DIAMOND DEBATE: The case for lab-grown diamonds

Discussions about lab-grown diamonds in the UK jewellery industry have been increasing over the last year, with more and more suppliers playing with the cultivated stones, and retailer’s questioning whether there is a demand for them.

If America is anything to go by, there certainly is consumer demand for the man-made stones. After all, once someone becomes comfortable with the idea of lab grown diamonds, the benefits are hard to ignore. Namely, cultured stones are 100% traceable – placing a big tick in the ethical box – and they are also approximately 30% cheaper to buy than mined diamonds – sealing the deal on the affordability front too.

In a feature entitled ‘Diamonds Disrupted: How Man-Made Diamonds Will Disrupt The Mined-Diamond Industry’, US-based business magazine Forbes argues the mine-diamond industry should be concerned about the rapidly growing man-made trade rather than “doubling down” its potential threat. According to the article, sales of lab grown diamonds in the US – currently estimated at $150 million – are expected to increase to $1 billion by 2020 and outpace mined diamonds, which have been in decline.

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Forbes states: “The introduction of hot-forged jewellery-grade diamonds, identical to those the earth takes eons to mete out, has sweeping implications for the $80 billion industry that has relied on the perceived scarcity of mined diamonds to drive up value.”

Testament to demand in the US, president of ALTR Created Diamonds, Amish Shah, adds: “There is a very rapidly growing consumer led momentum for created diamonds. ALTR is witnessing this first hand in the various retail stores we are present in. Consumers are delighted with the proposition of going home with a bigger, brighter and more stunning diamond. To add to this, ALTR is also bringing in spectacularly beautiful pink and blue diamonds that will only fuel the demand more.”

Closer to home, Antwerp-based diamond dealer, Madestones, has seen a spike in demand for lab grown diamonds.
Madestones founder, Thierry Silber, tells Professional Jeweller: “Last year will probably be remembered in the history of lab grown diamonds as the year of the breakthrough.

“In 2017 lab grown diamonds captured 3% market share of the global diamond business. We are delighted to see that the consumer interest is rapidly growing — consumers recognise they now have a second choice in diamonds. It has always been my opinion that it would not be the industry who would decide over the success or failure of lab grown diamonds but the consumer, and that is happening right now.

Additionally we see a growing demand from the fashion and corporate gift industries.”

In the UK, Cred Jewellery has successfully launched a collection of engagement rings crafted in Fairtrade gold, and adorned with cultivated diamonds.

In the first six months of the launch the lab grown range accounted for 40% of all Cred’s diamond ring sales.

Furthermore, as consumers become more aware of ethical flaws in the jewellery supply chain, it is believed that demand for the 100% traceable lab grown diamond will grow, especially when mined-stones are at risk of losing their lustre in light of The Kimberley Process being attacked for its shortcomings and coming under pressure to reform.

Rightly or wrongly, for the ethical consumer, lab grown diamonds could become the only type they can trust.
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Communicating to Consumers in store
As award winning British designer Stephen Webster highlights, if lab-grown diamonds do start to take up space in the windows’ of UK retail stores, the industry needs to be transparent about where they come from, and not just lump them in with natural stones.

Practically, what does it look like to sell made-made stones in store?

Cred Jewellery says they are extremely well received. The most common questions consumers have been asking are: Do they have a certificate? How are they produced? What is there future value? And, are they a real diamond atomically? Once they are talked through the process, Cred says consumers like the fact the lab stones are fully traceable and furthermore, they can get more for their money.

“We explain the difference between Canadian and lab grown and increasingly our customers like the fact they can be ethical and get a bigger diamond for their money,” shares Cred director, Alan Frampton.

“We give them choice as a responsible jeweller,” adds Frampton.

For Madestones founder, Silber, he believes the point of origin of a diamond is not the most important aspect when diamond jewellery is being sold or purchased in stores.

When asked how he would reassure a customer who’s concerned lab-grown diamonds are ‘not as real’ as diamonds because they haven’t formed naturally, Silber responds: “Let me first revert the question and ask you: Is ice cultivated in your freezer at home and ice that is naturally formed on the lake at very cold temperature any different?

“Everything starts with the beauty of the diamond. 70% of the sale will be done when consumers will see that both diamonds are equally beautiful and when it is impossible to see any difference with the naked eye or even with the loupe. And importantly, diamonds get their true value from the romance and symbolism that people attach to the moment or the occasion for which they are offered.”

For most in the industry who are pro lab grown diamonds they are not looking to diminish natural stones and disrupt the diamond mining industry, rather they are wanting to move the trade forward and provide diamond shoppers with more options.

“I believe that lab-grown diamonds have a place in every jewellery store,” shares Silber, explaining: “They are a legitimate product. Madestones views its presence in the diamond market as a natural progression rather than a disruptive force. There is no reason why all other industries are embracing technology to innovate for the benefit of their industry and this should not be the case in the diamond and jewellery industry.

“We see lab grown diamonds not as a substitute for mined diamonds but as an innovative choice in diamonds.”

While opinions differ on how popular lab grown diamonds will be in the next few years, with some claiming that lab created diamonds will make up 50% of inventories in multiple jewellery by 2020 in the US, while others in England doubt they will ever take off, it’s worth noting that until De Beers began heavily marketing diamonds in the 1940s, the stones didn’t compel the same magic, romance, and value.

It was De Beers’ ‘Diamonds are Forever’ campaigns that etched its way into the hearts of the consumer, and today the stone is still in demand because of the values painted in this campaign —even 70 years later.

So marketing made naturally mined diamonds what they are today, and marketing could in fact have the power to pull in cultivated diamond sales too.

At the moment many consumers have still not heard of lab grown diamonds, and certainly aren’t fully aware of what they are or the price advantages of purchasing one.

If the lab grown industry gets the marketing right, and the word spreads, the industry will have every reason to believe cultivated stones have the potential to boost sales and win consumer confidence at a time when it’s at an all time low.

ALTR’s president says: “As the consumer gets more educated and exposed to ALTR Created Diamonds and the choice it offers, they have been making a more informed and educated decision about their fine diamond jewellery purchases. Created diamonds are all that a diamond can be — only better.”

Like all new industry innovations it’s worth not turning a blind eye, but rather seeing how the demand for cultivated diamonds grows, and if it would work for you and your business.

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