The lab-grown diamond industry began to pick up considerable momentum in the latter half of 2018 — and it’s seen as continuing into the new year.
The watershed moment came in May when De Beers revealed that it would form a lab-grown diamond company called Lightbox — established with a unique per-carat pricing system. While synthetic stones had previously been thought to have an uncertain future, the formation of Lightbox gave them a trajectory to become a permanent fixture in the jewelry industry.
In September, the brand began selling on its own e-commerce site and has plans to slowly enter the wholesale sector in 2019. A full expansion is planned for 2020, when Lightbox’s $94 million Oregon production facility is completed.
Lightbox’s arrival fuels a fire already started by the prolific San Francisco-based diamond producer Diamond Foundry, whose products have found favor with the tech crowd. New producers, with sizable investment backing, are now popping up — including Âme, which is currently building a diamond-cultivating facility in Long Island City, Queens.
Contrary to popular belief, however, lab-grown diamonds could be helping the diamond industry overall. In a recent interview with Millennial-favorite jeweler Catbird, founder Rony Vardi explained that when presented with the choice of natural or synthetic stones for an engagement ring, most consumers still prefer those that come from a mine. Cultivated diamonds “are more for people who are inclined either towards price or particularly big diamonds,” she said, noting that Catbird offers rings with manufactured stones at about half the price of those that are mined.
A study published by Bain last month presented a positive future for the diamond industry — which had recently been beleaguered by declining demand and value. “Given the pace of declining production costs and wholesale and retail prices, we expect lab-grown stones to become accessible to a wider consumer audience, potentially increasing demand for diamonds in general,” the report said.
“If the natural diamond industry can differentiate its stones from lab-grown diamonds — perhaps positioning lab-grown diamonds as fashion jewelry rather than luxury items — the effect on natural diamond demand by 2030 will be limited up to 5 percent to 10 percent in value terms,” it continued, projecting that demand for natural rough diamonds will continue to grow 2 percent annually through 2030.