Shirley Bassey earned a fortune singing about them, while Elizabeth Taylor wore a 68-carat version, Audrey Hepburn and Beyoncé wore the same yellow one. Diamonds have long been the most sought-after gem for anybody with enough money or prestige, but the rising popularity of lab-grown versions of these stones is sparking schisms in the jewellery industry.
Lab-grown diamonds are made in plasma reactors in weeks and have only been recognised as diamonds by the US Federal Trade Commission since 2018, yet they have already spawned a $6 billion industry, which is anticipated to treble by 2025.
Lab Grown Diamonds
The views of luxury companies about lab-grown diamonds (LGD) have evolved in the recent year as well. The stones have received tremendous investment. This summer, Pandora released its Brilliance line in the United States, containing lab-created diamonds generated with 100% sustainable energy.
"North America is the largest market for diamonds in the world," says Rasmus Brix, Pandora's UK&Ireland managing director, "so it was a significant event for us." And, because Pandora is the world's largest jewellery brand, it was also a significant event for the LGD market."
This year, the luxury company LVMH, which owns labels such as Louis Vuitton and Tiffany, invested in an Israeli lab-grown firm. In March, Tag Heuer, another LVMH brand, released the Carrera Plasma. It's the brand's first wristwatch to include lab-grown diamonds. The LGD movement is also being supported by celebrities. Drake paid $1.9 million (£1.7 million) this year for a one-of-a-kind necklace created by artist Frank Ocean's lab-jewellery firm Homer for the 2021 Met Ball. Zoe Kravitz, an actress, also wore lab-grown jewels at the Met Ball. Lady Gaga, Billy Porter, and Penelope Cruz are just a few of the celebrities who have walked the red carpet wearing the stones.
Girl’s Best Friend Or A Bargain
Despite the fact that lab-grown diamonds were first made in 1954, current technical improvements in manufacture mean that they now equal the "four Cs" of real diamonds - cut, clarity, colour, and carat. They are created by combining low pressure and high temperature carbon-rich gases. Without specialised equipment, jewellers cannot distinguish between natural and lab materials. "When lab-grown diamonds emerged, the diamond industry saw them as a danger," explains Jessica Warch, co-founder of LGD business Kima.
"It's also a very tiny sector; everyone knows everyone else, and when we initially started, people puzzled why we were dealing with 'fake' diamonds." However, they are seeing a shift in demand, and some of them are now dealing with lab-grown plants."
Talya Paskin, a British-Israeli jewellery designer, has likewise faced strong feelings about the new stones. Celebrities like the Duchess of Sussex and Kylie Jenner love her brand Aurum + Grey. She employs recycled metal and stones wherever feasible, although her collection also contains lab-grown materials. "Within the industry, there are two very obvious factions with very strong viewpoints," she explains. "An American trade forum where I participate has really forbidden any discussions concerning lab-grown diamonds; the views are plain and white."
There is a belief that lab-grown diamonds are essentially more ethical than mined diamonds because they can be traced more easily. Diamond mining, like many centuries-old businesses, has a history of colonialism and abuse of human rights and the environment. However, 56% of lab-grown diamonds originate from China, a country not known for its fair working conditions. The UK's Responsible Jewellery Council is establishing a set of rules to ensure that they are held to the same high standards as real diamonds.
While the discussion over lab-grown food is partly about sustainability, it is also about a generational shift in the meaning of luxury. The perception of what a diamond is and where its value rests is shifting or separating. "We grew up in the midst of fine jewellery, yet we feel detached from the conventional market," Warch explains. "Marketing still appears to be geared at our grandparents - something for men to buy for ladies." It's so out of date. We wanted to make jewellery that we would buy for ourselves using Kima. Lab-grown foods are also better for the environment and people's budgets."
Brix also cites the democratisation of diamonds. "Our goal has always been to design jewellery that is affordable to everyone." Our Brilliance line is more affordable than mined diamonds." According to David Kellie, CEO of the Natural Diamond Council, the pricing discrepancy will have long-term ramifications for customers. "A lab-grown diamond will give you the pleasure of a beautiful diamond, but it will not be worth as much in the long run," he explains. "We discuss the endorphin surge that a diamond provides. A diamond is something that most people wear every day and then pass down to their children. "I believe a natural diamond provides a greater long-term endorphin thrill."