Can the Natural and Lab-Grown Diamond Industries Really Get Along?

Both sides have reasons to continue the current cold war

The natural and lab-grown diamond industries are now openly feuding with each another, and some are calling for a ceasefire. Take this blog post from Melvin Moss:

The fact is that laboratory grown diamonds exist and their properties cannot be denied. They are a jewelry product just as Pandora is a jewelry product. Laboratory grown producers have a right to market their product and the natural diamond industry has no right to try to impede their legitimate marketing. Equally important, laboratory grown producers must market their diamonds responsibly and not attack natural diamonds. There is room in jewelry stores for new products but there is no room for negativity concerning diamonds.

It is hard to disagree. Yet that might not be as easy as it seems. For one, there is little overlap between the companies that produce man-made diamonds and those that mine naturals. Both sectors have no obligation to help the other.

To the contrary, they both have reasons for the current cold war to continue.

– From the natural side:

The natural business currently has had the field all to itself. Just like any legacy industry, it doesn’t want to split some of its already-struggling business with a newcomer.

Miners also have to grapple with the raison d’etre of lab-grown diamonds: They are the same product as naturals, just produced in a different way. Whatever the fundamental truth of that proposition, the natural business is unlikely to concede the point. It’s a threat to its business model. It may not be a large threat, but why take that chance? You are ultimately gambling with the fate of not just an industry, but the livelihood of several countries.

Years back, Gemesis founder Carter Clarke spelled out his rationale for lab-grown diamonds:

If you give a woman a choice between a 2-carat stone and a 1-carat stone and everything else is the same, including the price, what’s she gonna choose?… Does she care if it’s synthetic or not? Is anybody at a party going to walk up to her and ask, “Is that synthetic?”

How does the natural industry counter that? It could—and likely will—stress the mystique of a product coming from the Earth. It may also argue that naturals will hold their value better than man-made stones. But those messages can come across as fundamentally negative. 

– From the lab-grown side:

Even after a decade of production, the price of lab-grown diamonds has not fallen substantially. Some lab-grown diamond producers boast their stones cost as much as 40 percent less than naturals—though, when you run the numbers, the cost differentials typically come out to far less. A 10–15 percent differential for a high-value product is nothing to sneeze at; but, if you really look, you can save that buying a diamond on Craigslist.

So the eco-friendly and conflict-free pitches—and, in the case of Diamond Foundry, non-cartel messages—have taken center stage. (This is a notable shift in policy for some companies.) On top of this, millennial consumers clearly care about these issues more than past generations, and the natural industry has done a poor job in responding to concerns about diamond provenance. The lab-grown industry—like moissanite manufacturer Charles & Colvard—smells an opportunity. Why pass it up?

The current standoff hurts both sectors. A cessation of the hostilities indeed makes sense. I’m not counting on it happening soon.

JCK News Director