From The Straits Times    |

In 2022, Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer launched a US$300,000 watch. Called the Plasma Diamant d’Avant-Garde, it features a dial made entirely out of diamonds. The kicker, however, is the diamonds are all lab-grown.

It was a significant step for the brand, as it signalled TAG Heuer’s – and its parent company LVMH’s – endorsement of lab-grown diamonds, which had, till very recently, been factional.

LVMH, which owns brands including Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Bvlgari, also revealed in 2022 that it had invested in lab-grown diamond company Lusix. This came hot on the heels of DeBeers’ launch of Lightbox in 2020, a company that develops and markets lab-grown diamonds.

For LVMH and DeBeers, this allows them to tap onto the growing lab-grown diamond market, as well as flex their creative muscles as they can experiment with creative new shapes and cuts.

The writing’s been on the wall for the past few years – despite the initial apprehension, lab-grown diamonds have become mainstream, and are being favoured by younger clients. The numbers don’t lie either: In 2022, the lab-grown diamond market was worth US$12 billion (about $16 billion), up from US$700 million (about $940 million) in 2016.

Does this mean that natural diamonds are no longer sought after? On the contrary. A Zion Market Research study revealed that the global natural diamond market size was valued at around US$97.55 billion (about $131 billion) in 2022, and is slated to reach US$130.53 billion(about $176 billion) by 2023.

The truth is that while lab-grown diamonds are growing in market share, they still lag behind natural diamonds. But ultimately, both can co-exist peacefully. Both lab-grown and natural diamonds serve different purposes.

When it comes to investment value, natural diamonds that meet certain criteria remain on the radar of collectors. After all, investment value is contingent on rarity and exclusivity, and there is a limit to the amount of natural diamonds our earth can produce. Take pink diamonds, for example: The most prolific mine in the world, the Argyle mine in Australia, ran out of diamonds and shut down in 2020, jacking up prices of pink diamonds.

What about the growing appeal of lab-grown diamonds? For one, they’re said to be more sustainable than natural diamonds, although there are concerns about the amount of energy needed to power the labs. They’re also more affordable, and they can be cut in countless ways, offering plenty of creative options.

In this story, four homegrown jewellers specialising in lab-grown diamonds open up about the future of the industry and how they aim to break the social stigma of lab-grown diamonds.

Lab-grown diamonds do measure up

When Amanda Ang started August Bespoke in 2019, there was little known about lab-grown diamonds. So she invested a lot of time and effort debunking misconceptions and educating the general public on the various factors that go into determining the quality of these diamonds and how to make the best choice.

The common misconception is that lab grown diamonds are “not real diamonds”. Says Ang, “The truth is that lab-grown diamonds share the same chemical, physical and optical properties as natural diamonds, which differentiates them from diamond simulants such as moissanite or cubic zirconia.”

Her hope for the future of lab-grown diamonds is that it can co-exist with natural diamonds as it offers a more accessible entry point to the world of high-quality gemstones. “We see this as a ‘democratisation of luxury’ diversifying the customer base and making fine jewellery a possibility for a broader spectrum of consumers.”

Lab-grown diamonds are unique because… we have control over the technological advancement and precise controls of lab-grown diamonds so that means we are able to create these diamonds in larger sizes and even fancy colours such as pinks or blues which would otherwise be extremely rare in the natural diamond world. This opens up a world of design opportunities, enabling clients to embrace their individuality and craft truly one-of-a-kind pieces which resonate with their style and personality.

The environmental benefits of lab-grown diamonds are… that it can be produced with significantly lower energy requirements, resulting in a smaller carbon footprint. Studies have indicated that lab-grown diamonds can generate up to six times fewer carbon emissions compared to mined diamonds. On the other hand, lab-grown diamonds only require a controlled laboratory environment for their production. This has the positive effect of safeguarding ecosystems and preserving biodiversity.

Many customers choose this diamond alternative because… they are conscious about the origin of their diamonds. When asked what made them choose lab grown diamonds, many cite the fact that they are sustainable and ethical as two key reasons that swayed their decision.

The cost-effective option

Iris Tan is very thankful that most of her customers were already aware of the environmental, social and economical benefits of lab grown diamonds. In fact, her customer base grew even more through referrals from her well-informed customers.

While Iris has witnessed a gradual acceptance of lab-grown diamonds, she admits that there is still a social stigma overcome, as many still perceive them as “unreal”. Iris explains: “Diamond jewellery has a stronger representation for emotional value as it’s usually meant to celebrate key milestones in life like a marriage proposal or a wedding dowry gift, push or anniversary gifts.”

While it may not necessarily have a strong investment appeal, the huge amount of savings from lab grown diamonds (up to 60 per cent) as compared to natural diamonds makes practical sense financially.

