Sustainable diamonds

Good caught up with Kiwi designer Ella Drake, the founder of London-based ethical diamond jewellery company, Monarc Jewellery, on how she is creating bespoke designs using sustainable practices, collaborating with suppliers who share the same view on ethics and the environment. 

Why have you decided to turn your back on mined diamonds?

I had always found it unsettling to be a part of the mined diamond industry and although I always sought out the most direct and ethical sources for my own materials, there was ultimately no way of being 100 per cent sure that the beautiful diamond jewellery I was producing to be worn as a keepsake or symbol of love, wasn’t arriving on a river of pain and suffering.

I knew that there was some chance that Kimberly Process certified (supposedly ethical) diamonds I had procured for customers, could have slipped through the standards net and obtained its certificate despite its true origins (of conflict). This is why every diamond product in the Monarc range will be an aboveground diamond, 100 per cent conflict free and with zero carbon footprint.

Modern thinking and technology has brought us to a point where machines are able to harness the strength of the sun and create atomically identical diamonds, completely indistinguishable from those traditionally mined from the earth’s mantle.

Exactly what are aboveground diamonds?

An aboveground diamond is made of exactly the same materials as an earth mined diamond – aboveground diamonds are atomically identical to those found in the earth’s mantle. We are not changing the product; we are simply changing the environment in which a carbon crystalline structure grows (a diamond). Characteristics of a diamond such as colour, clarity and size cannot be controlled, the process of growing an aboveground diamond rough is the same organic process in this sense. 

How are above ground diamonds mined or made?

It starts with a very thin sliver of previously grown diamond – a seed. When this diamond seed is hosted by an environment of intense heat (approximately 3000 degrees Celsius) and pressure, carbon will naturally start to generate a crystalline structure in the form of a diamond rough. The sliver of carbon grows atom by atom through solar energy – this process is a completely self-sustaining cycle. 

The final form is what we call a ‘diamond rough’, which is then handed to master diamond cutters to expose the brilliance and character of the diamond.

Where do Monarc’s aboveground diamonds come from?

Our stones come from a foundry located in San Francisco. Leonardo DiCaprio is a key investor in The Diamond Foundry. Aboveground diamonds have guaranteed provenance and 100 per cent traceability – another factor which further cemented my decision to turn my back on mined diamonds. Whereas earth mined diamonds can pass through many different hands before reaching the market – without the guarantee of provenance or supply chain transparency,

What would you say to Kiwi women considering an aboveground diamond for their engagement ring?

I think we (Kiwi women) need to consider what a diamond ring is; what does it symbolise and what sentiment does it hold? Earth mined diamonds are available to us through mining the earth – an environmental sacrifice, and not often upholding the tenets of workers’ rights. I think a trip to any diamond mine could turn most women off the idea of purchasing an earth mined stone.

A piece of diamond jewellery is given as a token for one of the purest forms of love and commitment, and personally, I don’t feel an earth mined diamond aligns well with these values. An aboveground diamond stone is a choice made to eliminate any chance of environmental or ethical injustices.

Ella Drake with her adorable cat Pharoah

What are the most important things to look for when choosing a diamond?

Each person wants a slightly different aesthetic from a diamond stone, and this is when my job gets really exciting as I get to explore a breadth of diamonds to find the perfect fit for a bespoke job. A client may prioritise characteristics of inclusions and imperfections over a clear traditional stone, yet another client may want to have a completely clear and perfect stone but isn’t so fussed about obtaining a ‘big look’. Each custom-made job I take on is unique… this is why I love my job so much!

Who and what inspired you to venture into aboveground diamonds as an alternative?

I managed a portfolio of European and Antipodean jewellery brands for five years, during this time I felt more and more uneasy about the procurement of diamond stones. I didn’t have ultimate control over what was being purchased and there is every chance that stones may fall through the standards net. After leaving this job in 2017, I spent eight months researching and designing Monarc’s Aboveground Diamond Collection and planning how I was going to change tack so we could offer a better diamond and truly ethically just jewellery.

Where do see the diamond industry going in the future?

De Beers Group joined the aboveground diamond gang this month, which really is a statement! De Beers is the largest global earth mined diamond company, and now they have recognised the modern consumer’s demand for a more sustainable product. It’s disappointing they’ll simultaneously continue to lead the mined diamond industry, but their leap into the aboveground diamond world will increase awareness of this better diamond offering.

More and more early adopter brands are adding aboveground diamonds to their list of services, but very few companies are committing themselves entirely to the exclusive use of aboveground diamond stones. Monarc only offers aboveground diamonds because we stand behind our steadfast commitment to sustainability, we don’t want to confuse this message by offering any mined diamond stones.

When and where will the ‘Monarc Aboveground Commitment Line 2018’ be available?

It is available online now at monarcjewellery.com – where we offer a home-try on service so customers can take their time and feel comfortable in choosing their perfect ring. I also offer a bespoke service to create unique jewellery.

In London, Monarc’s Aboveground Diamond Collection is available at The Wedding Gallery, One Marylebone Road.

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