In this guide, we outline what types of diamonds might be:
– The best in terms of being sustainable from an environmental perspective
– The best in terms of being ethically sourced
Summary – Best Sustainable & Ethical Diamonds
The best sustainable and ethical diamonds will be different for different people, depending on what sustainability and ethics based factors they consider to be most important.
But, there are a general set of environmental and social factors that can enable us to generally rank the different types of diamonds.
When considering environmental and social objectives, the hierarchy of most sustainable and ethical, to the least, might be:
1. Non modified secondhand, and passed down/gifted diamonds
2. Recut & repolished non new diamonds
3. Reset non new diamonds
4. Recycled diamonds
5. Lab grown diamonds (but, depends on several variables related to how the diamond seed material is sourced, and how the diamonds are produced)
Note that this is just a generalized list.
Obviously how sustainable and ethical diamonds are comes down to how each individual diamond (or piece of diamond jewelry) is sourced, produced, modified, and so on.
Different suppliers, sellers, and diamond owners will have their own variables to consider.
1. Non Modified Secondhand, Or ‘Passed Down/Gifted’ Diamonds
The most sustainable and ethical diamond might be diamonds that:
1. Have not been modified (re-set in anyway)
And, 2. Have been obtained from a secondhand source, or have been passed down through the family to the next generation
Obviously with these types of diamonds, there is only a mining and production footprint, and ethical issues to consider when the diamond was first bought, but not on this secondary transaction.
This secondary transaction almost has no environmental or social footprint to consider at all if the diamond isn’t modified.
One technical point worth considering is that some might average out the initial environmental and social footprint of when the diamond was first bought
2. Re-Cut & Re-Polished Non-New Diamonds
Second on the list might be re-cut or re-polished non-new diamonds.
Recutting and re-polishing diamonds is a form of resetting them, and we mention recutting and repolishing diamonds second on the list because they do not involve adding new diamonds or new materials (therefore, the energy and labor used in recutting and repolishing is generally the only footprint to consider here)
Recutting a diamond involves cutting the diamond to change the shape or design of the diamond
Re-polishing a diamond involves polishing and essentially sanding down the diamond to bring out it’s shine or to smooth it out.
3. Reset Non New Diamonds
Resetting can include re-cutting and re-polishing, but also potentially much more.
There’s a number of ways a diamond ring can be reset, so, how sustainable or ethical a reset diamond ring is depends on the resetting option that is chosen.
Resetting can range from simply moving the existing diamond to a new setting, all the way up to adding new diamonds around your centerpiece diamond (on a new setting).
Simply moving your existing diamond from it’s old existing setting to a new setting can have a very small environmental footprint, and have no ethical issues.
Sometimes, the old setting can be re-used for the new setting, or it might be melted down as metal scrap and recycled.
Some metals and setting materials are more recyclable than others though (gold, silver and stainless steel for example might be far more recyclable than platinum), and there can be materials like glue and other materials that need to be properly separated from the old diamond and the old setting before transferring the diamond to a new setting (recyclenation.com)
4. Recycled Diamonds
Recycled diamonds are pre-owned, and are put back into the diamond supply.
Recycled diamonds have to be assessed, sorted and then are usually treated in some way for reselling – recutting and repolishing might be part of the treatment process before selling to an end buyer.
Kitco.com says this about recycled diamonds ‘Addressing the issue of a “green” or “environmentally friendly” diamond, it is difficult to compete with a recycled diamond as any energy, environmental, or social cost of producing the diamond has already been realized’
When buying recycled diamonds, make sure they come with a recognized certification so you know you aren’t getting ripped off, and you have an assurance on what you’re buying.
idonowidont.com mentions that diamonds in general can last 100’s of years, and society has ‘enough harvested diamonds to satisfy all our jewelry needs for the next 50 years or so without having to mine a single stone’
So, these things add credibility to using more recycled diamonds.
5. Lab Grown Diamonds
Lab grown diamonds can be more sustainable than mined diamonds.
