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23 june 2022

Demand for large lab-grown polished diamonds will grow in high-income countries

23 may 2022

anastasia_shramko_xx.pngAnastasia Shramko is an expert in precious stones, rough and polished diamond market, and an analyst.

She is an author of the course “Lab-Grown Diamonds: Gemology and the Market” conducted on the site and in collaboration with the GemAcademia (International Center for Business and Gemology) and the Gemological Center of Moscow State University.

Anastasia Shramko told Rough&Polished about the impact of the recent circumstances on the lab-grown diamond market, about lab-grown diamond marketing and the market prospects, about the basics of pricing and the principles of the lab-grown diamond pipeline.

How did lab-grown diamonds and other gemstones change the industry?

First, I would like to say that for brevity and better understanding, I will use the terms “lab-grown polished diamonds” or “grown polished diamonds”, which means “polished diamonds cut and polished from laboratory-grown (synthetic) rough diamonds”. I would also like to remind you that under Federal Law No. 41 of the Russian Federation, the terms “rough diamonds” and “polished diamonds” without explanatory words mean natural stones. And also, natural rough diamonds and lab-grown ones are identical in all basic parameters such as their chemical composition, crystal lattice structure, physical and optical properties.

As for 2022, it must be recognized that lab-grown polished diamonds firmly took their place in the market. Even in Russia, they are no longer an absolutely new product, which dealers and consumers rather fear of and distrust, but a full-fledged product: there is a demand for it both from individuals and from industries. Colourless and coloured lab-grown polished diamonds are a new but already established product niche with its own market positioning and its own special designations (primarily, according to the “CIBJO Laboratory-Grown Diamonds Guidelines” system). Quite successful marketing campaigns in the US market (the largest consumer market for lab-grown polished diamonds at the moment) clearly explain the difference between natural polished diamonds, lab-grown ones, and diamond imitations to buyers. On major US online marketplaces, we also see a clear categorical differentiation between these products. So, buyers make their choice based on their own principles, budgets, events, etc. The same processes can be observed in Europe, China and, surprisingly, in Japan, which has recently become interested in lab-grown polished diamonds for its jewellery market. In Russia, positive changes are also taking place but they are slower; market professionals actively study the issue and increasingly more experts give true information, which, in turn, raises the potential Russian customers’ confidence.

Without a doubt, with the advent of lab-grown rough diamonds, the global jewellery industry has changed, and this happened according to a quite expected scenario when a lab-grown rough diamond is recognized as a rough diamond with all the necessary explanations, these stones are considered to be a special alternative category of grown stones, all attempts are made to eliminate any possible forgery and obvious fraud, there is an active education of all the market participants, the tension is reduced, and a sustainable pricing policy is shaped.

How did the recent circumstances - the economic crisis, the pandemic, and the current sanctions - affect this market as for the demand for lab-grown diamonds and their production?

In 2020, there was a decline in production in general, and in the synthetic rough diamond segment in particular, for example, many Chinese and Indian factories suspended or slowed down their work for several months. The volume of lab-grown polished diamonds for 2020 remained virtually unchanged compared to 2019 and accounted for about 7.5% of the global polished diamond market.

It was estimated that in 2021, the share of lab-grown polished diamonds was 8-9% (according to our data; and it was 7-8 percent, according to the Zimnisky’s data). Therefore, we can say that the dramatic changes due to the pandemic did not happen.

In recent years, several new factories have been set up in Russia for the synthesis of rough diamonds, including gem quality ones (using HPHT- and CVD-methods). They are mainly aimed at selling rough or polished grown diamonds to foreign markets, and until recently, they were not sanctioned. Thanks to these factories, a domestic market is gradually being created, but its volumes are still extremely small. The recent sanctions against Russia may have an overall negative impact on the purchasing power, but their impact is not yet felt.

What is happening in technology - are significant shifts seen in this area?

At present, diamond synthesis is technologically more complicated than the synthesis of crystals of other minerals, for example, corundum or beryl (where often natural stone powder undergo recrystallization).

 We have seen significant technological shifts in the HPNT synthesis since the mid-2010s.

At that time, the Russian company New Diamond Technology surprised with its large lab-grown polished diamonds weighing at first 5 carats, then 10 carats, and even more than 20 carats. However, there are no very large gem-quality polished diamonds (more than 30 carats) in the HPHT segment. This is certainly due to the limitations of technological capabilities. In general, a small percentage of companies around the world can carry out the synthesis of large-sized good quality HPHT rough diamonds weighing 7 carats and more  (of high clarity and of high colour category) and very few factories grow high-clarity diamonds weighing from 10 carats and more after cutting and polishing.

At the same time, right now we see a shortage of small-size lab-grown rough diamonds for cutting the so-called “melee” diamonds (“sprinkles”). This is due to the fact that China, the main producer of such stones, is switching to the synthesis of slightly larger crystals. It should be said that almost all small lab-grown polished diamonds are manufactured using HPHT rough diamonds, there is a share of the CVD rough diamonds, but it is insignificant.

As for the CVD diamonds, no impressive technological achievements have been seen in recent years, either. Although the CVD-method theoretically does not limit the size of a crystal, in practice, the technology is stable up to a certain limit. The largest polished CVD grown diamonds’ weight is 9-10 carats. On average, this method produces stones weighing from 1 to 4 carats after cutting and polishing. For the CVD-method, there is also the problem of getting diamonds of high colour category (H-I-J stones and below are usually obtained), and this problem has not yet been solved for commercial use.

