Millennials like diamonds ethically sourced

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on July 18, 2018.

Recycled diamonds such as these are gaining popularity as an alternative to freshly mined stones. Photo by South China Morning Post

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They will also happily choose laboratory-grown diamonds

Last year, when Britain’s Prince Harry proposed to Meghan Markle (now the Duchess of Sussex), he chose a conflict-free diamond from Botswana in southern Africa. According to industry insiders, he is not the only one among his peers concerned about where diamonds are sourced from. While many have lamented that diamonds have lost their lustre among the new generation, the truth is millennials view these precious stones differently from their predecessors. Besides colour and clarity, they are more likely to consider social and ethical concerns before making a diamond purchase.

“New generations equally value what we call natural diamonds, but they are even more demanding about what they buy in this category, like in most of their consumption. Consumers, now more than ever, want to be assured of quality and integrity,” De Beers Diamond Jewellers chief executive officer François Delage said. “Meanwhile, education and information have been the backbone of the development of modern society, so I believe we are seeing a new generation equipped with more knowledge, concern and passion than ever before.”

Such knowledge has led to the rise of several new categories in the diamond market targeted at millennials, including man-made diamonds. The demand for laboratory-grown diamonds has grown tremendously since they were first developed in the 1950s, mostly for industrial purposes. This has been driven in large part by socially conscious customers looking for more “environmental friendly” stones (natural diamond mining can have serious environmental implications) and more accessible prices. According to a recent Morgan Stanley report, the category could account for up to 7.5% of the diamond market by 2020.


Laboratory-grown diamonds’ allure

To prove it, industry leaders such as De Beers are taking a larger share of the market with initiatives such as the Element Six Innovation Centre in Britain, which uses a cheaper and more scalable process known as chemical vapour deposition, to create its stones. It has also launched a new fashion jewellery line called Lightbox Jewelry, targeted at millennial shoppers demanding diamond alternatives. Different from imitation diamonds such as cubic zirconia, synthetic stones have the same chemical properties as natural diamonds but are made above ground in a laboratory.

The process can take up to three months — a natural diamond, in comparison, takes billions of years to form under the Earth’s surface — and is achieved by applying high temperatures and pressure to dissolve carbon into a diamond seed. “Prices are the No 1 driver of growth in this category, with stones costing 70% to 90% less than their ‘natural’ counterparts without any discernible difference in quality and look. Some production plants are using green energy, such as wind and solar, to produce them so they are considered more green,” jewellery brand Carat founder Scott Thompson said.

That is not to say millennials are not coveting natural stones for their engagement rings. Within this category, however, they are more discerning, choosing conflict-free, responsibly and ethically sourced gems. — South China Morning Post