The Destiny of Diamonds


By Helena Lind

Have you ever considered that diamonds actually matter for humanitarian reasons? Our love affair with diamonds is ongoing since arguably over 2500 years now. These stones, coveted for exceptional durability, brilliance and symbolic significance, are hard to match. But times are changing. My article looks at the dilemma and trajectory of traditional natural and modern lab grown diamonds. 

Which facts and tendencies will cause glistening destinies or lackluster fates?

What makes a mere commodity like diamonds unique enough to have their own Destiny, or fate? Aren't this elite industry's woes just luxury problems compared with real life challenges? Because their continued success or lack thereof already affects many, many more people in diverse ways than obvious at first glance through negative impact on an already notoriously volatile social stability in many poorer countries. So how about some numbers?

I write about the influence of phenomena on the human journey and culture. My speciality is everything Destiny, fate and more. But diamonds are simply phenomenal. Luckily, I also always liked gemstones and diamonds for their unique light performance in many shapes and colors. I enjoy not only looking at the finished sparklers but also those rough, uncut versions with their time-sculpted surface patterns are highly attractive in my eyes. N.B. I do not see diamonds for their perceived, highly arbitrary value—which was always a chimera—but for the unmatched beauty and allure only available from this one stone that bejeweled our latter human history. So no, not interested in their worldly "worth", nor social symbolism*, just their uniqueness, also as a very human, material cultural phenomenon. 

However, being a Destiny afficionado or an aesthetics buff is one thing, but why do I care about the global diamond Destiny or fate? Because my 2nd career took place in ecommerce, modern business and brand/product development and marketing with international jewelry players, both as an entrepreneur and consultant for over 21 years before retiring to write books. Gemstones, especially diamonds, and their highly marketable simulants and later identical man made sisters, always claimed my special interest, one that started in childhood and never left. Today, I feel privileged to have learned a lot about this fabulous mineral not just through manifold personal experience but also from excellent experts. And the ever so many sparkle lovers and their wishes, feelings and reasoning were a focus of my then research and activity. Hence, this essay is my personal take. And yes, Destiny is a proper noun here.  

Throughout more than the past two millennia, natural diamonds and their related products consistently gained fame, growth, desire and even flat-out, not always PR-driven devotion. Until recently, Diamonds were always the epitome of wealth, power, and beauty. And a prime example of how well massively, elegantly massaged margins can work. After an almost unreal Covid-19 caused general and diamond jewelry sales boom, the later autumn of 2023 saw alarming headlines claiming that lab grown diamonds took over 50% of retail sales in the US. Read that again. 

Well, as of above, natural diamonds' historic rise and rise is arguably not going to hold much longer, and if, likely only for the absolute king pin tier of products. Mark my word, this is just a harbinger of several other big belief quakes. The more or less slow demise of a cunning yet outdated concept paving one stepping stone after another to the shiny new reign of a universally desired but this time no-nonsense product. To top it off, this new proposition is at last devoid of the then almost ludicrously romanticized material "worth" claims invented by arguably the 20th century's best marketing created 1947 by the divine simplicity focused genius of Frances Gerety (1906-1999) who invented deBeers' famous turnover-boosting slogan "A Diamond is Forever." 

Today, with natural diamond prices plummeting in the wake of the apparent success of lab created diamonds, we behold a potentially dramatic, if not seismic, shifting of commercial, psychological and social paradigms. This could end up being more than a category-killing scenario with even societal repercussions since one less surefire written in stone rule we humans thought we can trust would become absurd. In this volatile market run by flip-flopping sentiment, we see diamond prices tumbling and their gatekeepers deBeers for sale

Do we sense a Black Swan heralding the Perfect Storm?

On May 23, 2024, in his post titled "A World of Change", Martin Rapaport, the diamond industry's éminence grise, had a lot to say on the actual market momentum. Is the the success of lab grown diamonds tantamount to the thread A.I. poses to human productivity, especially to millions of jobs as per the IMF's recent alarming warning? 

Are Lab Grown Diamonds the disruptive cryptocurrency of the jewelry world?

No, as we saw above, the diamond industry is quite something, but it isn't as significant as other sectors, yet its shift isn't as comparatively smooth from a social aspect as going, say, from fossil fuel cars to supposedly greener options or pack some solar elements on your roof or add a heat pump to your house. The elements are distinct while the frameworks and infrastructures can largely remain the same. 

