As the definition of luxury continues change, some of the affluent Millennials segment leading the shift are exhibiting a newfound interest in synthetic diamonds over natural. Here, Kimberly De Geer explores this emerging trend amongst early adopters.
Synthetic diamonds have the same chemical and physical properties as their mined counterparts with the exception that they were grown in a laboratory over several weeks rather than in the depths of the earth’s crust over millions of years. This distinction and the advantages that come with it, have given Millennials a newfound interest in synthetic diamonds.
The laboratories producing these diamonds and the retailers selling them say they offer a very interesting alternative to natural diamonds, as they are typically 30% cheaper and 100% conflict-free.
“ 54% of both men and women respondents favoured natural diamonds for an engagement ring ”
In order to precisely understand how Millennials feel about purchasing a synthetic diamond, I conducted a survey on over a hundred respondents from Europe, Asia and the United States, aged between 18-34 years old, for whom choosing an engagement ring is the biggest investment decision they will likely make in the near future.
In the survey, respondents were first assessed on their general awareness of synthetic diamonds. 59% had already heard about synthetic diamonds but among this pool, only 37% of them knew what they were. In fact, the belief that synthetics are equivalent to simulants (such as glass and cubic zirconia) is still widespread.
When it came to women’s versus men’s preferences for an engagement ring, opinions were equally divided between both gender groups. 54% respondents favoured natural diamonds and 32% of respondents favoured synthetics in both groups. The remaining 14% favoured coloured stones and did not express a particular opinion about diamonds of either nature.
“ De Beers’ famous campaign ‘A Diamond Is Forever’ is partially responsible for our belief that diamonds are rare & therefore, desirable ”
Respondents were also asked to provide an explanation for their preference. For the men who favoured natural diamonds, women’s perceptions on romance played a major role in their answers. Most of them were held back by a perceived stigma around synthetic diamonds, qualifying them as “cheap” and far from women’s desires. Others mentioned that the 30% discount didn’t measure up to the romance involved in purchasing a diamond.
An interesting fact was that some men acknowledged that De Beers’ famous campaign ‘A Diamond Is Forever’ that ruled the industry for 80 years and won the slogan of the century award in 1999, is partially responsible for our belief that diamonds are rare and therefore, desirable: “A diamond is a symbol of rarity and wealth and synthetically compounded diamonds move away from this symbolism,” said one respondent, before adding: “I don’t agree this is rational, it’s just what we men/women are trained to believe through de Beers marketing.”
In fact, this perception was very engrained in women’s responses who were in favor of natural diamonds. Most said that the uniqueness, rarity and the fact that natural diamonds came from the grounds of nature, were all part of the irreplaceable charm of these stones and what they represent.
De Beers’ famous campaign ‘A Diamond Is Forever’
“The beauty of diamonds is that they are unique and rare, so why buy one that was made in a lab with 20 other identical ones?” asked one respondent. Even after being told that synthetics were in fact real diamonds, most women maintained they sounded “cheap” and not that different from a CZ or a Swarovski crystal.
“Even after being told that synthetics were real diamonds, most women maintained they sounded “cheap” and not romantic at all.”
For the 32% of respondents who favored synthetic diamonds in both gender groups, the most recurring reason for their choice was the certainty of these diamonds being 100% conflict-free. Surprisingly, the price reduction convinced more women than men in the survey, as they did not want put their husbands in debt for a ring when “a marriage should be about the love between two people” as one respondent mentioned.
“ Bain & Company’s report concludes that synthetic diamonds are here to stay by responding to a niche market ”
The Global Diamond Report issued by Bain & Company in 2014 mentions that “consumers are reluctant to consider synthetic diamonds for important life occasions such as engagements and weddings.” Recurring words to describe how consumers in the United States, China and India felt about synthetic diamonds were “fake”, “cheap” and “low quality.”
Although by definition, they are neither fake nor of quality different than a natural diamond, consumers still view them as so. However, Bain & Company’s report concludes that synthetic diamonds are here to stay by responding to a niche market: “there may be a market niche for synthetic, similar to the ones created by cubic zirconia, synthetic moissanite and Swarovski crystals.” In fact, the market for synthetic diamonds is expected to rise by 7% a year through 2020.
“There may be a market niche for synthetic, similar to the ones created by cubic zirconia, synthetic moissanite and Swarovski crystals.” – Bain & Company, The Global Diamond Report, 2014
The real challenge comes when these synthetic diamonds are passed off as natural ones, fooling both consumers and professionals alike. A newer technology called CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition) is perfecting synthetic diamond growth methods to produce diamonds of jewelry quality, color and clarity.
As a result, improving existing synthetic diamond detection technologies is a priority for diamond producers. In fact, even the most experienced professionals now require advanced laboratory technologies to be able to tell the difference between a natural and some synthetic diamonds.
As consumer demand accounts for 95% of the diamond market, ensuring that consumers can fully trust the provenance of the stone they are buying is a priority for retailers. More frequent certification is becoming a necessity to lower the risk of undisclosed synthetic diamonds.
“ The real challenge comes when synthetic diamonds are passed off as natural ones ”
Companies specialising in lab-grown diamonds are on the rise. Anna-Mieke Anderson, the founder of Mia Donna, has produced jewellery-quality synthetic diamonds since 2005 with the mission to stop child labor in mines of Sierra Leone and Liberia by training children to grow food in agricultural farms funded by her charity organisation, “The Greener Diamond”.
Synthetic diamond producers like Mia Donna, are catering to a tech-savvy and more socially conscious clientele, traits commonly found in Millennials. Customers can order online and return their jewellery within 30 days via Mia Donna’s established e-commerce portal. Mia Donna also uses Instagram photos submitted by their customers to feed their “InstaShop,” where each photographed jewel has a direct link to its e-commerce page.
Where does all this leave the famous jewelry maisons? Although synthetic diamonds are not part of their DNA, some maisons are still taking some important measures towards sustainable jewelry production.
“ Synthetic Diamond producers are catering to a tech-savvy and socially conscious clientele ”
With its Green Carpet Collection, Chopard sources its gold from community mines in South America bearing the ‘Fairmined’ certification and its diamonds from a producer who is an RJC (Responsible Jewelry Council) certified member. Cartier and Tiffany & Co. have invested in cutting and polishing plants in Botswana, thereby increasing the portion of the income that remains in the country.
Most Millennials are not yet ready to tie the knot with synthetic diamonds. It is rather unlikely that synthetics will ever replace natural diamonds, as long as high technology and certification standards are maintained to ensure consumer trust.
Retailers are showing more transparency, whether they specialise in synthetic diamonds or whether they are focusing their efforts towards sustainable sourcing. Therefore, Millennials who want a natural diamond or prefer a lower-cost alternative with just as much sparkle, have more options to make a sustainable and ethical choice.
To further investigate luxury trends and the Millennials segment on Luxury Society, we invite you to explore the related materials as follows: