b'S ome retailers wont touch lab-grown diamonds. They see them as inferior products that arent rare and are an affront to natural stones, which formed deep beneath Earths surface billions of years ago. Others see them as an industry savior, a bridge to the future, a way to win back the young consumers the industry has ceded to electronics and handbags and hang gliding trips over the Grand Canyon. Think De Beers game-changing Lightbox brand, which sells on-trend fashion jewelry set with lab-grown diamonds priced at $800 per carat. For admirers, lab-grown diamonds are David to the industrys Goliath, or Prince Charming to the industrys Sleeping Beauty, awakening it after years of slumber. This industry was asleep, says Roland Lorie, CEO of Interna- SOME STATISTICS, AND SOME REASONStional Gemological Institute, which has been grading lab-grownIn the United States, lab-grown diamond sales account for 1.5 diamonds since about 2008. (The labs first customer was Gemesis,percent of total diamond sales at specialty jewelry retailers (meaning an early lab-grown diamond brand that relaunched as Pure Grownstores like Kay Jewelers and Tiffany & Co., which specialize in fine Diamonds back in 2014.)jewelry), according to Golan. For the last 10, 20 years, this industry did not come to the level ofAmerican jewelers are selling more engagement rings and wedding most other industries. And today the industry realizes and under- bands set with lab-grown diamonds than any other product using the stands we need to be up-to-date, we need to be like other industries. stones, with bridal jewelry sales accounting for 87 percent of all lab-And I think this is happening, thanks to lab-grown, thanks maybegrown diamond sales by value as of April 2020. to other things. But finally, its starting to happen, says Lorie. The average gross margin on lab-grown diamonds is 52 percent, The diamond industry fell behind in marketing and in product inno- Golans research shows.vation while, on the consumer-facing end of the pipeline, jewelers failedBut what is driving consumers toward lab-grown diamonds?to evolve quickly enough to account for changing consumer tastes andAre the diamond growers out-marketing the natural players that badly? advances in technology while other product categories marched ahead.Are consumers, still scarred by Leos 2006 turn in Blood Diamond, Into the fray charged lab-grown stonesdiamonds made in a fac- demanding lab-grown diamonds because they are the ethical choice? tory in a few weeks that are less expensive and that are free from theOr, do they just like them because they can get a bigger, better specter of conflict that haunts their natural counterparts.diamond for their budgets?They come at a time when consumers are armed with information,While its impossible to know what exactly is going through the open to trying new things and deliberate about how they spend their dis- mind of every consumer out there whos choosing a lab-grown dia-posable income, and they bring with them with a cavalcade of questions.mond, MVI Marketings data points to the latter. Who will buy them? What will they buy? How much will they buy?Research conducted by the firm between 2016 and 2019 shows And, who will it hurt the most?two of the primary factors that lead shoppers to purchase lab-grown Lorie compares questions about the future of lab-grown diamonds diamond jewelry both have to do with value. which only hit the market in mass quantities about two years agotoConsumers move toward man-made stones because, No. 1, they the transition from adolescence to early adulthood.can buy a bigger diamond for the same amount of money and, No. 2, I do not know how a [person] who is 15 years old now will be actingthey can get a better-quality stone for the same amount of money.five years from now, he says. Its too early. Severine Ferrari finds the same when interviewing couples for Adding an extra layer of unknown is the impact the pandemic had,Engagement101.com and the Propose Too Initiative, the websites she and will continue to have, on consumer behavior. launched and runs as editor-in-chief. Will lab-grown diamonds become more attractive to con- But Ferrari says couples interest in getting the most for their sumers because they are less expensive, or will the monthsmoney extends beyond the lab-grown vs. natural debate that has of isolation and uncertainty make the natural dia- consumed the industry.mond message, which emphasizes rarity andTheres been a big shift in general on whats preciousness, stand out?considered a center stone on an engage-Industry analyst and researcher Edahnment ring. Women are interested in Golan offered this even-handed analysis:a lot of different options than [your Its mixed. Those financially hurt bystandard white] diamondsmoissanite, the pandemic and still desire a diamondTwo rings fromsapphires, gray diamonds. Theyre very Modern Brilliance, may consider the lower-cost alternativethe line of 14-karatopen to something different.while keeping the size/color/clarity combinationgold fashion jewelryMore and more women are not buy-set with lab-grown they desire.diamonds Stullering into [the idea of], I need a [white] That said, I believe that the lockdown, especially in theintroduced in fall 2019 diamond for my engagement ring. major metro areas, created a sense of closeness, desire to solidify re- Ferrari brings forth another lationships, and a greater feeling that life is precious. This could driveinteresting observation from her conversations with the recently or consumers to seek the more reliable, traditional diamond as a symbolsoon-to-be engaged. of [something] everlasting.Many of the women she talks with dont necessarily think the en-NATIONAL JEWELER 17'