Place Vendôme jewelry executives are still cold to lab-grown diamonds – WWD
As emerging players increasingly position themselves in the high-end segment and heavyweights like Pandora eschew the use of mined diamonds in their designs, the lab-grown diamond market is heating up day by day.
Seen as a more sustainable alternative to mined diamonds, lab-grown gemstones are also gaining ground amid sanctions against Russia, one of the main suppliers of natural diamonds, and as production of rough diamonds continues to decline, falling to 111 million carats, with a 5% decline per year since peaking at 152 million carats in 2017, according to a 2021 Bain study of the global diamond industry.
But top jewelry executives remain skeptical, noting that the segment has many issues of its own, including the energy used to create them, depending on where they are made.
More than 50-60% of the world’s 6 million carats of synthetic diamond production is made in China using high-temperature, high-pressure technology, with India and the United States emerging as major production centers promoting chemical vapor deposition technologies.
“Laboratory diamonds raise their own issues,” said Cyrille Vigneron, CEO of Cartier.
“On the one hand, we know that the end customer is not completely ready for them, and on the other hand, the transparency of the production chain is not yet fully there. We are therefore not ready to consider them, knowing that the question of customer perception could also impact the symbolic value, and can ultimately be quite negative for the value placed on diamonds as a whole,” he added.
Van Cleef & Arpels CEO Nicolas Bos also warned against marketing lab-grown diamonds solely on an ecological narrative, which he said amounted to false advertising.
While lab stones may not find their way into home designs, “they can provide some very interesting creative opportunities. [without] claiming to be a green alternative to the ‘bad people in the industry’,” he said.
“It’s part of the technology, but it’s not a replacement. There are ways to use [them] who are not against tradition [jewelry]. It should be a different flow,” he continued, pointing to the possibility of growing diamonds in shapes not found in nature.
Although De Beers launched its lab-grown diamond subsidiary Lightbox in 2018, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton became the first major luxury player to invest in the segment by taking a minority stake in Lusix, a lab-grown diamond producer based in Israel.
His watch brand Tag Heuer used Lusix diamonds on its centerpiece Carrera Plasma, unveiled at the Watches & Wonders show in Geneva last March, touting the design as “truly revolutionary”.
But Louis Vuitton CEO Michael Burke said he’s not ready to shy away from natural diamonds any time soon.
“There are a lot of problems, that’s why it’s a good thing that LVMH is involved because we need to know what’s going on. We have to keep up to date with all the progress, but it’s very energy intensive. In some ways the carbon footprint is higher than that of responsibly mined stones, so we have to be careful about that,” he warned.
A 2021 study between lab-grown and mined diamonds published in the Basel-based journal MDPI found that considerations such as energy, diamond size, machine used and present conditions affect the validity of eco -catch-all claims.
“There are numbers that prove one or the other,” said Peter J. Ravenscroft, a diamond and mining industry veteran who founded the Maison Mazerea diamond brand.
Not least because calling lab stones sustainable just because they don’t require mining is “simplistic” given the implications for the livelihoods of communities that depend on diamond mining, he said. he continued.
Looking further ahead, Ravenscroft believes there will be “a bifurcation in the market” where lab stones “have a very valid place in the market”, depending on whether or not the consumer is receptive to the “mystery and mystique” of the billion Year origin story of mined diamonds.
“There is a very strong market for people who would prefer to buy a lab-grown diamond, and I fully understand that [but] there will always be people who want natural beauty. If you’re talking about diamonds that you’re going to pay a few million dollars for, you’re not going to do that for a synthetic diamond,” Ravenscroft said.
But this lack of enthusiasm may also be due to an apple-pear comparison, especially when it comes to sizes. Medium to large diamonds accounted for 25% of production by carat volume, but about 70-80% of market dollar value, according to the Bain report.
Meanwhile, the largest lab-grown roughs have just passed the 150-carat mark. The International Gemological Institute has analyzed and graded a 30.18 carat emerald cut with an H color and VS2 clarity to be the first lab-polished diamond to exceed 30 carats.
While pieces and investment stones – 79-carat diamonds in particular – took pride of place at recent high jewelry presentations in Paris last July, technological advances that allow for increased quantities and sizes more and more important would also lower the price per carat of the laboratory diamond. , said Jean-Marc Mansvelt, CEO of Chaumet.
“Many people come to see us to invest. What is important is to see where customers stand and what they expect when buying from Chaumet, [which is] a stone that will retain its value throughout their lifetime, and even across generations,” he continued. “The key is not to mislead the customer.”
For all the conversations around, “in a way, lab-grown diamonds are still in their infancy,” noted Charles Leung, Fred’s chief executive.
The Parisian jewelry house is “open to learning more about lab-grown diamonds in the future” as a growing number of customers, especially among young people, see diamond jewelry as a fashion choice rather than a fashion choice. an investment. It will “undoubtedly disrupt the industry,” he continued.
But there is an even longer term vision. Keeping in mind the house’s founder, Fred Samuel, who had turned to cultured pearls because natural pearls were becoming scarce, Leung pointed out that “one day there may be no more new diamond mines on Earth. We will have to adapt. »