Lab-grown diamonds, made for decades as an inexpensive alternative to mined stones for industrial purposes, are cracking the consumer market largely thanks to millennials’ evolving shopping tastes.
In a survey of 1,000 consumers aged between 21 and 40, half of which had household incomes of $50,000 or higher, nearly 70% said they would consider buying a lab-grown diamond for an engagement ring, MVI Marketing revealed earlier this year. That was a 13 percentage-point increase from the year before, when 57% said the same.
Many claim that despite lab-grown diamonds increasing popularity, mined ones remain a superior choice. But Eric Lindberg, executive chairman of Canada’s Spence Diamonds, disagrees.
“We think that it’s wrong to assume there’s one ‘superior choice’ for all consumers. Our approach, and what we hope more of the industry will adopt, is to be advocates for our customers and to provide them with the best possible educational and shopping experience, including all options that may be appropriate for them,” he told MINING.com.
Synthetic diamonds have the same physical and chemical features as mined stones. They’re made from a carbon seed placed in a microwave chamber and superheated into a glowing plasma ball. The process creates particles that can eventually crystallize into diamonds in just 10 weeks. The technology is so advanced that experts need a machine to distinguish between lab-made and mined gems.
“From a physical properties standpoint there are no differences, at least for the consumer, to the extent that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission recently ruled that earth-mined and lab-grown diamonds are identical,” Lindberg said.
Referring to mined diamonds as “natural” in the U.S., in fact, is now considered a deceptive trade practice because the term implies that created diamonds are somehow inferior, he noted.
The entry of new actors in the synthetic diamond market, particularly giant producer De Beers and its Lightbox brand, has created even greater awareness for lab diamonds and is spurring more consumer activity, according to Lindberg.
“For the time being, we don’t think that there will be any dramatic impact except for a possible negative impact on demand for lower-quality mined diamonds,” the expert said.
He also believes consumers will make their decisions based on many factors, not just pricing.
“We think it goes deeper than price – quality, ethics, and a belief in sustainable practices play a big part,” he noted.
Synthetic manufacturers have focused on the ethical reasons for opting for lab-grown diamonds, as the mining industry still struggles to keep “conflict diamonds” at bay.
“There is an important and growing segment of customers for whom this is critically important,” Lindberg said. “We have noted a rapidly growing number of customers who state that they are only shopping for one of our created diamonds.”
Based on what Spence Diamonds has been hearing from its younger customers, Lindberg believes the mined industry needs to push aggressively to make further improvements and to pay attention to what organizations like Human Rights Watch are saying about ways the sector can be more transparent.
As with mined diamonds, there are many variables that impact the quality and price of a created diamond. “Ungraded lab-grown diamonds, like those in the Lightbox collection, are a different class than high-quality stones independently certified the way high-quality mined diamonds are,” Lindberg said.
Just like a mined stone, he notes that each created diamond is unique, based on tiny fluctuations in the conditions under which it was made, including whether the manufacturer uses renewable energy sources and ethical employment practices.