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Diamonds (from a lab) are the Gulf’s best friend

Glove, Clothing, Portrait Supplied/ALTR
Spot the difference? Lab-grown diamond producers argue that it’s impossible to distinguish between a natural diamond and one produced in a laboratory
  • Lab-grown diamonds make up 10% of total global sales
  • Big stones can be 30-40% cheaper than natural mined diamonds
  • Diamonds grown in lab are better for environment
  • Replica ‘simulant’ diamonds growing in popularity

Basma Chaieri began her business after watching the season two finale of Netflix’s hit series Explained.

The November 2019 episode, which explored the growing popularity of lab-grown diamonds, prompted the Dubai resident to quit her travel job and enrol in gemology school to study the trade.

“I thought why would anyone buy a real diamond if they can have a lab-grown one,” Chaieri, now the founder of sustainable diamond company Etika Jewels, told AGBI.

Chaieri launched Etika Jewels at the end of 2020. “The demand was still very shy at the time,” she said. “But in the past year we’ve seen a complete change of mindset. In 12 months of operation, it’s been a good 60 percent growth.”

According to US-based diamond market analyst Paul Zimnisky, 2022 sales of lab-grown varieties may have neared $10 billion, approaching 10 percent of the total global diamond jewellery market.

Lab-grown diamonds essentially have the same chemical, optical and physical properties, and crystal structure as natural diamonds, according to the Gemological Institute of America which pioneered the grading of diamonds.

“It’s impossible to tell the difference between a mined and lab-grown diamond to the naked eye,” Chaieri said. 

“So the thought would be that people will buy lab-grown diamonds and not tell anyone they’re lab-grown.

“But, from what I see, they are very proud of it. They post about it and share it because of the ethical aspect. We have a lot of Indian customers in the UAE who are getting married now and they specifically want lab-grown diamonds even if they have the budget to buy mined diamonds.”

People, Person, Woman
Basma Chaieri, founder of Etika Jewels

Lab-grown diamonds are cheaper, but Chaieri clarified that the price differential between them and their natural counterparts depends on the size. 

“For multiple small diamonds, the price is more or less the same as mined ones, or there’s maybe a 5 to 10 percent difference. But, for a big stone, it could be a difference of 30 to 40 percent,” she said. 

A 2022 global report by market research firm THE MVEye said that preferences for lab-grown diamonds increase when consumers are shown the price differential to mined diamonds. Some 36 percent of those surveyed said they would go over their natural diamond shopping budget to buy a much larger lab-grown diamond.

“There are people who realise they can get more in terms of carat and quality for the same price,” Chaieri said. 

“If you have a budget to buy a ring, you’re going to try and optimise it. If it looks the same and it’s 30 or 40 percent cheaper, then you will go for it, right?”.

Etika recently partnered with The Diamond Foundry, the only manufacturer in the world to produce diamonds with zero carbon emissions by using a hydropower-led process. The California company is backed by Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, famously known for his role in Oscar-nominated film Blood Diamond.

High quality, accessible prices – and kinder to the world

Lab-grown diamonds are considered better for the environment compared to those mined from the earth that require large quantities of electricity and hydrocarbons, resulting in carbon emissions. 

“Consumers of lab-grown diamonds in the Middle East – and globally – are more environmentally conscious than their predecessors,” said Amish Shah, president of New York-based ALTR Created Diamonds.

“For decades consumers had to pick between size and quality when making a choice.

“Lab-grown diamonds have removed this compromise by offering them a larger stone in higher quality at an accessible price, while being environmentally conscious and knowing where their diamonds and fine jewellery come from.”

“The conscience of a consumer drives them towards the products they desire. While the category is fairly new to the Gulf, the speed at which it is growing will quicken even further than the American market increase back in 2019.”

In anticipation of the demand, ALTR signed a joint venture with UAE-based jewellery brand Siroya in 2022 to launch a new collection.

“Change is imminent, and we are evolving as an industry,” Shah said. “This part of the world has a fast-growing consumer base under 40, a population that is conscious, open minded and adapts to change faster than most parts of the world.”

Portrait, Photography, Head
Amish Shah, president of ALTR Created Diamonds

According to THE MVEye report, 46 percent of jewellery retailers who currently sell lab-grown diamonds said the alternative gems are “absolutely” taking business away from the traditional mined varieties.

So much so, that major traditional jewellery retailers have begun to embrace the alternatives. In 2018, De Beers, the world’s largest diamond mining company, turned heads when it announced the launch of its Lightbox lab-grown diamond brand.

And in 2021, Pandora, the world’s largest jewellery company by volume, announced that it would no longer use mined diamonds in any new designs and would switch to lab-grown gems with its Pandora Brilliance line.

Sparkling simulants

However, Dubai-based gemologist, diamond dealer and designer Deepali Sawlani said that lab-made diamonds were still overpriced, which is why a specific segment of consumers opt for simulants – ie any stone that looks like a diamond – instead.

“These can be natural or manmade,” she said. “For example, a white sapphire is a natural stone but it’s a good simulant for a diamond. Simulants can sell for $75 per carat, while lab-grown diamonds can cost even as much as $10,000 a carat. 

“The price is high, so you might as well go buy the real thing. In my opinion, it’s a horrible investment. If you really want to buy a diamond lookalike, buy a simulant.”

Sawlani, founder of Garden of Diamonds and simulant line Resort Wedding Jewels, said the trend over the years has been for women to wear made-to-order simulant replicas of their original pieces, particularly when they travel, while keeping the real jewels safely locked at home.

The move to replicas accelerated when Kim Kardashian stopped wearing her jewels after she was held at gunpoint and robbed of nearly $10 million in jewellery in her hotel room in Paris during Fashion Week in 2016. 

Sawlani’s clients include Hollywood rappers, Bollywood celebrities, royal family members, high net worth individuals, and socialites from New York, London, Delhi, Mumbai and Dubai.

But, no matter who they are, when it comes to diamonds, lab-grown is no longer seen as an alternative and is now mainstream in the Middle East.