Not so in the diamond realm. There are legions of people dependent on the (often terribly hard) work offered by the mines, great numbers of polishers and graders (predominantly in Surat, India), and it carries on to the chain stores in your local mall and foremost to all those small town jewelers or eBay and Etsy shops catering for the wedding scene. We have grown so used to having all our jewelry requirements met by a wide variety of points of sale, both brick and mortar, and online. If they do not adapt quickly, which isn't easy, even more livelihoods will be affected with added wide-ranging economic and humanitarian consequences.

When reading this eyeopening interview Botswana's President Mokgweetsi Masisi gave JCKonline and thinking of diamond producers in poorer regions of this world, we may indeed shudder at the humanitarian fallout if natural stone mines have to reduce staff or even go out of business. Indian and Chinese cutters find themselves very challenged, but at least these professions may switch to processing lab grown stones. When a mine is in trouble though, their workforce and their families slide into dire straits with few options.

So, as Humanitarians, we better continue to buy Natural Diamonds.

Are we hurtling towards a trustless world of eroded values where natural diamonds become an exception while low-priced lab created stones of any size, cut and grade rule supreme? The carats from hell? And what's next, laboratory grown gold? Mind you, just like with the trusty diamond, the fabrication of nature, or rather outer space-identical gold too, is only impossible until it's not. Now that would really shuffle some cards on the big desk.

We must never forget that our trusted, however, nothing more than perceived "values" are elements of highly influenced yet necessary, agreed upon social contracts. That goes for our monetary systems, currencies, crypto, gold, diamonds and even real estate, although people at least always need a place to dwell. Without them, there's likely to be chaos. For a time.

Is there anything real in this world?

At the time of writing this article, the gold price is flying high while diamond prices slump.

How about a bit of Diamond History? 

For many centuries, Mother Nature exclusively created our favorite pieces of crystallized carbon under hellish temperatures and almost unimaginable pressure. No wonder they turn out so nice. Diamonds were and remain popular for many reasons. To be fair, it has to be said even if it may sound uncool, such little scintillators can indeed brighten a moment or restore the tad of a smile. 

Beautiful objects have that gentle power, just like a sunset, a chocolate cake or a kitten's face. Natural diamonds are mined since arguably several centuries BCE from rocks, gravel and soil, even rivers and the sea floors where they developed over billions of years under tremendous heat and pressure. The rough gets pulled from our planet under incredibly intense, often ethically questionable and environmentally challenging circumstances.

Diamonds get their name from the Greek term adamas, meaning indestructible, referring to their hardness. Our favorite sparklers were first mentioned in Indian scriptures at least several centuries BCE and later also first mined there, not just for their high shine and lustre but also for divine attributes, rendering the lucky wearer invincible and powerful. 

From India, in concert with philosophical notions and other cultural enrichments, diamonds traveled to the Mediterranean. Plato, the famous Greek thinker, describes in Book 10 of his Republic's "Myth of Er" that in her lap Ananke, the Goddess of Destiny whirls the cosmic Spindle of Necessity, crafted from pure diamond whence the thread of Destiny flows into the capable hands of the three Destiny dispatchers called the Moirai. The Romans later called these three awe inspiring Goddesses the Fates

Read more about the history and mythology of Destiny including Plato and the Myth of Er in "The Destiny Book" 

The Greeks also called these shimmering drops of light "tears of the Gods." The Romans even adored them in their uncut and unpolished state and, of course, that then aura of splendid rarity and high value.

Around the 13th century, growing amounts of Indian diamonds began to properly take the known world by storm via processing and trading outfits in Venice, Bruges, Anwerp and Paris, resulting in enduring infiltration of crown jewels, insignia, and dreams of glitz and splendor. Notable men and later women paraded diamonds, unisex by nature. Diamond fever broke out when Victorian British South African mines produced serious carat output, which led to the formation of deBeers and the commercial romancing of our dazzling darlings went global. Dealers and jewelers have never really looked back ever since. Brides and grooms neither.

