In COVID times, Are Natural Diamonds on the Way Out?

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A ring is a round band, usually of metal, worn as ornamental jewellery. The term "ring" by itself always denotes jewellery worn on the finger; when worn as an ornament elsewhere, the body part is specified within the term, e.g., earrings, neck rings, arm rings, and toe rings. Rings always fit snugly around or in the part of the body they ornament, so bands worn loosely, like a bracelet, are not rings. Rings may be made of almost any hard material: wood, bone, stone, metal, glass, gemstone or plastic. They may be set with gemstones (diamond, ruby, sapphire or emerald) or with other types of stone or glass.

Although some wear rings as mere ornaments or as conspicuous displays of wealth, rings have symbolic functions concerning marriage, exceptional achievement, high status or authority, membership in an organization, and the like. Rings can be made to sport insignia which may be impressed on a wax seal or outfitted with a small compartment in which to conceal things. In myth, fable, and fiction, rings are often endowed with spiritual or supernatural significance.

Recently, a new crop of primarily online, direct-to-consumer jewelry brands offering engagement rings with lab-grown diamonds has emerged, challenging the traditional notion that the most treasured pieces of jewelry should have stones that come from the earth. Some also use recycled diamonds, which can refer to both antique stones themselves, as well as those that are recut into a modern shape. Unlike lab-grown diamonds, recycled stones usually cost the same as their mined counterparts, but jewelry makers and their customers like them because of their smaller environmental footprint. In addition to Frank Darling, brands in the market include New York-based C1V1L, Ceremony in Los Angeles and London-based Kimaï, which counts Meghan Markle as a fan. Private equity firms like Huron Capital, which invested in WD Lsab Grown Diamonds in Washington D.C, are betting on the trend. And celebrities are too: Leonardo DiCaprio invested in San Francisco-based Diamond Foundry when the company raised over $100 million in 2015.

The lab-grown process uses a tiny diamond, called a diamond seed (which is sometimes from a mined diamond and sometimes from a lab-grown one), and one of two techniques to form a new diamond. The two processes used to create them—either high pressure-high temperature or chemical vapor deposition—replicate the conditions that create diamonds underground, but at a much faster rate. (Natural diamonds are considered a finite resource because of the limited supply close enough to the earth’s surface to access.) Growing a one-carat diamond takes seven to ten days, while a three-carat diamond requires about a month. After, they’re cut into traditional shapes such as cushion, oval and round.

Understanding the exact environmental impact of lab-grown versus natural diamonds isn’t entirely clear. A BBC Future Planet report from earlier this year tried to assess whether lab-grown processes are cleaner than mining without arriving at a definitive conclusion, citing a lack of transparency that makes it hard to get accurate data on the carbon footprint of each. A 2014 analysis by the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, for example, found that mined diamonds require more than twice as much energy as those grown in a lab, which is still a significant amount of energy.

Some younger buyers don’t want all the preciousness that’s usually involved with buying an engagement ring; they find it intimidating and impersonal. The website of Frank Darling, the brand where architect Martin-Thomsen found her ring, is branded with playful art and blue font and makes ring shopping less of a momentous event. Customers scroll through their setting choices, select a material—either 18K yellow, white or rose gold, or platinum—their ring size and whether they’d like lab-grown or recycled diamonds. If they choose to buy one of the setting-only rings, they can then search through the company’s diamond database to see stone options. Customers are also able to opt for a customized ring, as well as to start with a home try-on kit that includes four styles of replica rings. “It’s a category most people have never shopped before, and walking into a jewelry store is intimidating,” says co-founder and CEO Kegan Fisher, 34, who launched the company with her husband Jeff Smith, 38, in 2019. “In your home, where it’s comfortable, nobody’s looking at you and you can take as many photos as you want. It’s low pressure.”