De Beers Starts Work on Lab-Grown Diamond Factory

So, it seems this is really going to happen.

De Beers, which sent shockwaves through the trade before JCK Las Vegas when it announced that it would sell lab-grown diamonds, held a ceremony this week in Gresham, Ore., to kick off construction of its first synthetic diamond gem factory.

“It makes the whole project very real,” Lightbox general manager Steve Coe tells JCK.

The groundbreaking for the $94 million factory was attended by Gresham mayor Shane Bemis, Gresham’s entire city council, as well as executives from De Beers-owned synthetic producer Element Six.

The 60,000-square-foot building is set to be finished by the middle of next year. It will start producing diamonds in January 2020. It wants to be at a full capacity—500,000 rough cts. a year—by the end of 2020. It will employ about 60 people.

Coe, a former executive director of Element Six, says the company chose Gresham, which is close to Portland, for three reasons: It has a good labor force; it offers access to low-cost sustainable electricity; and since the project is meant for an American audience, it made sense to produce the product here. (There are currently no plans to market the product beyond the United States.)

Lightbox factory
A rendering of the new Lightbox diamond production facility in Gresham, Ore.

The first Lightbox jewelry pieces will debut in September, sold on the Lightbox website. (No stones will be sold loose.) It intends to promote the product with digital, out-of-home, and print advertising, Coe says.

In meetings before India’s Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council, De Beers executives indicated the project’s marketing budget will be around $8 million a year, according to two sources who heard the presentation.

Coe declined comment. “I don’t believe we have disclosed [our marketing budget],” he says.

He says the company is still in discussions with the first retail partner to sell the jewelry.

And while some competitors have grumbled about the $800-a-carat Lightbox pricing being too low, Coe says that it will sell all its products with a positive margin, which “will be even better when we get the Portland facility set up.”

For now, Lightbox will sell pink, white, and blue synthetics, though it’s possible extra colors may be added down the line, Coe says.

But he declined to comment on the quality of the goods, which some have described as around G VS1.

“We have said we are not going to certify these,” he says. “The quality of the stones, compared to what is available in the market is very competitive and will be among the highest of the stones that are out there.”

Coe also disagreed with suggestions that De Beers higher-ups were dismissive of Lightbox diamonds at JCK Las Vegas.

“I can assure you the Lightbox crew are fired up and excited about making this into a successful business,” he says.

(Images courtesy of Lightbox Jewelry) 

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JCK News Director

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