Today, we see natural diamonds mined in ca. 25 countries, including Africa, Russia and Canada. Diamonds are the number one choice for engagement rings thanks to deBeers declaring diamonds the symbols of enduring, eternal love and thus began an unstoppable triumph march around the world. Brilliantly construed myths and rumors had it that the greater the love—the bigger the diamond would be. As always, size just isn't a sign of quality. And a big blinger has nothing to do with genuine affection, babe. Large size even hardly matters regarding cars, houses, or sex. Big is just big, and some may even be right in calling it a little vulgar, but all is down to personal taste. 

Diamonds have developed from optical and mythological pleasers to royal representation objects beyond being signs of wealth and power. They are social and emotional status objects, signaling that the wearer is loved, cherished, and deserving.

And there is nothing wrong with a bit of bling.

Plenty of diamond shapes await with the classic, brilliant cut, still holding the number one position in popularity because of its effective use of light if well proportioned and cut. Diamonds are categorized and assessed in the famous "4 Cs": Clarity, Color, Cut and Carat. They come in many colors, however, colorless diamonds are most desirable since they are said to be the rarest. Yours truly also likes well cut tinted diamonds, though.

Imitating Diamonds

Little wonder lookalikes were always a big thing. However, until recently, nothing compared to a natural diamond. Because only a diamond is a diamond. That's arguably the only resounding truth. Humans always tried to mirror the beauty and allure of diamond sparkle with simulants. Realistically speaking, not to much avail. Because only a diamond is indeed a diamond and no matter how glitzy natural faint lookalikes such as white sapphire, zircon, colorless topaz or rock crystal are, they never got on par with the original. The YAG enjoyed a brief moment until the optically perfect, cheap and cheerful Cubic Zirconia came along successfully bedecking lots of happy ladies via mail order catalogues and shopping TV. But still none of these soft natural and simulants held the candle to real diamonds until Moissanite with eye-popping 9.25-50 Mohs hardness forayed onto the international jewelry stage.

These stones are named after the 1906 Nobel prize winning French scientist Henry Moissan (1852–1907) who achieved the synthesis of silicone carbide/carborundum (today's Moissanite) and minute diamonds. The first gem quality Moissanites looked yellow and oily with lots of needle inclusions, but their undeniable sheen and fire captivated consumers. Also, they were proper synthetic simulants and thus sold as greener and better for the planet than intensively mined diamonds. By 2016, the market leader Charles & Colvard produced patented super clean D color stones that still look pretty amazing in their own right. Compared to a crisp and sharp diamond, Moissanite looks a bit "plastiquy", with fat, rounded facets, double refraction and slower, fuzzy light flashes. But we had our first rather serious diamond alternative that cost much less that the real thing while being rather pricey in comparison with CZ. Still, none of these simulants could hold the candle to diamonds. And that's why lab diamonds just had to happen.

Originally, US giant General Electric started lab grown diamond R&D and later production throughout the 1940s and 50s and first presented gem quality HPHT stones in 1971. Commercially feasible lab manufactured diamonds were brought to market in the 1980s and 90s, further developed by pioneering US companies such as Apollo Diamonds and the Gemesis Corporation. Colors ranged from white to canary yellow and other fancy hues. I first saw a Gemesis stone in 2013 and thought it stunning.

The two major production methods are called the HPHT diamond (High Pressure High Temperature) and the CVD diamond (Chemical Deposition Diamonds).

  • HPHT stones manifest by reenacting the natural creation metamorphosis from a graphite starter piece to a diamond through incredible pressure and heat. These babies do not require post-treatments, but their manufacture is less controlled than the CVD process so they do not reach the carat weights possible with CVD.
  • CVD stones grow in vacuum chambers under hydrocarbon gas exposure to a tiny diamond seedling by transforming under great heat to layers of carbon, i.e. diamond. CVDs often receive post-growth treatments with the HPHT technique to improve their color and clarity. CVD stones can be cultivated in large sizes.

Today, China and India deliver the highest output in lab grown diamonds. And here are some more not so humble numbers presented by Yahoo Finance News, 10 May, 2024: 

Lab Grown Diamonds Market Forecast to Reach ~$36 Billion by 2028 - Analysis by Type, Nature, Manufacturing Process, Application and Region

Ever since production, methodologies and quality went global on the up and up prices became more affordable. As I'm writing this article, prices and margins have fallen as never experienced before and the market shows signs of oversaturation. Let's remember that 2023 apparently 50% of diamonds purchased in the US were lab grown stones. 

