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Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.


What Could Go Right? Lab-Grown Diamonds Are Making It Big

An ethical, cheaper alternative indistinguishable from natural diamonds

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

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Lab-Grown Diamonds Are Making It Big

Some may remember the film Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, that helped mainstream the ethical problems of the diamond industry to the West. Set during Sierra Leone’s civil war, it showed how diamonds mined in conflict zones can finance war and enrich warlords.

The film ends with a nod to the formation of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme in 2003, which certifies that a diamond is “conflict-free.” There are big loopholes in the certification, however, and it does not cover other human rights abuses that can occur during mining, including child or forced labor, exploitative working conditions, and physical and sexual violence.

A more recent concern is Russia. At the start of the year, G7 nations and the European Union sanctioned diamonds ($) mined there, which represent a third of mined diamonds worldwide.

There are ways to buy a diamond ethically. One good option is to buy from certain brands that trace every step of their supply chain and invest in the development of the nations where they are mined. Another option, possible for decades but not popular until now, is to buy a laboratory-grown one.

An image of a ring with a lab-grown diamond
A ring set with lab-grown diamonds from the jewelry company Pandora. Their lab-grown diamond collection uses diamonds made with 100 percent renewable energy.

The first lab-made diamonds were produced by General Electric (GE) in 1954. At .00075 carats—an average engagement ring diamond is one carat—they were about the size of a grain of sugar and used to cut and polish glass, metals, and teeth.

GE was also the first to produce gem-quality diamonds in 1971, although the quality wasn’t high enough to sell as jewelry. They were yellow, and the process trapped impurities in them. 

These downsides were fixed by the 80s and 90s, when it became possible to create lab-grown diamonds that, to consumers and sometimes even to gemologists, were indistinguishable from natural ones. These lab-grown diamonds are created using “diamond seeds,” slivers of diamond as thin as hair. The results are real diamonds, not imitations like cubic zirconia.  

For years, they were too expensive to be commercially viable, at tens of thousands of dollars to produce one stone, estimates the International Gem Society (IGS). By 2008, that had fallen to $4,000 per stone, to a mere couple of hundred today. 

It’s no surprise, then, that the lab-grown diamond market has exploded. In early 2023, over 17 percent of diamond engagement rings sold in the United States were set with lab-grown stones. That may not seem like much until you see that in 2020, the share was less than two percent:

A chart showing increases in the lab-grown diamond market

Edahn Golan, whose company provides research analysis for the industry, thinks that lab-grown diamonds now make up more than half of all diamonds sold in the US. Globally, their market share will likely top 20 percent in 2024, another industry analyst, Paul Zimnisky, told the French outlet Agence France-Presse, to make it an $18 billion industry.

This shakeup isn’t an unmitigated good. Lab-grown diamonds rely on large amounts of electricity, so they will not be climate-friendly unless and until electricity is generated by clean power. (Pandora’s lab-grown diamond collection, pictured above, uses only renewable energy.) Some African nations, like Botswana, rely heavily on legitimate natural diamond exports, whereas China, the US, and India dominate the lab-grown diamond market.

For the consumer, though, the deal is hard to resist: you can buy lab-grown diamonds double the size of natural ones for about the same price, and with a clearer conscience.

What Could Go Right? S5 E19

Promotional image for S5 E19 of the What Could Go Right? podcast

Are our fears about the future grounded in facts on the ground today? Will conflict and war wax or wane this century? And what global progress can we look to as examples of unexpected good occurring? Today, for our season finale, Zachary Karabell and Emma Varvaloucas reflect on lessons gleaned from this season’s episodes. | Listen now

By the Numbers

621K: The number of solar panels used to power this year’s Super Bowl. The stadium was 100 percent powered by renewables. 

97: The percent of China’s rural population who were living in extreme poverty in 1981, versus the less than one percent today.

1 in 5: The share of stay-at-home American parents who are fathers, a 63.6 percent increase since 1989. (NYT $)

Quick Hits

☀️ Thanks to expansive renewables installation, analysts think that China’s carbon emissions may start declining as early as this year. (WSJ $) They are also, however, continuing to build coal plants. How is China building more coal plants but also burning less coal?

🦜 Tasmanian orange-bellied parrots are growing their numbers after being almost declared functionally extinct. (Cute photos included in the link.)

🐷 This one may be polarizing: a Japanese startup has produced three clone piglets that were genetically designed to allow for organ transplantation in humans with minimum immune rejection from the host. In other words, humans may be living with pig hearts, livers, and more in the relatively near future, as problems involved with xenotransplantation are solved.

🪸 The Earth has more coral reef coverage than previously thought, an additional ~50,000 square kilometers. The new, hyper-accurate mapping tool that led to this discovery is already being used in conservation projects worldwide. (Bloomberg $)

🪵 Japanese scientists are planning to launch a satellite made from magnolia wood this summer. If it holds up, wooden satellites may be a biodegradable alternative to the metal satellites that leave alumina particles in the Earth’s atmosphere when they return from space.

🏳️‍🌈 Greece has become the first Orthodox Christian nation to legalize gay marriage. The bill also allows same-sex couples to adopt children. 

📉 Inequalities between black and white workers in America are shrinking, with black unemployment down and workforce participation and wages up. The figures aren’t identical across race, but they are much closer than they ever have been. (The Economist $)

☢️  Our World in Data has updated their page on nuclear weapons, including, of course, current stockpile counts, but also lesser-known data on how many countries have given up on obtaining the weapons and the decline of their destructive capabilities. They also have a new page on how close we are to eradicating polio.

🍌 The world’s first genetically modified banana has been approved in Australia, although it will only be grown if the dominant banana type falls prey to a fungal disease that has spread globally. The GMO banana is nearly immune to the fungus.

💉 The rollout of the RTS,S vaccine, the first-ever malaria vaccine, continues across Africa, including the Benin Republic, where 40 percent of outpatient consultations and 25 percent of hospital admissions are attributed to malaria. Countries involved in the vaccination pilot program have already seen dramatic declines in child mortality rates. And, Cambodia is on track to eliminate malaria by 2025.

💰 Economically distressed counties in the US are now the locations of an investment boom. (Original report here.)

🧑‍🌾 In the US, there are no federal workplace heat safety rules, and only four states have heat rules that apply to farmworkers. Not so in Immokalee, Florida, where farmworkers successfully implemented their own, the strongest in the nation. (WaPo $)

🫀 The evolution of cardiovascular disease science has cut heart disease death rates by 70 percent from 1950 to 2021 and stroke deaths by nearly a third since 1998, a new report from the American Heart Association details. (Full report here.)

💡 Editor’s pick: Before the invention of the micropipette, scientists moved liquids from one container to another using their mouths. This caused infections and was highly inaccurate. Here, the history of the micropipette and the scientific progress it brought along with it.

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Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas is the Executive Director of The Progress Network. An editor and writer specializing in nonprofit media, she was formerly Executive Editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and is the editor of two books from Wisdom Publications.