Man Made Diamonds - The New Paradigm in Jewelry

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What possessed movie star Leonardo DiCaprio, along with 10 Silicon Valley billionaires, to invest in Diamond Foundry - a California-based start up in the business of making diamonds in a lab? The answer is simple - the man made diamond industry is projected to experience huge growth in the coming years for several reasons. Even at Gold and Gems over the past two years, we've witnessed the shift in interest from mined diamonds to their lab produced counterparts. We believe that this is less a trend than a long term, disruptive paradigm that will shake the core of the jewelry industry. Lets explore what's going on and why this is happening.

Man made diamonds have actually been around for over a century, created in a laboratory setting under conditions of high heat and pressure, essentially simulating what happens under the earth over hundreds of years. In recent years, the technology for creating these man made gems has evolved significantly. The end result has been the production of gems that bear the likeness of the mined diamond in composition, clarity, color, crystalline structure, hardness and overall aesthetics that makes it impossible for even a professional jeweler to distinguish with the naked eye between a man made and mined diamond.

There are many man made diamond alternatives on the market and, unfortunately, the jewelry industry has no official terminology at this time that distinguishes each, so the verbiage can be confusing to consumers. By "man made diamonds" we're referring to gems that have an amazing likeness in color, luster and overall visual appeal to the traditional mined diamond. Why? Because many of these gems are comprised exclusively of carbon, the same element of the natural diamond. They are therefore true diamonds, despite their method of origin.

Other man made gems are made of carbon plus other substances. For example, high quality moissanite gems bear remarkable likeness to the diamond. Moissanite represents a compound of both carbon and silicon called silicon carbide. Discovered in the late 1800's, it is found naturally in the earth within meterorite deposits and is extremely rare. Moissanite is now lab-created to produce a revolutionary diamond alternative. In comparison to hardness of the diamond, the hardest substance on earth ranked 10 (highest) on the Mohs scale of hardness, moissanite comes close at 9.25. It's brilliance or ability to reflect light is exceptional - actually better than diamond. In terms of color, there are a several variations based on production. Our research indicates that there are nearly 200 varieties, or crystalline "recipes," for silicon carbide. Depending on the crystalline structure and cut, these variations of moissanite will range in appearance and performance from tints of brown, yellow, and green at the low end of the market, to ideally colorless and diamond-like at the top end. Some of the major brand names in this space, such as DIAMONNA™, Amora, and Charles and Covard are known to have the finest colorless gems to date.So as a man made diamond, moissanite overall comes very close to the mined diamond, not just in composition, but in all of those characteristics that we all seek that define the gem's beauty - brilliance, fire, hardness, and color.

Other man made gems are being produced that are a far cry from those already mentioned. These are the "synthetic diamond" variety, also known as "diamond simulants," which have no carbon element in them. One common example is the cubic zirconium, which was first developed back in the 70's. While cubic zirconium is comprised of zirconium dioxide and is known to be relatively hard, colorless and lustrous, it has a "glassy" look and feel to it. And of course, there are the those simulants on the lowest end of the man made spectrum which are...well, genuine glass - soft, brittle, breakable and hardly a consideration in the domain of high quality man made gems. 

Price is always consideration when buying a diamond, regardless of how great or small the budget. And price is one of the greatest advantages of buying a man made gem. Lab grown diamonds can be purchased at 30% to 50% of a mined diamond. Other high-end man made diamond alternatives, like moissanite, can be purchased at a price of 80% to 90% less than a mined diamond. Of course, to make an accurate comparison, the gems being compared need to be the same carat size, cut, color and clarity. 

There is yet another factor that is driving the man man diamond industry in a big way and perhaps is one of the greatest reasons why a conscientious individual like DiCaprio made his investment. It is, in a word, sustainability. For decades, the diamond mining industry has been marred by its exploitation of natural resources, land disturbances, misuse of water supplies, and reckless distribution of waste materials. Perhaps above all, the propensity towards cheap mining labor has resulted in the exploitation of human rights, where usually in remote areas of the world, mining laborers are subject to slave-like conditions. By contrast, man made diamonds are being made in clean, modern, high-tech laboratories where skilled engineers and technicians are producing these products from inception to final cut. 

As most new technologies and just about anything new and different hits the market, product adoption usually starts within a niche market, and man made diamonds are no different. Millennials - consumers between the ages of 18 and 35 - have been the main drivers of this high-growth industry. Millennials have different values and buying interests than, lets say, baby boomers. They are more focused on value and less aligned with tradition than their parents. Practicality can weigh in with their romantic inclinations, so price is definitely a buying factor. And millennials are more accepting of the man made diamond for what it is - a beautiful object indistinguishable from a mined diamond, and therefore they're less concerned about the fact that these gems are made in a lab. Taking that a step farther, the very fact that a diamond is not carelessly extracted from the earth is a major buying motivation of the millennials, who are proving to have more environmental and human rights consciousness than the boomers. And in very recent times, the boomers, predominantly female, have been making their way slowly but surely into the man made diamond market. 

So who knows how far and fast this industry will go? It will not likely replace the mined diamond jewelry business, which Gold and Gems has no intention of abandoning. But it will give the mined diamond industry a run for it money. In fact, it's already happening.  

Image: Pixels Talk