But then nothing and nobody can stand in the way of progress and change, whether we like it or not.

Are Lab Grown Diamonds even real?

Absolutely. LGDs are as "diamondy" as it gets. They have the exact physical, chemical and optical properties and impress with 10 Mohs hardness, an identical refractive index, scratch resistance and legendary brilliance. Some specialists even claim that emerging new qualities surpass their mined siblings in quality, also because of less if any presence of Nitrogen in their composition (esp. CVD). Again, both natural and laboratory grown diamonds are identically born from purest carbon.

That said, diamonds aren't indestructible, no, they are not, otherwise we could never split or cut rough stones to polish them. Despite Mohs hardness 10, cracked diamonds are an everyday occurrence and older, regularly worn stones often display intense signs of wear and tear. So far, for the marketing myth that a diamond is forever. Reassuringly, by now, natural and lab grown diamonds can be verified and distinguished by state-of-the-art diamond testers. However, the creation of man-made diamonds isn't as green and low in carbon footprint as it may seem. It requires large amounts of energy in sophisticated labs using either HPHT or CVD growth processes over just a few weeks or months.

Is there any Difference between Natural and Lab Grown Diamonds?

No, apart from the price and certain aspects of sustainable production, there is no difference between natural and lab grown diamonds. A fine CVD stone of good size and quality can now be purchased at around 5-10% of the cost for its natural counterpart. And the pricing tendency is pointing even more South because of increasing competition and refined production methodologies. Both natural and lab created diamonds are certified by GIA, IGI and other gemological institutes.

Which Diamonds are best for everyone?

I don't think that we can play judge and jury. Both options have their pros and cons, attractions, challenges and ramifications. Most people will prefer a bigger diamond to a smaller one. That's human nature and almost a natural law. And why not? Seriously, can we begrudge the wish for a larger, high specification lab diamond instead of a likely more inferior yet natural stone for the same cost after so many centuries of inflated prices for so little intrinsic value?

What I like most about lab grown diamonds is the fact that they are leveling the playing field. Now almost everyone can afford a delightful piece of diamond jewelry by self purchase, without having to wait to be "treated" by a significant other. No one needs to be sugar-daddied anymore to bathe in bling since most even natural diamonds really never were a girl's best friend as of their often delusional mark ups and comparatively low resale results. Unless we can get natural stones at trade prices or snap them up second hand, they make little sense for investment. Yes, you read that right. Exceptions confirm the rule, though if you have a D color internally flawless ideal cut above one carat brilliant cut, congratulations. Buying commercial grade diamond jewelry at "the store" was never a super idea money-wise because of those crazy margins.**

Hence, I call lab diamonds "democratic diamonds." At long last we all can enjoy their beauty without the arbitrary price and bullsh*t tags. We can get those dream rings we always wanted, and exactly the way we want them, because they no longer are out of reach, even, especially without the hetero-traditional "buying guy." No more compromises there.

Back to the Destiny or fate of Diamonds—what is to be?

The Destiny of diamonds lies in the hopefully realistic expectations and ethics of producers, brands and consumers. While we often cannot control much of what happens, we'll always have choices. As for us consumers, maybe a smaller, finer natural diamond is the more authentic option to a much larger, obvious lab stone? Maybe deciding to support the destinies of real people and keep them in work is a more ethical route to take.

No one can expect anyone to just decide for only one thing or another when it comes to products. Understandable personal preferences are not always a sign of selfishness. As well as is always a good direction. Best not forget that diamonds and jewelry are financed by discretionary spending, which has come under attack these last years because of the pandemic, raging conflicts and inflation.

Nobody really needs diamonds.They are good weather products, shiny object syndrome luxuries versus important necessities requiring our money.

Both the diamond industry and retailers will have to learn to accept, adapt and cooperate instead of going for the other side's jugular. Warlike, crazy competition is not only a margin killer but one of the most costly and regrettable ways to go under. In the end, the market, led by the vote of consumers, will decide whether and which diamonds are destined or fated.

Still, humanity will never stop holding space for these marvelous stones. 

Only a diamond is a diamond.

*Although status symbols have their place and work really well, something I learned early in my professional life, so I don't deny or knock them.

**Were these prices really ever justified by the claimed oppressing cost of business or just by simple greed and hubris?

*** Name book, quote TDB and Bernays