Previous installments in this series on the differences between natural and lab-grown diamonds (LGDs), surveyed new government regulations meant to protect consumers from misleading claims made by LGD manufacturers. In this article, jewelry experts discuss how they value these two fundamentally different types of diamond products.
What is a diamond worth? While you’ll get an emotional answer from someone who proudly wears and treasures their grandmother’s engagement ring, a single mother who sorts diamonds to support her family will offer other opinions. And, whereas a diamond dealer will deliver a market-based assessment, a luxury jewelry designer is likely to have a more poetic view. All of these people, however, will doubtless agree that a diamond’s value transcends mere economic classifications.
While jewelry experts have long appreciated natural diamonds for their transcendental worth, today, they are also increasingly aware of the life-changing value that these precious stones provide to those working in mining, cutting, polishing, grading and retail communities. What’s more, they recognize the enduring emotional and economic worth that natural diamonds carry across generations. While some LGD companies claim that their industrially produced diamonds are an “ethical choice,” many designers and other jewelry professionals prefer to use natural diamonds, due to their positive societal benefits and lasting value.
Today In: Lifestyle
Such benefits support people in 25 countries on every continent except Europe and Antarctica. “Communities all over the world rely on natural diamond and related industries, including jewelry manufacturing, for sustenance, as well as for family healthcare and cultural survival,” says Bangkok-based jewelry designer Matthew Campbell Laurenza, CEO of MCL Design. Equally important, “Natural diamonds help fund construction and operations of hospitals and schools, along with staff and professionals’ salaries,” he adds.
As cited in the 2019 Total Clarity report produced by the independent research firm Trucost, natural diamonds generated $3.9 billion in benefits through local employment, and injected $6.8 billion in benefits into communities through the purchase of local goods and services. The report, compiled for the Diamond Producers Association, whose seven members produce 75% of world’s natural diamonds, states that DPA’s member companies generated $16 billion in net socioeconomic benefits.
“Purchasing natural diamonds helps keep indigenous people and local residents employed in well-paid jobs that provide healthcare and other benefits,” notes Hutton Wilkinson, creative director of Beverly Hills-based Tony Duquette, a heritage jewelry firm whose clients have included everyone from the Duchess of Windsor to Dolores del Rio. “Suppliers are now making sustainably mined, ethical diamonds of all sizes more readily available to designers and consumers.”
Designers and jewelers Anna Bario and Page Neal of Bario Neal are a case in point. Widely recognized as pioneers of ethical, natural diamond jewelry, the duo notes that when they founded their company in 2008, there were limited resources for the types of diamonds they sought. Their website explains how it took much time and research to find diamonds that embodied “…our commitment to environmental responsibility, fairness and human rights.” Their dedication to creating natural diamond jewelry with traceable integrity has led them to create such industry firsts as custom-cut ethical origin baguette diamonds, and traceable pavé diamonds. (Bario Neal guarantees that its diamonds are fully traceable, and many are of Canadian and Namibian origin.)
Because the Canadian and Namibian diamond mining industries are documented as maintaining some of the highest environmental and ethical employment standards, so is Botswana, which is rated by the non-profit watchdog organization Transparency International as the least corrupt African nation. This explains why Bario Neal and other jewelers prefer to use natural diamonds from these countries.
Bario Neal’s Namibian diamonds, for example, are cut and polished in a modern facility in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital. Local employees receive training across many levels, from entry to management, to help men and women advance in the workforce. Healthcare, including HIV treatment and prevention is offered. Bario Neal’s website explains that roughly $6 million USD flows into mining communities each year, which helps fund environmental, educational and hospital initiatives. “The evidence of the benefits that diamonds have brought to our two countries is overwhelming,” Namibia’s Mines and Energy Minister, Tom Alweendo stated in a speech he gave in Botswana.
Each of Bario Neal’s Namibian diamonds comes with a certification card naming the mine of origin, plus its cutting and polishing facilities. (Namibian mines are certified according to the International Organization for Standardization system for environmental management, also known as the ISO 14001 standards.)
Meanwhile in Canada’s Northwest Territories, the Ekati, Diavik and Gahcho Kué mines are located approximately 125 miles south of the Arctic circle. With hiring practices and training programs geared towards First Nations citizens and other locals, teams of wildlife monitors tracking environmental impact and technologically advanced water recycling and composting systems, these three mines exemplify optimal community engagement, environmental responsibility and peak waste management. What’s more, in 2019, the Canadian government awarded DPA member De Beers a grant totaling more than $500,000 USD for its carbon-capture research at the Gahcho Kué mine.
Natural diamonds have long provided value to communities that mine and process them. They’ve also enhanced the lives of those who sell, buy, give and wear them, thus creating economic stability plus indisputable emotional and financial value. This is because unlike LGDs, natural diamonds retain their worth across generations. “At this point in time, lab-grown diamonds have virtually zero resale value as compared to natural diamonds,” says Jean Ghika, Global Director of Jewellery for Bonhams, the London-based auction house founded in 1793. “Natural diamonds have proven to retain their value over time and can even multiply in value, depending on their provenance, or if they are high quality, fancy-colored diamonds,” Wilkinson observes.
This combination of enduring value and symbolism of devotion inspires jewelry designers around the world. Natural diamonds have long symbolized love and emotional commitment, and they are usually present in jewels that are passed on through generations,” says high-end jewelry designer Lisa Nik. She never works with LGDs, she explains, because only natural diamonds possess the organic integrity, emotional power and lasting value that she wants her designs to embody and express.
While many jewelry professionals are aware of key differences between LGDs and natural diamonds, “the general public is less well-informed,” Wilkinson says. Indeed, most jewelry lovers are most likely unaware of the FTC’s 2018 letters to eight LGD manufacturers that warned them to cease claiming that their industrially manufactured diamonds are either environmentally sustainable, or ethically superior, to all natural diamonds. One can only hope that more fair and balanced reporting in jewelry and luxury media will help the public appreciate the life-enhancing cultural and economic value that natural diamonds generate around the world.
“Once the public better understands the many ways in which sustainably mined natural diamonds and repurposed diamonds do good in the world,” Laurenza ventures, “they will recognize how and why natural diamond jewels help support human society, while adding much beauty to our lives and loves.”