Element Six on Tuesday begins construction on a $94 million manufacturing facility to produce lab-grown diamonds in a bid to offer customers a more affordable jewelry option that some have dubbed a game-changer for the industry.
Part of The De Beers Group of Companies and maker of synthetic diamonds, Element Six is building a 60,000-square-foot facility in the city of Gresham, Oregon. Work is expected to be completed in 2019 with production slated to start in 2020. The facility, when it comes online, is estimated to employ 60 engineers and technicians among other workers, who will help produce more than 500,000 carats annually. The diamonds, depending on size, can be produced in two to three weeks and will go on to be sold to the consumer market under the Lightbox Jewelry brand.
Two main factors, according to Lightbox Jewelry general manager Steve Coe, have led to greater discussion around lab-grown diamonds, which was a big topic of conversation at the Couture Show in Las Vegas earlier this month.
“It’s really a combination of the technology having advanced and us seeing an incremental commercial application,” Coe said Monday, a day before the facility’s groundbreaking.
The cost to produce is now low enough due to the technology improvements to make production profitable, the executive said. The other aspect, he pointed out, is a growing interest from consumers, based on research, to have an affordable diamond option to gift to, say, a 16-year-old for her birthday or to travel with.
“I don’t think it’s a new customer base [for lab-grown diamonds] in the sense that we think this product will have broad appeal across different age ranges,” Coe said. “What is new is that it’s offering new gifting opportunities. Opportunities when perhaps giving a natural diamond might be too much and where this lab-grown, Lightbox product would be very appropriate for that.”
From a retail price standpoint, the Lightbox line – offering diamonds in pink, white and blue – ranges from $200 for a 0.25-carat stone to $800 for 1 carat.
Why the production facility is being built in Gresham is largely pragmatic. Coe cited the skilled workforce, the large sources of sustainable energy needed to run the operation and the potential business to be generated via the U.S. market for Lightbox.
Element Six is part of a growing base of what Gresham communications manager Elizabeth Coffey called a hub for more advanced industries in a city, where Boeing has offices and Subaru has a parts distribution center.