THE RISE OF THE LAB GROWN DIAMOND

On a grey January morning in 2019 Meghan Markle emerged onto a London street on her way to a meeting. She wore a smart coat and heels, but it was not her clothing that caught the attention of the world. It was a pair of glittering drop earrings embedded with diamonds that had been grown in a lab.

It took just five days to grow the diamonds adorning Markle’s ears according to Sidney Neuhaus, co-founder of Kimaï, the company that made them. Based in Antwerp, the capital of the world’s diamond business, both she and her co-founder Jessica Warch grew up in diamond families. Nauhaus’s father owns a diamond jewellery shop, and her grandfather worked for De Beers, making his career in diamonds after World War Two.

Despite their illustrious family histories in the trade, Neuhaus and Warch chose to break away from conventional diamonds because of the environmental and humanitarian toll of extracting them. Millennials and now Generation Z – who together are the main purchasers of diamonds for engagement rings – are moving away from conventional diamonds, with nearly 70% of millennials considering buying a lab grown alternative.

In the past, when faced with existential threat, the mined diamond industry has advertised its way out of trouble. Indeed, the reason many of us are so fond of diamonds stems from a clever advertising campaign launched by De Beers in 1947. The company forever changed culture when it convinced us that “a diamond is forever”, and that a diamond ring is a quintessential part of getting engaged. The idea that diamonds are rare and precious is also a carefully crafted marketing illusion. In fact, excessive supply of diamonds has recently pushed De Beers to reduce its number of accredited buyers.

But as lab diamonds grow in popularity, the usual rebranding effort doesn’t appear to be working for mined diamonds. The industry faces issues of oversupply and a slump in demand across the globe – particularly in China, the world’s second largest diamond market, where sales declined by 5% in 2019. At an industry meeting on the rooftop of a fancy London hotel at the end of November, Simon Forrester, chief executive of the UK’s National Association of Jewellers told an audience that, “as an industry we are suffering, [due to] lacking consumer confidence”. The diamond behemoth De Beers recently announced it cut production by 15% in late 2019 due to weak prices.

So I think lab grown diamonds are here to stay and will soon be noticed a lot in the UK market.

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