When De Beers came up with their 'A diamond is forever' advertising campaign in 1948 it firmly put diamonds at the top of the shopping list for engagement rings. They managed to persuade young men that diamonds (and only diamonds) were synonymous with romance, and that the measure of a man's love (and even his personal and professional success) was directly proportional to the size and quality of the diamond he purchased.
However, more recently people have become aware that behind the brilliance there is a darker side to the mining and trading of diamonds. Leonardo Di Caprio's film Blood Diamond raised awareness that diamonds mined in Africa's war zones served to finance some of that continents' worst wars. Then there are the conditions of the miners and effect on the environment of mining to consider.
But is there really a viable alternative if you want a hard wearing, sparkling white stone?
I have been recently investigating this for a client of mine and thought I would share my findings.
I first investigated white Sapphires. Sapphire is a precious gemstones which is very hard wearing. The Mohs scale of mineral harness puts Sapphire at 9 out 10 (Diamond is 10). It certainly gives a lovely white sparkle but it doesn't give the 'fire' you see in Diamonds. Fire is created as light bounces back through the stone, dispersing into a rainbow spectrum of colours.
There is one other stone that actually has more fire than a diamond and it's the beautiful Moissanite. This gemstone was first found in fragments of meteorite that fell from the stars. After many years of work, this rare, natural mineral was successfully grown in a lab, so there is no mining involved in the creation process. It's not harmful to the earth, not involved in any conflict trade and stones are ethically and responsibly sourced. What's more it's very hard wearing at 9.25 on the Mohs scale. The photo shows how much more fire you get from Moissanite than Diamond.
Comparison of the fire of a Moissanite vs a Diamond
A Moissanite Solitaire Pendant in 18ct Gold
LAB GROWN DIAMONDS
Finally, if you really do feel that you need a Diamond but want to avoid the murky side you can now buy lab grown diamonds which are chemically and physically identical to mined diamonds. Even De Beers are now also creating lab grown diamonds. Because it's impossible to tell them apart from mined diamonds without a very expensive machine they are laser marking their grown stones.
There are two high-tech ways that are used to reproduce the conditions that create natural diamonds below the earth’s surface: Pressure-High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD).
An HPHT diamond begins as a small diamond seed that is placed into carbon. The seed is exposed to extremely high temperatures and pressure. The pure carbon melts and starts to form a diamond around the starter seed. It is then carefully cooled to form a pure carbon diamond.
A CVD diamond begins as a thin slice of diamond seed. The diamond seed is placed in a sealed chamber and heated to around 800 degrees Celsius. The chamber is filled with a carbon-rich gas that is ionized into plasma. The ionization breaks the molecular bonds in the gases, and the pure carbon adheres to the diamond seed and slowly crystallizes.
One problem with lab-made diamonds, though, is that they can take a lot of energy to produce.
Between 50% and 60% of them come from China, where they are mostly made using coal powered electricity. However in the United States,the largest producer, Diamond Foundry, says its process is "100% hydro-powered, meaning zero emissions". This is the company Di Caprio is a financial backer for and in 2015 he Tweeted:
" Proud to invest in Diamond Foundry – a co. reducing human & environmental toll by sustainably culturing diamonds"ld b
THE 4 C's
All diamonds are evaluated according to the 4 C's of clarity, colour, carat and cut and these four factors are what determine their price. These factors influence the price of both mined and lab grown diamonds. The number and size of any imperfections affect it's clarity rating. How white the diamond is affects it's colour score and this is on a scale of D (exceptionally white) to Z. Carat is the weight of the stone. Finally the cut is determined by the skill of the stone cutter and this affects how well it reflects and refracts the light.
Because these factors are not often apparent to the untrained eye it is important to ask for a certificate from an independent gem institute to make sure that you are investing in a high quality stone. GIA is world renowned as the gold standard but is expensive. IGI is more affordable and while it's standards aren't as exacting they will provide reassurance that you aren't buying a fake.
My conclusion at the end of all this investigation is that if you are looking to invest in an engagement ring representing a lifetime of commitment that is free from environmental and ethical concerns I wouldn't hesitate to recommend a lab grown diamond sourced from the USA. If you are looking for a really beautiful stone but are less bothered by the cache created by years of marketing then Moissanite would be my choice.
If you are looking to commission an engagement ring or special piece of jewellery then please get in touch. You can read more about my work here