Let's play a word association game. When I mention diamond, do you see an engagement ring, a red carpet, 47th Street, Tiffany & Co., or Lil Uzi's forehead? Diamonds are the most popular diamond in the world, a highly sought after luxury item that represents tremendous riches and elegance. Diamonds were formerly prestige symbols for kings and ultra-rich adornments, but they are now referenced in every corner of the pop cultural hemisphere. Our current commercialization of diamonds is the result of a DeBeers advertising effort that transformed the way the public consumed the valuable stones. The campaign, which was probably one of the most successful public relations stunts in history, gave rise to the engagement ring and, with it, an inextricable link between diamonds and romance: diamonds became a symbol of love.
According to the website Historical Royal Palaces, "As part of the Treaty of Lahore, the East India Company stole the gem from ousted Maharaja Duleep Singh in 1849. The contract required the gem to be returned to Queen Victoria." To "conform to modern European sensibilities," the diamond was removed from its original setting and recut into an oval. For nearly 150 years, it has been a contentious portion of England's Crown Jewels.
To far, the jewellery industry's most contentious division and most significant disruptor to the existing order has been lab-grown diamonds vs mined diamonds. Scientists can now create gemstones in the lab that are structurally comparable to natural diamonds. It wasn't until 2016 that lab-grown diamonds became commercially viable, thanks to technologies that replicated how mined diamonds grew underground. With technological breakthroughs now making it possible to produce jewelry-quality diamonds, the $84 billion "natural" diamond business has reacted with a reaction against what it regards as a growing threat to mined stones.
Regardless of which side of the debate you take, lab-grown gemstones are structurally, chemically, and physically identical to their "natural" counterpart; like mined stones, they are certified by the Gemological Institute of America and are virtually undetectable as lab grown unless specialised equipment is used to identify minute differences. So, why is there a backlog of press reporting that the difference is visible to the trained eye? T-Pain recently claimed in a video for jewellery news platform Only Natural Diamonds that he could tell the difference, a bold claim given that 4th generation diamond dealer and co-founder of fine jewellery brand Minty, Amir Sidis-Simkhai, told me that it's virtually impossible for him to tell: "Lab-growns are anatomically identical to mined stones."
What's inhibiting the progress of lab-grown diamonds if we can now manufacture diamonds with considerably less environmental effect, that are completely traceable and conflict-free? LVMH luxury ventures has invested $90 million in Lusix, an Israeli lab-grown diamond business that will use the cash to create a second solar-powered manufacturing plant. An intriguing transaction when you consider that the jewellery businesses under the LVMH umbrella (Tiffany, Bulgari, and Chaumet) are all legacy brands that are adamant about utilising "natural" stones. TAG Heuer CEO Frederic Arnault even unveiled a $360,000 watch earlier this year that included lab-growns prominently in the design.
Luxe Impact is another company that is assisting in the transfer of lab produced diamonds into the premium segment. Established by three ex-Cartier executives, they recently resurrected the historical brand Oscar Massin (frequently worn by Anna Wintour) using solely lab-grown diamonds. With Homer, his jewellery brand that has recently made waves in the fashion space, Frank Ocean is also pioneering the use of lab growns. Drake was photographed earlier this year wearing a $1.9 million Homer necklace made entirely of lab-growns, which he described as "the real thing." Not a diamond replica, a close approximation, or a sparkly stone of comparable substances... graded by the International Gem Institute."