Having wrestled between personal profit and morality, Danny Archer embraced death in order to do the right thing in the 2006 hit Blood Diamond. About a decade later, Leonardo DiCaprio, nominated for an Oscar for essaying the role, put his money where Archer’s heart was — in conflict-free diamonds. As an investor in Silicon Valley’s Diamond Foundry, which creates diamonds in the laboratory, Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor might have done to the mined diamond industry what the iPod did to the discman/walkman.

This may sound like a coup waiting to happen. But then, change is not what the diamond trade is accustomed to. Diamonds, which form naturally at great depths under immense heat and pressure in the earth’s crust over millions of years, have been mined forever in what many observers say are environmentally unfriendly and ethically compromised practises. Besides, diamonds are increasingly in scarce supply because the mines are drying up.

Enter man-made diamonds for the gem trade i.e. diamonds grown in laboratories, which have the same attributes — physical qualities and chemical composition down to the atomic level — as mined diamonds, that are cut and polished for that magical sparkle. If you leave out the nomenclature, even a diamond expert’s naked eye won’t be able to tell the difference between a mined and a lab-grown stone set in an ornament. Carat to carat, a lab-grown diamond costs one-third of a mined one, according to industry reports. Add to this potential-for-upheaval, the fact that today’s luxury consumer and tomorrow’s millennial are increasingly conscious of making a responsible choice, then it is apparent why the ‘diamonds are forever’ proposition is ripe for disruption.

“Diamond growing is expensive, but by running an efficient supply chain and minimising the number of steps between growth and the consumer, we are able to give our customers fantastic value,” says Vishal Mehta, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of IIa Technologies, a Singapore-based company that grows diamonds. “They can now buy bigger diamonds for the same monetary value and get a 100 per cent, genuine diamond, certified as a grown diamond.”

Cleaner technology, rapid manufacturing and lower cost to consumer are factors propelling lab-grown diamond manufacturers to enter the gems and jewellery trade. In last year’s prophetically titled report Game of Stones: Disrupting the Diamond Trade industry, investment banker and research firm Morgan Stanley stated that lab-grown diamonds will find a niche in the gem and jewellery space. “Lab-grown diamonds could take a 15 per cent market share in gem-quality melee diamonds and a 7.5 per cent share in sales of larger diamonds by 2020,” it said, warning that “diamond miners need to step up their ad spend to avoid losing market share”.

Almost as if on cue, there were 34 exhibitors of ‘Synthetics’ (lab-grown diamonds) at this year’s JCK, the gem and jewellery industry’s largest trade show, held in Las Vegas in June. It was here that De Beers unveiled a nifty device it said is the “first synthetic screening device in the industry to test multiple stones in set jewellery at once without the need for a probe”. The Group’s SYNTHdetect is their third detection equipment to help jewellery manufacturers and retailers to tell apart lab-grown diamonds from mined ones. That the big daddy of the diamond trade is responding such to lab-grown diamonds is telling of what the future holds.

“The most important thing we’ve observed is that both consumers and retailers are accepting and are excited about grown diamonds,” says Mehta, who expects a double digit growth every year for his company, from the jewellery market for grown diamonds. “We are excited to see that consumers are choosing grown diamonds for one of the most important diamond purchases in the US – the Bridal Jewellery segment, the most emotional purchase by consumers.”

A responsible choice

When buying lab-grown diamonds, apply the same filters as you would while buying mined diamonds – look for cut, colour, carat and clarity. While most jewellery retailers in India dismiss lab-grown diamond jewellery as ‘synthetics’, a handful of independent jewellery designers are open to working with these stones. One can buy man-made diamond jewellery from:

Brilliant Earth: www.brilliantearth.com

Diamond Foundry: www.diamondfoundry.com

ADA Diamonds: www.adadiamonds.com



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