Looking for an energy-efficient diamond this Valentine’s Day?

Caitlin Cosper
By Caitlin Cosper February 12th, 2020
For business

Diamond rings are available with natural or synthetic diamonds.

Valentine’s Day: a day of flowers, chocolate, and yes, diamonds. There’s no denying the holiday’s popularity in the diamond industry. In fact, according to Wedding Wire, Valentine’s Day is the second most popular day for couples to get engaged, and the diamond – the hardest material on Earth – is the most common stone choice for engagement rings.

The diamond industry is massive. Global diamond jewelry sales have tripled in the past 25 years and the industry is worth more than $72 billion annually. According to Bain & Company, approximately 133 million carats of rough diamonds are produced each year. So, how much energy does it take to produce a diamond? The answer isn’t as straightforward as it may seem.

What does it take to make a natural diamond?

The natural diamond process begins with exploration. Geologists look for kimberlites, which are stones that tend to contain diamonds. During the exploration process, geologists mine kimberlites, extract pieces of the stone, analyze it and determine whether it’s worth further mining to extract the diamonds inside.

There are a few different mining methods that work best depending on the location. Open-pit mining takes place above ground, while underground mining uses tunnels below ground to locate and extract the diamonds.

Once the diamonds are mined, they’re processed. This step is crucial because the stones are scrubbed and mixed with a solution that separates the diamond from any other materials. After this, the stone is ready to be cleaned and sorted. During the sorting process, gem-quality diamonds are separated from industrial diamonds.

Gem-quality diamonds are the stones used in engagement rings and other pieces of jewelry. The quality of industrial diamonds isn’t high enough for jewelry. Instead, these stones are sold to factories that use them for cutting and grinding tools.

Once sorted, the gem-quality diamonds are then cut and polished before being sold to jewelry stores and vendors. Diamonds can either be set into a piece of jewelry before they’re sold, or the buyer might set the stone once the purchase is complete. At this point, the diamond is officially on the market.

Natural versus synthetic diamonds

One of the most recent and important factors in the diamond industry is the development of synthetic diamonds. While natural diamonds are mined from the Earth, synthetic diamonds are grown in a lab. However, according to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), these diamonds have the same chemical composition, structure, and properties as natural diamonds.

While natural diamonds are mined using the above process, synthetic diamonds go through an entirely different creation. There are a few different methods, such as mimicking the high-pressure, high-temperature conditions of the earth to grow diamonds in a lab.

So, do synthetic diamonds save energy? It depends on who you ask.

Diamond energy usage: What we know

It’s difficult to find straightforward reports on how much energy is consumed while mining and/or processing diamonds. Most diamond companies withhold their energy usage from the public to avoid being compared with their counterparts (both synthetic and natural alike).

Here’s what we found. In a 2013 working paper, Dr. Saleem Ali, a professor of energy and the environment at the University of Delaware, emphasized the amount of energy used in the diamond industry varies based on location.

Dr. Ali spoke with several jewelry companies about their energy usage. He estimated synthetic diamonds from Apollo Diamonds require around 28 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per carat. In contrast, the Argyle mine in Australia, which produces natural diamonds, uses an average of 7.5 kWh per carat. Because of its isolation from typical sources of power, the Diavik mine in Canada has to produce its own electricity onsite. This causes the Diavik mine to consume about 66.3 kWh per carat. De Beers, a company with a marine diamond mine off the coast of Namibia, consumes about 80.3 kWh per carat.

Clean Origin, a synthetic diamond company, released findings estimating natural diamonds consume 538.5 million joules per carat (150 kWh per carat) while synthetic diamonds use 250 million joules (69 kWh).

How to find an energy-efficient diamond

If you’re searching for an energy-efficient diamond, you’ll need to think about how you define energy efficiency. If you’re strictly concerned with the amount of kWh consumed per carat, it would be wise to ask the diamond producer directly about the company’s energy usage.

However, there are other factors to consider. In terms of land disruption, natural diamonds require mining the earth. According to Clean Origin, nearly 100 square feet of land is disturbed for every naturally-mined carat of diamond. However, it’s worth noting synthetic diamonds are created in laboratories, which require construction on land and may also disturb natural habitats.

Additionally, many diamond companies have implemented sustainability initiatives regardless of whether they produce natural or synthetic diamonds. Tiffany & Co., perhaps the world’s most recognized diamond company, helped launch the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) in 2006. Further, Tiffany & Co. launched the Diamond Source Initiative last year, which provides information about the origin for each individually registered diamond.

There’s also the Kimberley Process (KP), which works to minimize the presence of conflict diamonds. Conflict-free diamonds are ethically mined and sold, abide by human rights laws, and do not have ties to terror organizations. To meet the KP standards, participants must satisfy national import/export controls and requirements, commit to transparent practices, trade only with other KP participants, and prove their diamonds are conflict-free. Today, KP participants account for 99.8 percent of the global diamond trade.

The big takeaway

Whether you’re actively shopping for a special piece of jewelry this Valentine’s Day or just interested in the diamond industry, keep in mind not all companies are equally sustainable. It’s important to ask questions about companies’ sustainability initiatives to make sure it aligns with your values.

And, of course, the biggest takeaway: make sure you love the diamond you’re buying. After all, diamonds are forever.

 

Caitlin Cosper is a writer within the energy and power industry. Born in Georgia, she attended the University of Georgia before earning her master’s in English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Image/Shutterstock