For just over two hundred years diamonds have been a universal symbol of wealth and status. Despite their discovery in India in the 4th century BCE, they only became a significantly valuable commodity in the early 1800s. After decades of strategic marketing and celebrity endorsements, diamonds have become one of the most widely recognised and sought-after precious gems. However, with continuous mining and gradually depleting resources, a new alternative must be found. So, like with almost all issues, we turn to science and the lab-based manufacturing of these ever-popular paragons.
Diamonds only became a mainstream product in 1947 when De Beers, a British company that mined in South Africa launched arguably the most successful advertising campaign of all time. “A diamond is forever.” Perhaps not their intention, but that simple slogan completely changed the way in which we see diamonds. The tagline sought to create a parallel between the gem and eternal love, but the company didn’t stop there. In 1977, De Beers launched a television advertisement with the tagline: “How else could two months’ salary last forever? A diamond is forever. De Beers.” The world was hooked. While the company has had many successful campaigns, none compare to their original. It was so popular in fact, it has even found its way into the entertainment industry. Artists like Shirley Bassey or the James Bond films for example, have chosen to adapt the famous phrase for popular titles in their respective fields, namely the hit 1973 song and 1971 film (both under the title “Diamonds are Forever”).
“Each year they release only enough diamonds to meet the annual demand to create the illusion of scarcity.”
However, diamonds are (in reality) not special, or rare. In fact, they are the most common precious stone in existence. In the 1800s, a diamond trove was unearthed in Kimberly, South Africa. This threatened to flood the market and render the gem worthless. De Beers intervened and purchased the mine to maintain control of the global market. Each year they release only enough diamonds to meet the annual demand to create the illusion of scarcity. In reality, there seems to be an almost unending supply, all hidden beneath the veil of capitalism.
Despite our historic love of diamonds, it seems young people are choosing to abandon the gem due to their high price economically, environmentally, and humanitarian-wise. While these reasons made up a significant number of ‘The Economist’ questions “why aren’t millennials buying diamonds,” they are not the only reasons. One of the most controversial issues surrounding the stones are conflict or ‘blood’ diamonds. These are aptly named both because of the high injury and mortality rate of miners and the catastrophic impact they have on the environment.
Thus, those who do buy the stone are opting for a lab grown alternative. These are created by placing a ‘carbon seed’ (a tiny diamond fragment) in a microwave plasma oven with a varying amount of carbon heavy gas. The gas sticks to the seed creating a plasma ball which eventually forms a diamond over a 10-to-12-week period. This is not a new technology – it dates to 1954, however, it is increasing in popularity, Forbes estimated that by 2021, lab-grown diamonds could possess 7.5 per cent of the $80 billion global market. This process can reduce the final cost of the diamond by up to 40 per cent. These eco-friendly, conflict-free alternatives could become a significant contender in the jewellery market soon.
The question remains though, if there is significant demand for this product, and awareness is growing without aggressive advertising campaigns, then why are jewellers so slow to include lab-grown diamonds in their collections? It seems that it mostly falls to the diamond companies’ reluctance to share the market. If demand continues to grow, they may be left with very little choice. It seems that millennials and Generation Z love the lab-grown alternative, so they might be here to stay. Time will tell.
Featured photo by Jeremy Bishop
This article was supported by: STAND Business & Politics Editor Sean + Programme Assistant Alex