For Pandora, laboratory-made diamonds are forever. The world's largest jewelry maker announced Tuesday that it will no longer use mined diamonds — a decision, it said, that stemmed partially from consumer demand.
Pandora Group, based in Copenhagen, said Tuesday that it is launching its first collection exclusively created with diamonds manufactured in labs. It said the move aims to make the company's jewelry more affordable, accessible and sustainable.
The collection is launching first in the United Kingdom, and is expected to expand globally in 2022.
"They are as much a symbol of innovation and progress as they are of enduring beauty and stand as a testament to our ongoing and ambitious sustainability agenda," Pandora's CEO Alexander Lacik, said in reference to lab-grown diamonds. "Diamonds are not only forever, but for everyone."
Lacik told BBC News that synthetic diamonds can be made for as little as "a third of what it is for something that we've dug up from the ground."
According to Pandora, which is known for its silver charm bracelets, lab-created diamonds are outpacing mined diamonds in industry growth. The company says they "have the same optical, chemical, thermal and physical characteristics and are graded by the same standards known as the 4Cs — cut, color, clarity and carat."
Their lab-grown diamonds are made with more than 60% renewable energy on average, Pandora said. The company expects to increase that to 100% next year, with plans to be completely carbon neutral and use only recycled metals by 2025.
"We want to become a low-carbon business," Lacik told the BBC. "I have four children, I'm leaving this earth one day, I hope I can leave it in a better shape than maybe what we've kind of created in the last 50 years or so."
An industry that's slow to change
The global jewelry market has been slow to change, despite decades of reports of human rights abuses in diamond mines, but some improvements have been made. In 2019, Tiffany & Co. announced it will disclose to all customers the region where their diamonds were sourced from, explaining its path from the mine to the store, in what it called a "significant step for diamond transparency."
According to a November 2020 report by Human Rights Watch, "major jewelry companies are improving their sourcing of gold and diamonds, but most cannot assure consumers that their jewelry is untainted by human rights abuses."
The report said that many diamond mineworkers continue to work in dangerous conditions, and the pandemic has only increased risks of exploitation and abuse. Some of the worst abuses occur in Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Mali, the Philippines and Tanzania.
Human Rights Watch did not rate any of the 15 companies it assessed as "excellent," but ranked two — Tiffany & Co. and Pandora — as "strong" for taking significant steps toward responsible sourcing." Kalyan, Mikimoto, Rolex and TBZ were the lowest-ranked companies.
In the last few years, a number of companies that specialize in lab-grown diamonds or alternative stones have gained popularity, offering consumers jewelry that is more affordable, without the same environmental and ethical issues surrounding traditional diamonds and so-called blood diamonds, which are mined in war zones and sold to finance war efforts.
Diamond sales are down
According to a recent research report by the Antwerp World Diamond Centre and Bain & Company, global diamond revenues decreased by 15% to 33% in 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. Rough diamond production fell 20%, and sales fell 15%.
Additionally, lab-grown diamond production reached 6 to 7 million carats, while production of mined diamonds fell to 111 million carats, after peaking at 152 million in 2017, the report said.
"Social welfare and sustainability were growing issues in previous years. Now they are firmly top-of-mind for mining, trading, and retail companies" the report said. "In the U.S., and especially in China and India, younger consumers say sustainability is part of their decision-making process and could influence whether they buy diamond jewelry."
But some traditional companies say the pandemic was a fluke. According to De Beers, the world's biggest diamond company, demand for rough diamonds in 2021 has recovered to pre-COVID-19 levels, after production fell 18% last year.
De Beers reports that 47% of consumers did not agree that lab-grown diamonds are "real", but they are still interested in buying them because they are cheaper than mined diamonds, and are viewed as "fun" and "fashionable."