Synthetic diamonds are here to stay

Since the second half of last year, many news stories at home and abroad have announced that sales of artificial or synthetic diamonds have finally begun. These jewels are called by various names, such as laboratory-grown diamonds, eco diamonds and sustainable diamonds.

Over the past several years, the technology to manufacture such diamonds has made dramatic progress so that their manufacturing costs have become lower than those of natural diamonds.

More recently, the cost has dropped significantly and the quality is better — even specialist gemologists find it difficult to discern synthetic diamonds from mined diamonds. I hear they need to be authenticated by an expensive machine.

The most astonishing news came in September when De Beers — which mines, processes, distributes and wholesales diamonds and reportedly has control of 30 percent of the world’s diamond distribution — launched Lightbox, a new fashion jewelry brand using artificial diamonds that sells in the United States through a special website.

De Beers has long claimed that natural diamonds and man-made diamonds are completely different. But the truth is that the company can probably no longer ignore the fierce competition among jewelry makers in the United States, Russia, China and other countries over mass production of synthetic diamonds.

A one-carat Lightbox diamond costs $800 (about ¥88,000), which is about a tenth of the price of natural diamonds used for the average engagement ring, or so it is said. De Beers says this man-made diamond could have its own market. For example, the gems seem useful for young people going to a school party or performing at a student piano recital.

De Beer’s marketing strategy was said to have planted in people’s minds the widespread notion that diamonds symbolize eternal love and are a status symbol. Diamonds appeared in romantic films and were presented to the British royal family — such an all-out strategy to give diamonds a positive image really worked, and diamonds, which are carbon atoms compressed at an extremely high temperature, were endowed with an image of a jewel of the highest order.

However, such marketing magic does not work on an increasing number of young people today, as they regard cost-benefit performance to be very important. It is no surprise that these people, drawn to lower prices, don’t mind if synthetic diamonds are used in their engagement rings.

Moreover, the deep mining required to find natural diamonds can cause environmental destruction, and the hard labor involved in mining harms the health of miners. As the film “Blood Diamond” (2006) depicted, mined diamonds also become a source of funding for armed forces in politically unstable areas.

By contrast, synthetic diamonds present an image of being eco-friendly, sustainable and easily traceable, which can be a major reason for young people to support them.

In Japan, diamond specialist shop Africa Diamonds started selling artificial diamonds late last year at the Tobu department store in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, and at Roppongi Hills in Minato Ward, Tokyo. The diamonds are made by Diamond Foundry Inc., a major U.S. lab-grown diamond manufacturer based in Silicon Valley. Those diamonds purchased at the two Africa Diamonds outlets come with a grading report printed with a serial number from Diamond Foundry. The prices depend on the quality of the stone, but they are generally half the price of natural diamonds. If an engagement ring with a natural diamond costs ¥600,000, a ring of the same design with a man-made diamond costs about ¥300,000.

Imayo & Co., a jeweler in Kyoto with more than 150 years of history, began sales of jewelry using lab-grown diamonds under the brand name Shinca on Oct. 1 last year. The lineup includes rings, necklaces and earrings, which currently feature synthetic diamonds from Diamond Foundry and other companies. The products, priced from ¥54,000, are available at Imayo’s Kyoto Oike shop and the company’s online store.

Synthetic diamonds will certainly go through more technological improvement to reduce costs. China in particular is eagerly taking part in the development race, which is likely to speed up the cost reduction phase. The whole diamond market faces a new era.

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