But, some significant variables in the sustainability and ethics of lab grown diamonds are:
– The diamond seed material used
Lab grown diamonds still need a diamond seed material to grow the diamond
The sourcing of this diamond seed material plays a part in how sustainable and ethical the finished lab grown diamond product is
– How much energy is used and the type of energy used
One of the potential downsides to lab grown diamonds is potentially how much energy they might use to create the diamonds
Various reports say that not only a lot of energy can be used, but, this energy could come from non renewable sources. This might create energy use, and air pollution and carbon emission concerns
– The labor used
Lab grown diamonds still require labor to produce
Where this labor is sourced from, and the workplace conditions in place may have a bearing on how ethical these diamonds are
Others don’t, and as kitco.com mentions ‘While a lab-created diamond does not involve excavation of earth, the production process still requires a significant amount of energy and there is no guarantee that labor practices are ideal’
– Waste generation and management
There isn’t a lot of information available the type of waste produced with lab grown diamonds, and how it’s managed
This is something to be aware of and track
6. Mined Natural/Real Diamonds
To be fair, various reports say labor practices in real diamond mining across the world for major diamond suppliers and sellers have improved over the last few decades, especially with the introduction of the Kimberly Process in 2003
Although, coreyegan.com provides an alternative view on how socially conscious the Kimberly Process actually might be (part of this stemming from the narrow definition of ‘conflict’ in ‘conflict free’)
There’s still the environmental cost of mining diamonds new though.
In some instances, mining real/natural diamonds, as well as processing and transportation can have a larger environmental footprint than lab grown diamonds.
As one example, land degradation, water use and mining waste and pollution might be higher with mined diamonds compared to lab grown diamonds
There is still the concern that small mining operations might not be tracked or regulated as well as the bigger mining operations
Natural mined diamonds are also non renewable, in that only a certain number of them exist to be mined
7. Other Diamond Types, & Fake Diamonds
There are also other diamond types and fake diamonds to consider other than the ones listed above.
Fake diamonds include simulants just as one example, with Cubic Zirconia being a common simulant (and Moissanite being another).
[It’s important to note that stimulants are not actually real diamonds – they are a different material entirely]
If we take Cubic Zirconia as a main example:
– According to wikipedia.org, ‘Cubic zirconia (CZ) is the cubic crystalline form of zirconium dioxide (ZrO2)’, and, ‘Single crystals of the cubic phase of zirconia are commonly used as diamond simulant in jewellery … This state of zirconia is commonly called cubic zirconia, CZ, or zircon by jewellers, but the last name is not chemically accurate. Zircon is actually the mineral name for naturally occurring zirconium silicate (ZrSiO4)’
– According to geology.com, ‘Zircon-rich sediments are mined and the recovered zircon is used to produce zirconium metal and zirconium dioxide. These are used in a wide variety of manufactured products and industrial processes’
So, there is still mining involved in other types of diamonds like CZ.
Depending on what other types of diamonds are made from, how they are sourced, and how they are produced, they might be slightly better, on par with, or slightly worse from a sustainability and ethical perspective than lab grown and mined natural/real diamonds
Environmental & Social Variables To Consider When Buying Diamonds
A few factors/variables you might consider might be:
– The mining footprint (land degradation, water footprint, emissions, pollution, land restoration, and other mining related factors)
– The diamond seed material used (what sort of diamond is used)
– Energy used throughout the process, and the type of energy used
– Waste that is produced, and how it is managed/disposed of. Also, whether there is any waste pollution
– The labor used, and labor practices, conditions, standards and protections in place both at the sourcing and production phase
– Whether recycled metals are used, and whether any material is recycled and re-used in a secondhand or pre-used diamond
– Any environmental or social initiatives or policies in place by the company selling or offering the diamond
– How long a diamond is kept in circulation in total, and how often a consumer buys or replaces a piece of diamond jewelry
A Few Other Notes About Buying Diamonds
A few things to take into consideration when buying diamonds might be:
– Traits and properties of different diamonds
Some diamonds might have different physical traits and properties compared to others, separate to the environmental and social considerations of the diamond
– Certification for diamonds
Make sure there is some type of third party recognized certification that comes with the diamond, so you have an assurance of exactly what it is that you are purchasing.
This applies to new, and also secondhand purchased diamonds