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Why lab-grown diamonds are the future of luxury jewellery

Opinion

Published by:

5 June 2018

Author: Alan Frampton

Image: Lightbox is a new brand of lab-grown diamonds by De Beers

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As consumers become more interested in the provenance of luxury goods, Alan Frampton, director of ethical brand Cred Jewellery, says it’s time for luxury brands to embrace laboratory-grown diamonds.

In terms of the provenance of objects as precious and rare as diamonds, the global diamond industry has failed to provide both luxury brands and consumers with full transparency about what they are buying.

Yes, some industry accreditations exist, but most are outdated. It is a rarity to find any transparency in the journey a diamond takes from mine to market. Consequently, the jewellery industry risks being seen as backward in its inability to offer clarity on the origin of its products. Food produce can be tracked from field to plate, cut flowers are sold with stickers of origin. Even perfumers offer provenance of ingredients. But diamonds – aspirational, rare and luxurious – are seldom sold with such transparency or traceability.

And yet discerning customers expect it. In Britain, six in 10 consumers say a brand’s country of origin is as important to them, on average, as factors such as price and quality (source: Nielsen). Others are checking luxury brands’ ethical credentials before purchasing. Millennials in the US, for example, are most likely to consider sustainability issues before making a luxury purchase (49%), followed by China (38%), according to Deloitte.

To produce just one carat of diamond material, miners must sift through up to 250 tonnes of rock… and natural diamond mining produces 1.5bn times more carbon emissions than lab-grown diamonds.

It is here that laboratory-grown diamonds will be a big disrupting force in the luxury jewellery sector. Their development holds one major benefit: traceability for a luxury product that has, to date, been shrouded in opaque mining processes and amalgamated selling, making claims of provenance impossible.

Whereas large-scale diamond mining is environmentally damaging and wasteful – mines can be several kilometres wide, and to produce just one carat of diamond material, miners must sift through up to 250 tonnes of rock – lab-grown diamonds are providing a more sustainable option. In addition, the International Grown Diamond Association (IGDA) claims that natural diamond mining produces 1.5bn times more carbon emissions than lab-grown diamonds, at 57,000g per carat, versus 0.028g per carat. Furthermore, lab-grown diamonds are free from ties to conflict and, ultimately, traceable from laboratory to market, with stones laser-engraved with trackable serial numbers from their point of origin.

For luxury labels, lab-grown diamonds will provide greater production value. Smaller lab-grown diamonds can cost up to 40% lessthan mined diamonds. A 4ct pink lab-grown diamond might sell for £82,730 ($110,000, €94,575) yet the natural equivalent could cost a brand more than £752,100 ($1m, €859,785) (source: National Jeweler).

'In the US, 70% of Millennials said they would consider buying lab-grown diamonds in 2018 – up from 57% in 2017 – with cost and ethics their main drivers.'

And for consumers – in particular, value-driven Millennials – the emergence of lab-grown diamonds offers not only greater choice, but a more positive view of the jewellery trade. As a recent study by MVI Marketing shows, 70% of US Millennials said they would consider buying lab-grown diamonds in 2018 – up from 57% in 2017 – with cost and ethics their main drivers. And this interest is converting into sales. In my own experience of selling lab-grown diamonds over the past year, 30% of Cred Jewellery customers choose them over their natural counterparts.

And with lab-grown producers such as Madestones and Diamond Foundry joining forces with covetable jewellery labels on contemporary collections aimed at younger luxury consumers, and natural diamond miner De Beers recently debuting its own foray into commercial, lab-grown diamond jewellery with new brand Lightbox, other high-end brands and conglomerates should expect imminent questions – and interest – from their customers about whether they offer lab-grown diamonds.

Luxury brands will clearly want to remain competitive in the future, and having a key point of difference will ensure they stand out. In my view, lab-grown diamonds are the innovation that will change the luxury jewellery market for ever. They give consumers choice, offer quality and a guilt-free luxury product that is accessible, and has far less environmental impact. And it is diamond visionaries such as ALTR, Madestones and Diamond Foundry that will lead this movement – the biggest shake-up the luxury jewellery industry has ever seen. 

Alan Frampton is director of British ethical jewellery label and retailer Cred Jewellery.

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