Edwina Ings-Chambers studies sustainable, ethical and economical lab-grown diamonds
A friend was showing me her super-duper engagement ring recently – made with a diamond mined in South Africa, a real dazzling one. “Would you still wear it if it was a lab-grown diamond?” I asked. ‘Sure!’ was his response. But would it be as special as the rock she was currently showing off? She wrinkled her face. “No, I don’t think it would.”
She speaks for many of us, I think. Especially those of us of a certain age who were brought up on stories of large stones, miraculously discovered and carved out of the earth that lay there for billions of years. There is a romance in there. So much so that several of the biggest have even been named: the Hope Diamond, the Cullinan. Or the Taylor-Burton – we were a generation raised watching Elizabeth Taylor’s very active love affair with diamonds.
There is a misconception that a lab-created diamond is essentially a £29.99 cubic zirconia ring from Argos. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Lab-grown diamonds are made via intense heat and pressure, recreating the natural diamond formation (above ground and in the lab only). Although they are often seen as a pale imitation or, as jewelry designer Diane Kordas said, “not a part of nature but a product of technology”, they are real.
Lab-grown diamonds are made via intense heat and pressure, recreating the formation of natural diamonds (above ground and lab only)
But mentalities have started to change. In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission declared that lab-grown and mined stones are considered diamonds. More recently, in June, luxury conglomerate LVMH, home to Tiffany and Dior among others, announced a £75.5million investment in lab-grown diamond start-up Lusix, while Tag Heuer unveiled a watch adorned with them in April.
Sales of lab-grown diamond engagement rings have soared 63% between 2021 and 2022. Leading diamond analyst Paul Zimnisky estimates that the lab-grown diamond market will soon reach £1.7 billion and that over the next Over the past five years, production of laboratory-grade jewelry has grown in size from less than one million to almost ten million carats.
So what has changed? “As with many innovations, it takes time to educate,” says Frédéric de Narp, CEO of fine jewelry house Oscar Massin, who previously held executive positions at Cartier and Harry Winston. The fact that these stones are now being embraced by the luxury market, he says, means “they are truly becoming legitimized”.
For the younger generation, provenance is just as important as notoriety. We are all increasingly aware of the environmental and social impact that gemstone mining can have – improper mining can degrade the land where diamonds are found, which is why lab-grown diamonds are a real alternative. “They offer new and different benefits – incredible quality and value, simple traceability and reduced environmental impact,” says de Narp.
Mining can degrade land where diamonds are found
Affordability is, of course, a factor. A lab-grown diamond will sell for approximately 30% less than the mined equivalent (just like with mined stones, the quality, cut and clarity of a lab-made diamond are variable and unique).
Bespoke jewelry maker Diamonds Factory Ireland recently announced that it will be replacing 70% of its online designs with lab-grown stones to create less expensive options. Price was certainly a factor in Pandora’s decision to launch its Brilliance line of lab-grown diamond jewelry. “We know diamond jewelery can be expensive,” says Rasmus Brix, Managing Director of Pandora UK & Ireland (collection prices start from £250). “So we are making beautiful diamond jewelry accessible to more customers at a lower price.” But this is not the only engine. “We know that consumers are increasingly interested in more sustainable purchases. Our lab-created diamonds are grown using over 60% renewable energy and will soon be manufactured using 100% renewable energy. The carbon footprint is one tenth of a comparable mined diamond.
Environmental concerns seem to be a major reason for the change in mood. At Vrai, Diamond Foundry’s fine jewelry offering, customers “want to know the origin of their diamond, as well as the impact on the environment and communities, to make an informed decision,” said a holder. word.
Sales of lab-grown diamond engagement rings increased by 63% between 2021 and 2022
“Why do we still need to dig to get the ring on our finger when technology allows us to do so much?” asks Jessica Warch, co-founder of Kimaï, a fine jewelry brand that uses recycled gold and is the first range of lab-grown diamond jewelry sold on luxury website net-a-porter.com (from of £215). Warch comes from a family of diamond traders but preferred to “bring innovation and change to the market”.
This change of conscience led me to ask myself the question: are laboratory diamonds the new fake fur of the luxury market, an ethical choice which once shifted could change our habits for good? Zimnisky is unconvinced by the comparison, given that fur is directly related to killing animals. “You can still make a positive case on natural diamonds as they create well-paying jobs and generate significant tax revenue for emerging economies. You can also argue that many lab-grown diamonds are made using significant amounts of energy produced with coal and hydrocarbons. I think transparency is the key here. Some are doing a good job on ESG [environmental, social and governance standards, that measure a business’s impact on society] goes, and some not so much – and this is the case for both natural and lab-grown diamond companies. Not all lab-grown diamonds are created equal.
For the younger generation, provenance is just as important as notoriety. We are all increasingly aware of the environmental and social impact that gemstone mining can have – improper mining can degrade the land where diamonds are found, which is why lab-grown diamonds are a real alternative.
Which of course puts pressure on designers to work with the right supplier. Matilde Mourinho, founder of Matilde Jewellery, which uses lab-created stones, says she would have only founded a jewelry brand today using these materials and has done her due diligence on sourcing, including all accreditations and certifications that have backed their environmental claims.
But lab-grown diamonds still seem to have some way to go to be considered on an equal footing. At Couture, the premier jewelry show held in Las Vegas, director Gannon Brousseau said that “although a handful of our designers may use lab-grown diamonds in some pieces, we currently do not accept designers or brands that work primarily with lab-grown diamonds.” ‘ – although he adds that they are keeping tabs on whether this is ‘a category we should include in our criteria’.
As Narp puts it, “reshuffling the cards does not mean a player is ejected – each player will readjust their strategy”.
LAB DIAMOND BRANDS TO DISPLAY
Founded in 2014 (and a subsidiary of Diamond Foundry backed by Leonardo DiCaprio), this brand takes durable lab-grown diamonds to a new level of luxury, offering everything from tennis bracelets to engagement rings. From around £200, uk.vrai.com
The Brilliance collection, certified carbon neutral, was launched last year. It includes rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces adorned with a 0.15 to 1 carat round brilliant cut diamond, designed in an infinity setting. Mined diamonds will no longer be used in Pandora products. From £250, en.pandora.net
Founded in 2020 by Matilde Mourinho, this sustainable fine jewelry brand uses lab-grown diamonds and recycled 14-karat gold. She recently launched the Kaleido collection, comprised of lab-grown sapphires, emeralds and rubies. From £60, matildejewellery.com
Founded by Jessica Warch and Sidney Neuhaus (both from families in the mined diamond trade) who were frustrated with the industry’s lack of transparency, this contemporary range features graphic designs made with lab-grown diamonds and 18 carat recycled gold. From £165, kimai.com and net-a-porter.com
This New York-based brand uses lab-grown diamonds, precious metals, and also works to build a philanthropic business base. Patterns range from geometric and elaborate circles and letters to simple diamonds. From around £40, smilingrocks.com