Making a Synthetic, But Natural ChoiceMarch 03, 16
If there is one thing that is almost certain to get particular parts of the diamond industry apoplectic with rage, it is the mention of lab-grown diamonds. It seems to be one of those word formulas that make people appear to lose perspective.
The visceral reaction of some segments of the diamond industry to lab-grown diamonds seems disproportionate. The technology to create lab-grown diamonds has been around for more than 60 years, and was initially used in an industrial capacity. Man-made diamonds, as distinct from cubic zirconia, came into the retail diamond industry at around the turn of the Millennium, and have increasingly become a feature on its landscape.
So, Stuller Inc.’s announcement this week that it has added lab-grown diamonds to its existing product mix is important. The company has been in existence for more than 45 years and its decision to offer lab-grown diamonds is a big deal, because it signals that there is synergy, where technological expertise has reached a stage of advancement that has coincided with the willingness of jewelry retailers to sell the product. And lab-grown diamonds are here to stay, let us make no mistake about that. As retailers’ margins and profitability continue to get squeezed, is it not a logical and rational move for a large manufacturer to make this move?
Stuller’s decision has not been without controversy, but the company has also been prepared to use moissanite and other lab-grown gems in its jewelry, creating dedicated sections on its website where the types of stone used are clearly labeled. Perhaps this is the crux of the argument – things should be clearly labeled – like with other gemstones such as rubies and emeralds, and also pearls. And the notable point about those materials, is that a distinct market for both synthetic and natural products exists – they live side-by-side, and in large part, not only have sales of the natural product not been negatively affected, they have in fact increased. If we can appropriately differentiate between lab-grown diamonds and natural stones, and that always seems to be a sticking point, is it impossible that the two products can live in harmony?
We should also take note that De Beers, through its subsidiary company Element Six, is the largest manufacturer of lab-grown diamonds in the world. The majority of uses for its diamonds are industrial, but we cannot overlook the connection between the diamond producer and the lab-grown manufacturer.
It is a good thing that a company like Stuller has taken the decision to add lab-grown diamonds to its product mix. In the company’s press release it took great pains to point out that lab-grown diamonds and natural stones are not treated in the same way. They come with a certificate from the Gem Certification and Assurance Lab (GCAL), a unique inscription on the girdle and a uniquely labeled package. They are also handled separately, housed in a different vault and stored and shipped in distinctive box.
What do people mean when they say that they are worried about CVD diamonds? They are worried about them as a product, concerned that lab-grown diamonds will become too keen a competitor for natural stones? That the price-conscious consumer will be swayed by a product that looks so similar and is chemically indistinct from natural diamonds – yet at a fraction of the cost? Or do they mean that they are concerned, as has already happened, that unscrupulous elements will try and sell lab-grown diamonds as if they are natural stones? It may be one, or all of these fears and that is totally legitimate, but hoping that lab-grown diamonds will just disappear or that the industry can somehow put the genie back in the bottle and legislate against them is neither possible nor practical.
And why have traditional businesses, including the diamond bourses, rejected lab-grown diamonds until now, particularly when so many have an infrastructure in place to deal with them?
Diversify or die is an adage that sounds a warning to businesses that staying static for too long can be detrimental to success. The flip side is that diversification can also be risky – especially if a new venture takes a business too far from its core business. Is it genuinely more risky to increase ones product mix to include lab-grown diamonds, especially if you are as careful about maintaining your standards as Stuller?