Industry veteran on how lab-grown diamonds are driving the trade to experiment – JCK
Some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Avi Levy was born with a diamond. The son of a diamond merchant who had an office on New York’s 47th Street, Levy, now North American President of the International Institute of Gemmology (IGI), began his career in the diamond business the old-fashioned way: Dad asked for a favor.
“He got me a retail job on 47th Street,” Levy says JCK. “It was in 1986. The energy, the people, the comings and goings, the negotiation, the transactions. I went to my father’s office, I heard the cries, the negotiations. I was in love with the company before I even knew it.
Levy’s love affair with diamonds took him to Belgium to buy rough, to Israel to learn the ins and outs of the trade from his cousins, and ultimately to India as a diamond maker. diamond jewelry producing jewelry for majors. In 2019, Levy joined IGI, succeeding its longtime chief executive, Jerry Ehrenwald, who left the company to launch a lab-grown diamond exchange.
At the time, the lab-grown category accounted for about 15% of IGI’s business, says Levy. JCK. Not quite three years later, that figure is closer to 30%. And growing.
Levy spoke to JCK about the growth of the lab-grown diamond market, when he realized it would be a game-changer for the industry, and why he thinks the renewed interest in lab-grown gemstones has been good for mined diamonds .
“I’m an industry guy,” he says. “I grew up in it. I’m a fan of anything that helps our industry grow.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Before joining IGI, what was your impression of the lab-grown market?
I saw it as a game changer and a wake-up call for the industry. I sold natural diamonds, but the creativity of the industry was declining. We were becoming complacent. Retailers have become more price conscious with Indian competition. They haven’t brought new people into the industry. We were sort of floating, if you ask me.
Lab-grown came in and shook things up. It was dynamic. But the biggest problem was the price. Before, it was too expensive. I saw it as a game changer as it gave the consumer another option to purchase a different type of diamond jewelry, but I knew there was a long way to go. And also that we would need to teach everyone what it is, why it is and what the benefits are for the consumer.
When did you notice that the tide was turning in favor of growing in the lab?
Probably 2017. A good friend who bought from India went the other way – he stopped natural and just grew in the lab. In fact, two companies did. One was selling small sizes – they were big natural product traders and literally quit one day and started lab growing the next. We had many questions because the price was too expensive. But in terms of value proposition, it was amazing.
What changes have you seen on the lab side since joining IGI in 2019?
So much. Technology is improving. You have a base of producers interested in advancing the technology. They examine how to become better, cleaner, bigger and how to become consistent. A lot of guys want to rush into the market, release their product. But that means stopping the growth process a few days earlier, which affects the quality or color.
I see customization coming: “I want 100 stones of a certain size and color” – and some companies have the capabilities to do that. We have seen crosses come from a single diamond crystal. Another manufacturer made a pink cross. I have a blue hamsa hand he made and a cannabis leaf. People think: what else can I do? It comes down to creativity. The companies created in the laboratory have motivated the industry to wake up, to revitalize. My experience gives me more visibility to see the market. And it increases in all price ranges.
How do you see the two markets – natural and lab-grown – coexisting in the future?
Lab-grown has done its job. The natural is on fire. Not only the price, but the desire and need for natural diamonds is increasing. We see it as a laboratory, in the units that arrive. Retailers and manufacturers are coming up with new programs and new ideas. I tell people, we’re still in the third or fourth innings. When we started with lab-grown produce, we were like babies. Today we are sweet 16. We still have a long way to go.
Top: 1.5 ct white gold hoop earrings. two lab-grown diamonds, $2,240; Noemie
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