The death of natural diamonds: Shares of De Beers owner fall 20% after mine production is cut as eco-conscious customers instead opt for lab-grown gems loved by celebs like Taylor Swift

According to Marilyn Monroe in the classic 1953 film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” diamonds were once a girl’s best friend.

But these days, eco-conscious shoppers seem to prefer lab-grown gemstones over mined rock, and celebrities like Taylor Swift, Reese Witherspoon and Emma Watson are showcasing lab-made accessories.

According to The Times, the boom in lab-grown rocks has angered traditional mining companies such as Anglo American, owner of De Beers, the world’s leading diamond company.

Shares in the FTSE 100 company fell 20 percent after it announced production cuts at its mines. Meanwhile, De Beers sold just $80 million worth of rough diamonds at the end of October, compared to $454 million a year earlier, BNN Bloomberg reported.

In comparison, the lab-made variety – considered more ethical and sustainable than the mined variety – appears to be on the rise; 10 percent of diamonds sold in 2022 were lab-grown, compared to just 2 percent in 2018.

Diamonds were once a girl's best friend, according to Marilyn Monroe in the classic 1953 film

Diamonds were once a girl’s best friend, according to Marilyn Monroe in the classic 1953 film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (pictured).

De Beers has said “A diamond lasts forever” since 1948, when managing director Mary Frances Gerety came up with the slogan.

But 75 years later, diamonds are experiencing an identity crisis. “One-size rough diamonds typically used for engagement rings have dropped in price,” explains London-based jewelry journalist and consultant Milena Lazazzera. “The industry is under pressure.”

When the CEO of De Beers Group announced unremarkable sales figures in June, he referred to “global macroeconomic challenges” and described the mood in the industry as “cautious”.

Natural diamonds are made of pure carbon beneath the earth’s surface. Lab-grown diamonds are the result of an industrial process rather than a geological process, but have the same composition.

According to Gary Ingram, CEO of TheDiamondStore.co.uk, the UK’s largest diamond retailer, you can generally get a 50 percent larger diamond for your budget if you choose lab-grown diamonds.

Many famous faces have jumped on the lab-grown diamond bandwagon, with Meghan Markle wearing a pair of sustainable gemstone earrings from London brand Kimai while visiting Smart Works in the city in January 2019.

Leonardo DiCaprio is also a fan and has invested in Diamond Foundry, a San Francisco-based lab-grown jewelry startup.

“With lab-grown diamonds, you can get something of exceptionally high quality at a significantly lower price,” Lindsay Reinsmith, co-founder of California-based Ada Diamonds, told The Times.

But these days, eco-conscious shoppers seem to prefer lab-grown gemstones over mined rock, with celebrities like Taylor Swift (pictured earlier this month wearing VRAI-made diamond earrings), Reese Witherspoon and Emma Watson showing off lab-made accessories

But these days, eco-conscious shoppers seem to prefer lab-grown gemstones over mined rock, with celebrities like Taylor Swift (pictured earlier this month wearing VRAI-made diamond earrings), Reese Witherspoon and Emma Watson showing off lab-made accessories

Reese Witherspoon was in California earlier this month wearing lab-grown diamond earrings

Reese Witherspoon was in California earlier this month wearing lab-grown diamond earrings

“Although energy is required to grow them, this energy is only a fraction of what is needed to mine them.”

Two techniques are used to create lab-grown diamonds. Invented in the 1950s, HPHT (High Pressure High Temperature) mimics the high pressure and temperature found in the earth when natural diamonds are formed.

A “seed” (diamond chip) is placed into a piece of carbon, and the pressure and temperature used force the carbon to form a diamond.

CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition) is more expensive and often results in higher quality diamonds.

A thin diamond disc is placed in a vacuum chamber filled with carbon-rich gases. Below 1,000 °C, the gases transform into plasma, which combines with the diamond disk and builds up the diamond in layers.

Diamonds can be grown in any size and color, but the big appeal for environmentalists is that they are said to be kinder to the earth – and to humanity.

The lab-grown strain does not pollute water sources or destroy habitats. They are not mined in war zones or sold to finance bloody conflicts. References to “blood diamonds” appeared during Sierra Leone’s civil war in the 1990s and inspired the Leonardo DiCaprio film “Blood Diamond.”

But lab-grown diamonds are not without flaws. “Creating a diamond requires a huge amount of energy and it is important that it is not sold as an environmentally friendly solution,” Helen Dimmick, gemologist and jewelry expert, told The Chron in 2021.

Many famous faces have jumped on the lab-grown diamond bandwagon, with Meghan Markle wearing a pair of sustainable gemstone earrings from London brand Kimai while visiting Smart Works in the city in January 2019

Many famous faces have jumped on the lab-grown diamond bandwagon, with Meghan Markle wearing a pair of sustainable gemstone earrings from London brand Kimai while visiting Smart Works in the city in January 2019

Gigi Hadid was spotted at the 2023 Met Gala wearing a lab-grown diamond necklace

Gigi Hadid was spotted at the 2023 Met Gala wearing a lab-grown diamond necklace

“Not all lab breeders are the same,” agrees Joanna Park-Tonks, founder of British jeweler Chelsea Rocks, who has called for more regulation. “We have to build trust and establish standards.”

Others say the mining industry is being unfairly tainted by past wrongdoings.

In May 2023, it was revealed that more than a third of engaged men had proposed with a lab-grown diamond ring last year as sales of man-made stones collapsed.

Research from wedding website The Knot found that the number of couples opting for lab-grown stones has more than doubled since 2020, after major jewelry brands like Pandora began offering sustainable alternatives.

At the same time, the volume of natural diamond engagement rings fell by about 25 percent, according to Edahn Golan, an independent diamond industry analyst.

Experts say the trend is being driven by couples who want oversized stones – which are more accessible due to the cheaper cost of the lab procedure.

The survey found that 36 percent of engaged couples chose a lab-grown ring, up from 18 percent in 2020.


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