Is the jewelry industry ready to embrace lab-grown diamonds? The Jewelers of America’s annual Gem Awards, held Friday evening in New York, proved an opportune time to survey designer and retailer opinion.
In speaking with the likes of David Yurman, Irene Neuwirth and Silvia Furmanovich, three camps emerged: self-proclaimed “purists,” who say they are opposed; sustainability and innovation-minded designers who are ready to embrace the shift; and another, tepid, group that’s taking a wait-and-see approach.
For the latter two camps, it’s less of an issue of ‘if’ and more of a matter of when. They appear to be waiting for a large, luxury jewelry firm to make the first move and introduce a range incorporating cultivated stones — thus ratifying them for use in the larger jewelry sphere. As it stands, De Beers’ Lightbox range of lab-grown stones will become available for wholesale this year with a full expansion planned for 2020.
Yurman was forthright about lab-grown stones, saying: “It’s inevitable, it’s here and it will have a purpose.” The designer says he is not yet planning to introduce the lab diamonds into his collections, but is constantly in a state of reevaluation and will incorporate them when the time is right. “I have no plans, but never say never,” he said.
Stephen Webster is in the same camp, and says that his opinion of lab-grown diamonds was radically changed upon seeing Jony Ive and Marc Newson’s collaborative ring design — entirely constructed of cultivated diamond material.
“You couldn’t have done that with a mined diamond. In two to three years, we won’t even know what you can do with a lab diamond that you can’t do with a mined diamond. That, to me, more than any other conversation is why it’s interesting,” the designer said.
“I’ve chosen not to [use them] yet because when I do, I want to do something in an advanced state and incorporate the technology,” Webster added.
Other designers, like Furmanovich, are also open to the idea — excited by lab-grown stones for their sustainability component. Her only hesitance is market response. “I like it, I don’t have a prejudice. I would use them, but it’s a question of deciding when. It’s such a big change to do that for this first time,” she said.
Furmanovich feels that her collection “is more about the designs and less about the stones,” therefore the addition of lab-grown diamonds would not detract much from her pieces’ overall value.
Sophie Quy, head of fine jewelry and watches for digital retailer Threads — the evening’s winner for retail excellence — is also open to the idea of the lab-grown stones. “I think it’s exciting. It’s a great new moment and will be interesting to see how it does. The more we see, as retailers, the more designers work with them — we will begin to consider. I think it’s very early stages. Once brands begin to work with them, we [as retailers] are the messenger.”
Neuwirth, by contrast, labeled herself a “truist.” The designer feels “nervous to introduce the stones to my consumer a little bit because the thing that is so precious about diamonds is how unavailable and special and rare it is. When you get something that isn’t 100 percent natural, it loses its authenticity.”
“I haven’t gotten on board yet,” she added. “I’m sure I will eventually, I understand the benefit.”
Laura Freedman, founder of jewelry retailer Broken English — a Gem Award nominee for retail excellence — says that the stones “are not something we sell or have considered selling. I’m a bit of a purist.”
She feels that “for small, tiny diamond pavé stones or little earrings — if people are looking to hit a certain price point and are honest about where it comes from, I think that could be fine. The jewelry we sell commemorates milestones, certain moments in people’s lives, and for that I prefer the real thing.”
Fernando Jorge, the evening’s Gem Award winner for jewelry design, feels similarly. “The romance of a diamond formed in nature millions of years ago — there is nothing that can replace that. It’s not just the molecular structure or the sparkle, it’s the energy of something coming from nature. Lab-grown diamonds do not fit in my collection for now of what I want my jewelry to represent.”
Jorge predicts that there will be “two different markets,” for the stones, “as long as people don’t try to cheat,” he said, noting how diamond dealers could easily mix lab stones into parcels of natural stones, with their differences undetectable.
Yurman also cautioned of potential marketing confusion: “I think consumers will come around as long as we don’t get into a competition of ‘this is a blood diamond and this is not a blood diamond because it comes from a lab.”
The awards’ host, Olivier Stip — Chanel’s head of fine jewelry and watches development, fashion division — viewed the watch market’s past experiences as a potential case study for the diamond industry. “In watches, we saw the smart watch come along. People thought this would be the end of traditional watches, and it’s just created another market. The two live side by side.”