“If Authica can help more customers to save money without sacrificing on quality, we are hopeful that more will have greater confidence in the lab grown diamonds. They will grow to be convinced that you don’t have to pay tens of thousands for a truly sparkling and excellent diamond,” she continues.

Many people are unaware that lab-grown diamonds… can actually be considered as the purest type of diamond, which is classified as Type IIA (the industry’s rating for a diamond that is almost free of impurities). As compared to mined diamonds, less than two per cent of the world’s mined diamonds qualify as a Type IIA diamond, while most of the lab grown diamonds are Type IIA.

Over the years, the perceptions and attitudes towards lab-grown diamonds have changed… as rising living costs, rising sea levels, rising temperatures are all very real concerns for our future generation. We are also seeing a trend where consumers are willing to invest in eco-friendly product alternatives with the increased awareness on climate change. Lab-grown diamonds do not cause any land pollution and soil erosion that happens from diamond mining. On an average, miners must remove 250,000 kg of earth for a one carat diamond, and this hole on Earth can be bigger than the size of a blue whale, which measures between 24-30 metres.

In case you didn’t know… Authica’s lab grown diamonds are sent to internationally renowned gem labs to be graded and certified in the same way as mined diamonds. Every piece is assessed by the four C’s of diamond quality: Cut, Colour, Carat, Clarity, and comes accompanied by a dedicated GIA or IGI report and laser inscription. The price will also differ accordingly. A lab grown diamond of great quality and grade is still the more economical choice in terms of pricing, as compared to mined.

An ethical alternative

At LeCaine Gems, husband-and-wife team Ashley and Michael LeCaine are very transparent with their customers and will not hide the fact that “these diamonds are indeed made in the lab and have no resale value.”

Ashley emphasises that their approach is to educate their clients and help them discern between natural and lab-grown diamonds, and moissanite, a mineral made of silicon carbide.

Ashley reveals that when lab-grown diamonds were new to the market, they fetched a rather high price point (which was around 60 per cent to 70 per cent of the price of natural diamonds), which deterred some customers from purchasing lab-grown options. “Most of our clients were happy to opt for a moissanite which offers a beautiful sparkle at a great price, with rings set from around $1,000 onwards, depending on size, colour, shape and clarity,” Ashley says.

Today, the prices for lab-grown diamonds are significantly lower and more accessible, so Ashley makes it a point to emphasise the importance of choosing high-quality lab-grown diamonds to her potential clients. “We choose to work with reputable organisations such as GIA and IGI to certify the authenticity and quality of lab-grown diamonds further assuring customers of credibility.”

The ethical benefits of lab-grown diamonds include… avoiding issues like human rights violations, child labour and unsafe working conditions associated with diamond mining.

Lab-grown diamonds are likely to change the traditional jewellery market… by offering a more ethical and affordable alternative. Jewellers may no longer shy away from this diamond as they give consumers greater choices and influence the industry to become more sustainable.

At the heart of it… each lab diamond we choose to make into a ring or any jewellery is a great story for a special moment in a person’s life whether it’s for an engagement, anniversary or birthday. It does not have to be mined from the earth for it to be valuable.

Forging new perspectives

When The Better Diamond entered the Singapore market in 2019, it faced a lot of difficulties as most people were quick to assume that it was “fake diamonds”.

Fast forward to today. Creative and marketing director of The Better Diamond Adeline Lin, has noticed a change in the mindset of most people, especially the younger consumer, who are more receptive and accepting of lab grown diamonds. She says: “We notice that the younger generation are more willing to choose lab grown diamonds as their choice of diamond due to being the more ethical and sustainable option.” And interestingly, according to Adeline, it is the female clients who are the ones who initiate the purchase of a lab-grown diamond.

Her hope is that the general consumer will slowly come to realise that a lab-grown diamond is indeed a better option as it not only possesses the beauty of a mined diamond, but buying a lab-grown diamond will also have a positive ethical and sustainable impact in the world.

Lab-grown diamonds are as real as natural diamonds… because the carbon atoms are arranged in a diamond cubic crystal structure.

On sustainability… Mining might sometimes involve deforestation and displacement of communities to make room for the diamond mines. There is also consumption of fossil fuels, air and noise pollution due to the operation of heavy mining machinery in the mines – all of which can be avoided with lab grown diamonds.

The belief that lab-grown diamonds lose their sparkle over time… is not true. This misconception would have likely arisen from diamond simulants (like cubic zirconia or moissanite) whose facets get scratched and worn down over time as they are not as hard as diamonds, thus losing their shine.

The truth is… that people need to overcome the mental barrier more than the physical barrier of purchasing a lab-grown diamond. At the end of the day, you are getting something that is identical, for less money, so isn’t that a win-win situation for everyone?