If you're like me, you may struggle to keep up with technology, especially with mobile devices and methods of communication. I remember when my office's first fax machine was considered a modern marvel. Technology has always been a force in the jewelry business, but 2019 brought a particularly important and controversial technological advancement directly to jewelry buyers.
When I was studying to become a gemologist 25 years ago, I learned how General Electric had successfully synthesized diamonds in the early 1950s. These diamonds were genuine, but had been created in a laboratory. Because they were heavily included and had a heavy yellow, brown, or grey bodycolor, they were used for industrial purposes only.
Fast forward to today, and beautiful, white, laboratory-grown diamonds are now being sold in major jewelry chain stores, some family-owned fine jewelers, and many on-line sites. Unless they are identified as such, with a laser inscription on the girdle or hologram logo floating inside, they cannot be detected as lab-grown by the naked eye, through a jeweler's loupe, or even through a microscope by a trained gemologist.
The Gemological Institute of America, which operates the world's most recognized and reliable independent diamond grading laboratory, uses highly advanced equipment to make an accurate determination between lab-grown and natural diamonds. Local jewelers are scrambling to purchase less expensive devices that can determine which diamonds have a high chance of being lab-grown.
Companies the mine natural diamonds are banking on their "Real is Rare" marketing campaign to promote their gems that were formed in the Earth's mantle over billions of years. Meanwhile, lab-grown diamonds are being mass produced at rapid speeds (three months for a 1.00ct. stone!, ) with China alone creating 2.4 million carats of lab-grown diamonds last year.
Why is this causing such a furor? As always, it comes down to money. Lab-grown diamonds are being sold at approximately one-half to two-thirds the cost of a similar natural diamond. As production methods improve, no doubt prices will continue to fall.
The only circumstance I can compare this to in the world of jewelry is the destruction of the natural pearl market 100 years ago. A strand of well-matched natural pearls was exceedingly rare and valuable in 1900. Then Mikimoto Kokichi developed a process for culturing pearls in Japan with great success, and when this new product was introduced into the market, suddenly many women could afford pearls. To the naked eye they were undetectable from natural pearls, and they were not rare. But they were beautiful, and they were much less expensive, and today, almost every pearl sold is a cultured pearl.
While many predictions have been made, no one knows whether lab-grown diamonds will hold their value, or what that value truly is. A world-wide network of natural diamond producers, cutters, and wholesalers, whose livelihoods are being affected by this new product, is trying to navigate the waters ahead.
I predict that demand for lab-grown diamonds will increase, and that purchasing a diamond in 2020 will be a completely different experience than in 2030. More now than ever, it's a time to work with experienced jewelry professionals who understand the intricacies of the market today, who know the right questions to ask, and who have their clients' interests foremost at heart.