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Grown diamonds an opportunity if awareness and differentiation prevail

The SGL Retail Jeweller India Forum 2019 held a session on ‘Grown diamonds: An American and an Indian perspective’, which centred round Lab-grown Diamonds (LGD), or grown diamonds, as they are popularly called, whether they threaten or complement natural diamonds, and whether the industry should accept them or reject them. The session was moderated by Chirag Soni, Director, SGL, with the panellists including Samuel Jansen, Made by Man Diamond, USA; Shankar Sen, Senco Gold & Diamonds; and Shailesh Sangani, Priority Jewels.

Jansen talked about how LGDs are gaining ground in the US, giving an example of a fast fashion brand such as ‘House of Virtruve’, and how it is taking to grown diamonds in a big way. “Since 1919, we have been trading the same diamond, with the same eight-arrow cut. Now, technology has enabled hybridisation of LGD manufacturing, and we can see new designs coming up, a case in point being the four-arrow diamond of Sphaira Global” he added.

Jansen went on to explain how LGDs are made: first the seed of the diamond is placed under high pressure and the chamber is filled with different types of gases. After 30 days, a rough is formed. These roughs are then cut in 16 facets and polished. The grown diamond then looks very much like a natural diamond.

Jansen cited Morgan Stanley’s findings that suggest that LGDs will account for 7.5% of global large diamond sales by 2020. However, he told retailers to be cautious about investing in LGDs in India. “The technology is very expensive and the yield is low. As for the US, it has long been a low-quality diamond market where retailers sell LGDs on their price strength and the visual difference an LGD has over a natural. When a retailer shows an LGD and a natural diamond simultaneously, the buyer always finds the LGD to look bigger and prettier,” he said. Showing a three-tier target group in The US, Jansen explained how generation Z (a generation that reached adulthood in the second decade of the 21st century), millennials and baby boomers are picking LGDs.

“LGDs are popular among Generation Z, millennials and baby boomers alike,” Jansen said, adding, “Generation Z, comprising 25% of the buying share in the US, is always on the phone, hopping from site to site for best deals. The millennials root for branding and better value, which retailers are already doling out with in-house brands. The baby boomers are not spending on parties or late night soirees, but they do want a big and beautiful diamond to adorn them when they settle down. Affording LGDs prove sustainable to their economy.” He warned that mining is depleting underground resources, and by 2025, this would lead to a 15% shortfall in the global natural diamonds market. LGDs are aiming at filling this gap. Jansen concluded his presentation by showcasing the Made in US diamond collection, highlighting the point that differentiation is necessary in a saturated diamond market.

Presenting the Indian perspective, Sangani showed how High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) diamonds are selling at 30-40 cents and 1 carat-1 carat 20 cents in the US. “Every year, there is a 10%-15% drop in the price of LGDs as technology is gradually enabling handsome production. Production of LGDs will still be 2%-3% of the real diamond production in the years to come,” Sangani said. He added that the production of Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD) LGDs increased, while HPHT LGDs remained the same during 2017-18. He stressed on the importance of sourcing diamonds from reputed loose diamond sellers and urged jewellers to use the best synthetic detection devices.

Sangani also questioned the environment-friendly positioning of LGDs, and pointed out the negatives associated with their manufacturing process. “There is a tremendous amount of power consumption here. A nuclear blast creates an HPHT diamond from its seed. The power of each of these machines equals the weight of 80 elephants on a given surface. And every CVD has to go through the HPHT treatment to get its colour enhanced. Moreover, GIA has declared that HPHT treatment makes diamonds change colour over time. So, a bluish diamond may turn brownish after some years of use,” he elaborated.

Thereafter, Soni displayed SGL’s proprietary lab-grown diamond screening device. He also showcased his company’s smart technology that it uses to authenticate all the steps involved in the manufacture of grown-diamonds, right till they reach the consumer.

Talking about the future of LGDs in the Indian market, Sen said, “As a retailer, we should be mindful about information dissemination, and if we sell LGDs as LGDs and differentiate them from natural diamonds, they will be sold. There will always be people who look for an affordable diamond. LGDs will inevitably grow.”

Sen also talked about maintaining the differentiation between LGDs and natural diamonds, adding that consumers should have the freedom to choose. He added that a woman would want a natural diamond for a wedding, but she might prefer an LGD if she’s shopping for a party. Differing with Sen, Sanghani said Indian customers are quality-conscious and look for worth in jewellery. But Sen argued that Swarovski has been gaining popularity among the elite clientele as women are proudly flaunting crystals.

Answering a question about buyback of LGDs, Jansen said that being 35% cheaper than natural diamonds, LGDs might have a problem with buyback as their value might depreciate in the long run. He added that LGDs would be able to capture only a small share of the market as the Indian jewellery sector still thrives on trust and legacy. Sen concluded the session by urging all responsible diamond players to analyse the LGD market in India, maintain the differentiation of LGDs, spread awareness about them and then wait for the result.