Words by Hannah Tapping
An eco-friendly diamond business that combines ethics with aesthetic.
It was in a laboratory at General Electric in the 1950s that the first man-made diamond was created. Born from a small diamond ‘seed’, these first diamonds were not grown for gemstones but as functional diamonds for industrial, computational, health care, and scientific applications. Consisting of carbon atoms, they display similar chemical and the same optical characteristics as a natural diamond and are graded in the same way, but it has only been in relatively recent years that engineered diamonds have become viable for fine jewellery.
Elaine, with daughter Emily and son Tom
It was an appreciation of fine jewellery that was the catalyst for Elaine Reffell’s relationship with lab-made diamonds. Elaine was given a pair of earrings as a birthday present, but these differed to her other jewellery in the fact that the diamonds in them weren’t mined, but created in a laboratory.
Elaine explains: “It didn’t matter to me that they weren’t mined diamonds. I couldn’t tell the difference, they were every bit as beautiful and meaningful and I was fascinated with how they had been made. I started to investigate the process and took a deeper look into the diamond industry as a whole.” What she found was that mined diamonds came from an industry fuelled by greed, with an artificial pricing structure. “This led me to consider whether a more ethical and environmentally friendly alternative might be possible, and whether jewellery shopping in the future could be a much different experience than most of us share today.”
Elaine’s aim was to source beautiful lab-made diamonds that came without the conflict and the associated price tag. Several years of research and travel led Elaine to find a supplier who was producing diamonds in a laboratory that were every bit as beautiful and strong as their mined counterparts. She set up her earth-friendly diamond business in 2011 and has been able to combine ethical good practise with excellent customer service, gaining a Feefo Platinum award this year, alongside five-star Google reviews: “We work closely with our suppliers and are proud to be the only business of this kind in the UK. We are able to bring people an ethical diamond at a time when everyone is looking deeply into the origins of what we purchase. Our message is about delivering a beautiful, meaningful token of love, with the intent in which it is given. You wouldn’t want to give someone a gift from the heart where its journey to getting here has contributed to humanitarian or environmental harm of any kind.”
Ethica Diamonds has its home in Truro – a beautiful, welcoming showroom where customers can come, by appointment, to choose their piece of jewellery. There is the option to select from a catalogue of designs, or Elaine and her team are happy to take customers through the bespoke process. They will help couples to design their own ring, which is then lovingly made by their own very talented jeweller who lives nearby.
In keeping with the ethos of the business, the metals used, be it gold or platinum, are predominantly recycled. Customers are able to select every element of their diamond, from the cut, to the shape and the size. If a bespoke ring has been chosen, then sketches will be done and silver or wax samples made up so that they can see the proportions and get a good idea of a sense of scale.
Elaine explains: “We often find that people have seen something they like at Tiffany, Beaverbrooks or Boodles and want to recreate it using an ethically-made diamond. Many of our customers have a science background and, having researched the product, have discovered that there is an ethical alternative to purchasing a mined diamond, that also saves them money.”
Each appointment takes around two hours, which shows the love and care that everyone at Ethica puts into their work. Elaine’s daughter Emily has now joined the family business, becoming a valuable part of team. “When mum started the company it was a huge project. As with the early days of any business start-up, the early phase meant that there was a lot to set up without many orders coming in. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after leaving school and saw that my mum needed some help. So, when I finished my A-Levels I started helping out over the summer. Four years on, I didn’t expect to be contributing blog posts on the diamond industry, but it has turned into something which is really rewarding. The reason why we do what we do is all about the customer experience and their journey – it is such a lovely time to be involved with a couple who have recently become engaged and declaring their love for each other.
Elaine and her husband on their own special day
“The more fully we engage with customers the better,” Emily goes onto explain. “People have concerns initially, sometimes about going against the social norm. We are able to reassure them that a grown diamond is not second best to a real diamond. It may not have been grown in the belly of the earth but when people start to discover the destruction that is caused by mining gold or diamonds, they soon realise that an engineered diamond not only makes ethical sense, but is also financially beneficial.” Educating customers is something that is very important for Ethica and over the years they have created a large website blog that covers the different areas and aspects of the diamond industry. Emily confirms: “We wanted it to be an educational site, helping to increase awareness.”
Intrigued as to what the diamond ‘fashion’ is at the moment, I ask Emily. She tells me: “Trilogies are very popular, but it will always be a classic solitaire that we see the most. Classic styles never go out of fashion and can be modernised by changing the shape to a pear or an oval.”