by MIKE CHAIKEN
Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend. But, the diamond industry is discovering that laboratory-grown diamonds might be its ‑ and the consumer’s ‑ new best friend.
A diamond, as anyone who has been through an Earth Science class can tell you, is the hardest-known substance on earth. A naturally occurring mineral composed of carbon, it is among the most durable and versatile substances known. Diamonds remain among the most prized ‑ and expensive‑ gems.
Last year, the Federal Trade Commission removed the word “natural” from its definition of what makes a diamond a diamond. “The Commission no longer defines a ‘diamond’ by using the term ‘natural’ because it is no longer accurate to define diamonds as ‘natural’ when it is now possible to create products that have essentially the same optical, physical, and chemical properties as mined diamonds,” the FTC ruled. In other words, a diamond is a diamond whether it is grown in a lab or comes out of the ground.
For many consumers, concerned about possible human-rights violations in diamond-mining, lab-grown diamonds provide an attractive and more affordable option to mined diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds are diamonds in every sense, said Vanessa Grano, operations officer at Sullivan’s Jewelers in Middlebury, which is one of the local retailers that deal in lab grown diamonds.
Although laboratory grown diamonds have been around for years, said Grano, the earlier products were more appropriate for industrial use. Technology has improved to the point where lab-grown diamonds can be used for jewelry and cut just like mined diamonds, she said.
But lab-grown diamonds have not become ubiquitous at all jewelry retailers.
Marie Laliberte, owner of Marie’s Jewelry in Waterbury, said she doesn’t sell them. She said, thus far, her customers haven’t shown an interest in them.
Laliberte said the jewelry distributors in New York City have been pushing lab-grown diamonds on jewelers. Thus far, their efforts haven’t convinced Laliberte yet.
Although, Laliberte said she is keeping an open mind about lab-grown diamonds. If her customers start requesting them, she may join other retailers and offer the gem alternative.
Lab grown diamonds recently got a boost from the De Beers Group. The world’s largest diamond concern launched a line of lab-grown diamond jewelry last year. In its statement, De Beers said it was jumping into the market because consumers “told us they want but aren’t getting: affordable fashion jewelry that may not be forever, but is perfect for right now.”
Financial service giant Morgan Stanley issued a report in 2016 about the mined diamond market versus lab-grown, “Game of Stones: Disrupting the Diamond Trade.” The report concluded, “Lab-grown diamonds could take a 15% market share in gem-quality… diamonds and a 7.5% share in sales of larger diamonds by 2020.”
“(DeBeers) saw the writing on the wall,” said Grano of the diamond conglomerate’s decision to jump into the lab grown game.
One selling point for lab grown diamonds is they are less expensive than mined diamonds, said Grano, Lab-grown diamonds can be between 40-50% cheaper. A two-carat mined diamond can run from $20,000 to $30,000, said Grano. A lab grown diamond of the same size will cost $10,000 to $12,000.
That lower price point, according to Morgan Stanley, is the result of competition between manufacturers of lab-grown diamonds as well as the competition between lab-grown and mined diamond entities.
However, Donald Walsh, owner of Connecticut’s DW Gem Services, said the lower price point of lab-grown diamonds, and their manmade origin that can result in the manufacturer of more diamonds at a faster clip, also will impact the long-term value of these gems.
DeBeers entry into the market will further deflate the value of lab-growns, said Walsh, a certified gemologist with 37 years of experience. DeBeers is promising to sell one-carat lab-grown diamonds for $500. If DeBeers follows through on its promise, Walsh said it will kill the value of lab-growns.
Another issue that will impact the value and desirability of lab-grown diamonds is the opportunity for unscrupulous dealers to swap them in for mined diamonds, with the consumer none the wiser, said Walsh.
Lab-grown diamonds are supposed to have a laser inscription identifying their origin, said Walsh, who used to work for Michael’s Jewelers in Waterbury. However, he said, that there is nothing stopping manufacturers from foregoing the identification and passing off a lab-grown as a mined diamond.
Conventional wisdom is that millennials have shied away from diamonds due to price, as well as ethical and environmental concerns about diamond trade.
However, Grano said, lab-grown diamonds are drawing millennials back.
But some millennials said diamonds still hold no interest [Dash] lab-grown or not.
Erin Shaughnessy of New Milford, 24, a graduate of Nonnewaug High School and a local actress, said she doesn’t find diamonds appealing even if a lab-grown diamond might be a better deal.
“I think diamonds are a thing of the past,” said Shaughnessy. “People like more unique pieces now and are less concerned with the high price of engagement rings than the sentimental feeling behind a ring that is chosen.”
“I am not personally interested in diamonds because they are just so generic and boring and expensive,” said Shaughnessy. “I’d much rather someone get me jewelry that is unique and less expensive because that means more to me than something that costs more money.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW.org) has reported that conditions are “brutal” for workers in the gold and diamond mining industry.
“Children have been injured and killed when working in small-scale gold or diamond mining pits,” said HRW. Additionally, HRW said, “Indigenous peoples and other local residents near mines have been forcibly displaced.”
That plays on the minds of many younger consumers. Alyssa Anderson, 24, of Watertown, an executive at a Connecticut nonprofit, said she doesn’t own any diamonds, largely because of the price issues. However, human-rights issues play into her decision as well.
“As a millennial… we’re definitely more concerned with our carbon footprint and taking care of the environment and doing what is ethically correct, so if we are able to produce diamonds (without these issues)… that would definitely be a positive in my mind,” said Anderson.
Shaughnessy agreed. “The mining industry is atrocious and it boggles my mind that mining companies care more about finding jewels than the well-being of their workers who literally risk life and limb to find them,” she said.
Financial concerns also are a consideration for millennials when it comes to making the dive into diamonds.
Sylvana Gonzales, a 21-year-old Central Connecticut State University student, said she can’t afford diamonds of any kind. “In time, I might want to invest in one. But as of right now it’s not convenient.”
Gonzales said, as a college student, she has other bills, such as her cellphone and car payments that take greater priority than adding a pretty stone to her jewelry box.
“Money was always an issue,” said Anderson regarding her decision not buy a diamond.
But, Anderson said, if diamonds were more affordable, “I definitely would like to add some to my collection.”