The growth witnessed by the lab-grown diamond market in the past several years has been phenomenal.
The product has been around for almost 70 years in some form or other, but until recently was mostly used in different industries.
Only in the last decade or so has lab-grown diamond jewellery become a reality.
Despite this, and in spite of much scoffing by those who favour mined stones, the product category has shown itself to be a real contender in jewellery in a short amount of time, and it is still growing fast.
The data shows that in a few short years, lab-grown diamonds have gone on to account for $5.9 billion (£4.7 billion), or 7-8%, of the global market.
And that figure comes from a report last year. In 2018, only three years prior, they only represented 1.5% of diamond sales by specialty retailers in the US. “That’s 500% growth in four years.
They currently represent around 12% of our Carat group’s worldwide sales,” says the company’s CEO and founder, Scott Thompson.
And this growth is not slowing in 2022 either. Innovation Diamonds MD Isaac Moore reveals: “In February 2022, LGD sales had increased by an astounding 80% compared to the previous year. Consequently, sales of mined diamonds have decreased by 13%. The tides are changing quickly.”
Carat is an unusual company, though, in that it has, in a sense, been on the lab-grown diamond bandwagon since before there was a bandwagon, or even a product.
“We have been working exclusively with non-mined gemstones since we were founded in 2003,” he confirms. Thompson previously revealed to Professional Jeweller that it was a long waiting game from 2003 to the mid-noughties when lab-grown diamond jewellery finally came along.
Answering a question about whether he had any concerns about the product, he reiterates: “Not at all. I was very bullish on the idea that we could bring a new kind of diamond to the market.
“The thought of synthetic diamonds entering your supply chain used to be enough to keep you up at night”
“As mentioned, we were founded on bringing the best alternatives to mined gemstones to the market. We were just very early.”
In the interim, Carat established itself as a specialist at dealing in all manner of synthetic gemstones, and is now reaping the rewards of being one of the first lab-grown diamond suppliers around the world.
Other companies were more hesitant to dive in at the deep end early on, however. River Mounts was one such company.
The Birmingham-based supplier only began taking orders for lab-grown diamond jewellery last summer. Asked whether the company had reservations about this move, marketing executive Amy Logan answers candidly: “Honestly? Yes.”
The business had become used to the idea that synthetic equalled bad due to the many precautions it had in place to stop anything that was not a natural stone getting into its product.
Logan says: “The thought of synthetic diamonds entering your supply chain used to be enough to keep you up at night. We have so many safeguards in place including high-tech systems to extract anything that we are not 100% sure is natural from our diamond melee. So, the thought of willingly letting synthetic diamonds enter our supply chain was initially met with more than a little reservation.”
Despite these initial misgivings, River Mounts finally decided to dip its toe in the water last year after much careful consideration, and much planning to make sure natural stones could never become mixed up with lab-grown.
“It really helps … that Pandora and Signet, two of the largest jewellery merchants in the world, are at the front of this transition”
“We are not afraid of change at River Mounts,” Logan is keen to emphasise. “We believe in moving with the market, listening and responding to customer demand.
“When demand began to grow, we started to investigate how we could adapt our factory to allow us to separate any synthetic diamond lines from our natural diamond mounts. We now have systems in place that keep the two streams very separate.”
On top of this, the supplier has also marked its lab-grown product for special order only, meaning that no customer will mistakenly order the product instead of its mined counterpart.
One of the biggest boosts to both consumer perception and availability of lab-grown diamonds came when they were introduced to Pandora’s range in a big way last year.
“The use of LGDs was new territory for Pandora,” says global comms and sustainability VP, Mads Twomey-Madsen. “Our approach has therefore been very considered.”
The brand launched the Brilliance collection in the UK first with the aim of making sustainable, affordable diamond jewellery available to the masses. It has certainly achieved that goal, and plans to take the collection global this year, but what it has also done is signal to smaller companies that lab-grown diamonds are profitable and here to stay.
Innovation Diamonds managing director, Isaac Moore, tells Professional Jeweller: “It really helps public and industry perception of the product that Pandora and Signet, two of the largest jewellery merchants in the world, are at the front of this transition.”
Twomey-Madsen adds: “As the world’s largest jewellery brand we believe we can increase the overall interest for lab-grown diamonds through our reach and in that way enlarge the total market.”
“the market has grown 500% in the last four years”
It is not just Pandora and Signet that are driving lab-grown diamonds’ growth. “Several reasons have contributed,” adds Moore. “Increased consumer awareness, endorsements from gemmological labs such as IGI and GIA, the rising price gap between LGDs and natural diamonds and the green benefits are all factors.”
One topical, and perhaps more temporary, reason is the ongoing war in Ukraine. Russia produces around a third of the world’s mined diamonds and yet only about 3% of lab-grown stones.
This makes the latter a very viable option for end-customers while sanctions on Russian business continue, and yet another thing tipping the scales in the favour of man-made stones.
Carat’s Scott Thompson hypothesises: “According to The Economist in 2016, lab-grown diamonds will make up 75% of gem-grade diamonds by 2050. However, the market has grown 500% in the last four years, so I think recent numbers show us this might happen much sooner.”