What determines the pricing in this market?

Currently, pricing for near-colourless lab-grown polished diamonds is based on the Rapaport price-list. Depending on the quality and size, the stone is given a certain discount, usually from 50% or more. For coloured lab-grown polished diamonds, the situation is more complex and depends on the policy of the manufacturing or trading company. Creating coloured lab-grown polished diamonds is not an easy process, often unpredictable, so their pricing depends on many factors and is not unified. We can definitely say that it is not tied to the market of natural coloured polished diamonds, but is based on the production costs.

What are the principles of the current “diamond pipeline” for lab-grown rough and polished diamonds based on?

The main feature for lab-grown rough and polished diamonds is that in most cases, the same company is involved in several or all the stages of a diamonds’ “life” within the “diamond pipeline”. For example, Diamond Foundry (using a CVD-method) has its own synthesis unit (from R&D to stable production), diamond cutting and polishing unit, rough and polished lab-grown diamond sales department, its own jewellery brand, and it collaborates with many designers. In addition, the company implements marketing programmes, etc.

Indian synthesis companies have their own production factories for rough and polished lab-grown diamonds in India (or the factories registered in Singapore), as well as their own jewellery brand (usually with a different name), say, in America.

To your opinion, what are the prospects for this market, including coloured lab-grown diamonds?

Now, many experts and analysts predict a steady annual growth in the share of lab-grown polished diamonds in the total market (thanks to stable demand), a correction in pricing policy, further separation and isolation of the segment, and end consumers understand the segment better. There are also bold statements about a very gradual complete replacement of the natural polished diamonds for lab-grown ones on the market in the long term; well, everything is possible in the very long term given the depletion of natural resources.

How is the attitude towards grown polished diamonds changing? Will they be in great demand as natural ones?

In Russia, there have been radical changes in the attitude towards these stones for 7 years. I started studying the topic of lab-grown rough diamonds in 2015; at that time, no one knew about them except for some major specialists (manufacturers, scientists, experts from the Gemological Center of Moscow State University) and dealers very interested in them, and there was no lab-grown diamond market. Today, many market players show their desire to study the issue, they correctly distinguish between the categories, understand the basics of their diagnostics, and many people began to show consumer interest, because the fear of deception has decreased thanks to the study of the problem and a better understanding of it. I feel, the demand will definitely grow for the melee, which is already observed. In high-income countries, demand for large lab-grown polished diamonds weighing 3 carats and more will grow.

Where are they most popular?

Now, lab-grown polished diamonds are most popular in America, as well as in China, Europe, an increasing demand is seen in Japan and other countries.

In Russia, there is also every chance for the development of the lab-grown polished diamond market, this is due to their lower cost, the factories operating in Russia, and some emerging brands using these stones.

In my opinion, a separate publication should be devoted to the development of a coloured lab-grown diamond market.

This will be the topic of our next talk. Please tell us how the marketing of lab-grown polished diamonds is changing, and about the ways to promote and advertise them.

In 2021, after much discussion, the new “CIBJO Laboratory-Grown Diamonds Guidelines” Blue Book was published setting many principles for lab-grown polished diamonds. In particular, manufacturers are advised to validate their statements on the sustainability by inviting independent experts to evaluate their lab-grown polished diamonds.

Under these conditions, the promotion of lab-grown polished diamonds has changed somewhat. Instead of the definitions “eco”, “organic”, “green” diamonds (without explanation, these terms mislead some buyers as for the nature of a stone’s origin), which were originally used, the term “sustainable” is now more commonly used. At the same time, the general theme of doing less harm to nature compared to mining the diamonds remains. Another marketing theme is lab-grown diamonds as a high-tech achievement.

There are unusual trends in demand for only HPHT grown polished diamonds or only CVD grown polished diamonds, which may indirectly indicate some kind of hidden marketing by manufacturers of a particular segment of diamonds, as well as a rather conservative approach used by most jewellers and buyers to testing methods (people still use a diamond tester, which can test many HPHT diamonds as being moissanites).

They are in fashion, aren’t they?

Yes, I have already mentioned popular trends in general, including their environmental friendliness, rational consumption, and high technologies. Many celebrities at various events wear lab-grown polished diamonds to make a message to respect the environment.

Swiss watch manufacturers start using lab-grown polished diamonds in their products, for example, a well-known watch brand TAG Heuer. Do you think this is just the beginning?

So far, it’s hard to say. We can recall the Verneuil corundum used by Cartier and Fabergé in their jewellery pieces in the early 20th century, also made as a recognition of technological achievements.

TAG Heuer is very cautious, they call these lab-grown diamonds “diamant d’Avante-garde”. It seems to me that this means that, on the one hand, they show their commitment to disruptive technologies, impossibility of denying the development, and on the other hand, it is still an experiment. After all, they plan to release a very limited edition (less than 12 pieces, I guess). They collaborate with well-known diamond growing companies, and by the way, the dial is made using polycrystalline CVD-diamonds, not monocrystalline ones.

Galina Semyonova for Rough&Polished