery industry which is famously shrouded in mystery and controversy. As we grew up, we were more and more curious about supply chains and it became important to us to know where the things we were buying originated from. So that’s why, in 2018, we joined our creative and business heads to co-found Kimaï. We wanted to address this lack of transparency and set out to realign the industry by creating a modern brand which set out to deliver progressive – but luxurious – fine-jewellery, catered to an ethically and environmentally conscious generation of consumers.
Q Lab-grown diamonds are no doubt more ethical, but is it also a more sustainable method than natural diamond mining?
A Sidney: Lab-grown diamonds are created using extreme pressure and heat inside a machine. It is true that they need a significant amount of energy, however the type and quantity of energy used is very different. Mining in remote areas can require the use of Diesel generators, whereas we use labs located in areas where they use solar power and other renewable sources of electricity. This helps us to ensure a sustainable and human friendly production process, whereas mined diamonds can have a very large carbon footprint. Mining diamonds also uses double the amount of energy than that required in labs.
Q What are the physical differences (if any) between lab-grown and natural diamonds? Would an expert be able to tell them apart?
A Jessica: Mined and lab-grown diamonds are physically and aesthetically identical. The only difference is how the diamond is formed. To make a lab-grown diamond, we replicate the conditions in which traditional diamonds grow below the earth’s surface. The result is identical in colour, cut, carat and clarity and retains the sought-after magic of traditional diamonds without the ethical and environmental impact the industry has long been associated with. In 2018, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) re-categorised the definition of a diamond, removing the word ‘natural’. So, there is now no classified, scientific or molecular difference between mined and lab-grown diamonds, with industry experts unable to tell the difference visually.
Q Why are lab-grown diamonds so much more affordable, and do you see them increasing in value soon?
A Value for us is knowing where things come from and being confident about the positive impact we have on our planet. Thats what our generation see as better value nowadays. It comes with the story of the piece and the moment in life.