Lab-grown diamonds: Popular among Gen Z, millennials, but not sustainable

The muted sounds of hammering and sanding carry all the way to the first floor of Bario Neal, a jewelry store in Philadelphia, where rustic artworks mimicking nature hang on the warmly lit walls.

Waiting for one of those rings is Haley Farlow, a 28-year-old second-grade teacher who designed her own three-stone engagement ring with her boyfriend. They care about the price and also don’t want jewelry that negatively impacts the Earth or exploits people in mining. So they are planning to buy lab-grown diamonds.

“Most of my friends grew up in the lab. And I think it fits perfectly with our lifestyle and, you know, the economy and what we’re experiencing,” Farlow said.

In the United States, sales of lab-grown diamonds increased 16% in 2023 compared to 2022, according to Edahn Golan, an industry analyst. They cost a fraction of the stones that formed naturally underground.

Social media posts show millennials and Generation Z proudly explaining they purchase their lab-grown diamonds for ethical and sustainability reasons. But how sustainable they are is questionable, since producing a diamond requires a huge amount of energy and many major producers are not transparent about their operations.

Farlow said choosing the lab-grown product makes her ring “more special and fulfilling” because the materials come from reputable companies. All diamonds in Bario Neal’s lab are made with renewable energy or the emissions needed to make them are offset with carbon credits, which pay for activities like planting trees, which capture carbon.

But this is not the norm for lab-grown diamonds.

Many companies are based in India, where about 75% of electricity comes from burning coal. They use words like “sustainable” and “environmentally friendly” on their websites, but they do not publish their environmental impact reports and are not third-party certified. Cupid Diamonds, for example, says on its website that it produces diamonds “in an environmentally friendly way,” but did not answer questions about what makes its diamonds sustainable. Solar energy is rapidly expanding in India and there are some companies, such as Greenlab Diamonds, that use renewable energy in their manufacturing processes.

China is the other major diamond producing country. Henan Huanghe Whirlwind, Zhuhai Zhong Na Diamond, HeNan LiLiang Diamond, Starsgem Co. and Ningbo Crysdiam are among the major producers. No one responded to requests for comment or posted details about where they get their electricity. In 2023, more than half of China’s electricity came from coal.

In the United States, a company, VRAI, whose parent company is Diamond Foundry, operates what it says is a zero-emissions foundry in Wenatchee, Washington, powered by hydroelectric power from the Columbia River. Martin Roscheisen, CEO and founder of Diamond Foundry, said via email that the power VRAI uses to grow a diamond is “about a tenth of the energy needed for mining.”

But Paul Zimnisky, a diamond industry expert, says companies that are transparent about their supply chain and use renewable energy like this “represent a very small portion of production.”

“It seems like there are a lot of companies that are exploiting the idea that this is an environmentally friendly product when in reality they are not doing anything that is environmentally friendly,” Zimnisky said.


Lab diamonds are often made over several weeks, subjecting carbon to high pressure and high temperature that mimic the natural conditions that form diamonds beneath the Earth’s surface.

The technology has been around since the 1950s, but the diamonds produced were primarily used in industries such as stone cutting, mining and dental instruments.

Over time, laboratories, or foundries, got better at cultivating stones with minimal defects. Production costs have decreased as technology has improved.

This means diamond farmers can produce as many stones as they want and choose their size and quality, which is causing prices to drop rapidly. Natural diamonds take billions of years to form and are difficult to find, making their price more stable.

Diamonds, whether lab-grown or natural, are chemically identical and entirely made of carbon. But experts can distinguish between the two, using lasers to spot telltale signs in atomic structure. The Gemological Institute of America grades millions of diamonds every year.


With prices lower for lab-grown ones and young people increasingly preferring them, new diamonds have cut into the market share of natural stones. Globally, lab-grown diamonds now account for 5-6% of the market, and the traditional industry is not sitting idly by. The marketing battle is on.

The mined diamond industry and some analysts warn that lab-grown diamonds will not retain value over time.

“In five or 10 years, I think there will be very few customers willing to spend thousands of dollars on a lab diamond. I think almost everything will sell for $100 or less,” Zimnisky said. He predicts natural diamonds will continue to sell for thousands and tens of thousands of dollars for engagement rings.

Some cultures view engagement rings as investments and choose natural diamonds for their long-term value. This is especially true in China and India, Zimnisky said. It’s still true even in the most rural areas of the United States, while lab-grown diamonds have taken over the cities.

Paying thousands of dollars for something that loses much of its value within a few years can leave the buyer feeling like they’ve been cheated, which Golan says is something that’s currently working against the lab-grown industry.

“When you buy a natural diamond, it is said that it was created by Mother Earth for three billion years. This beautiful creation of nature… you can’t tell that story with a lab-grown product,” Golan said. “It very quickly creates the connection between forever and the longevity of love.”

“If we really want to get technical, the greenest diamond is a repurposed or recycled diamond because it uses no energy,” Zimnisky said.

Page Neal said he co-founded Bario Neal in 2008 to “create jewelry of lasting value that would have a positive impact on people and the planet.” All lei jewelry materials can be traced throughout the supply chain. The store offers both lab-grown and natural diamonds.

“Jewels are a powerful symbol… they are keepers of memories,” she said. “But when we use materials that have caused harm to other people and the environment to create a symbol of love, commitment or identity, to me it seems at odds. We only want to work with materials that we believe our customers would be proud to own.


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