Akshita Singh, a Delhi-based interior designer, loves diamonds. “They are a girl’s best friend,” she laughs. Her latest purchase is a diamond pendant with matching earrings and she has her eyes set on a bracelet. But her purchases haven’t depleted her bank balance significantly. Instead of natural mined diamonds, she has bought jewellery with lab-grown diamonds that are nearly 40-50 per cent cheaper.
Also known as synthetic, cultured or man-made diamonds, these stones are optically, chemically and physically identical to natural, mined diamonds, but with one key difference: they are manufactured in a lab in a few days as opposed to deep below the earth’s crust over a few million years. “I think of them as prosecco and not champagne,” says the 32-year-old Singh.
“It’s like an IVF baby. Once the baby is born, you don’t question whether it was natural or IVF. There is no difference,” says Vandana M. Jagwani, founder of Vandals, a Mumbai-based brand dealing in lab-grown diamond jewellery. Jagwani, who has been in the jewellery trade for the past eight years, set up Vandals a couple of years ago because she wanted to give value to her customers. “The difference is only up to the creation of the diamond in the rough stage. After that the cutting, polishing, etc., is all the same and done by the same karigars [artisans],” she says.
Growing a diamond in a lab involves starting with a ‘seed’—a small piece of another diamond. While this will be from a natural diamond the first time, it can be a piece of a lab-grown diamond the next time.
There are two methods—High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD). The ‘seed’ is placed in a chamber with pure graphite carbon, heated to about 1,500 degrees Celsius, and pressurised to roughly 1.5 million pounds per square inch during HPHT. Under CVD, it is heated to about 800 degrees Celsius in a sealed chamber that is filled with carbon-rich gas. In these circumstances, the gases start to ‘stick’ to the ‘seed’, atom by atom forming a diamond. In India, the CVD method is more popular.
While lab-grown diamonds have become quite popular in countries such as the US, they are starting to pick up in India, too. Currently, India exports polished lab-grown diamonds to the US, Hong Kong, the UAE, Israel and Belgium. According to the Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC), exports of lab-grown diamonds rose by 106.46 per cent (year-on-year) to $1.3 billion in 2021-22 against $636.44 million registered in 2020-21.
“Lab-grown diamonds are a great starting point for consumers aspiring to own diamond jewellery. On average, prices of lab-grown diamonds up to one carat are nearly 70-80 per cent cheaper than natural diamonds. Stones larger than one carat are 40-50 per cent lower,” says Colin Shah, Chairman of GJEPC.
Surya Jain, the CEO and Founder of Aupulent, an online jewellery brand specialising in lab-grown diamonds, says that while a lower price is, of course, an attractive proposition for a price-sensitive market like India, it’s also about sustainability and ethical sourcing. “Cultured diamonds are made in labs, under the same stringent conditions as mined diamonds minus the adverse social and environmental impact. Gen Z is more conscious of factors such as sustainability,” he says.
“Today we are all about eating organic, being more environment-friendly in all aspects of our lives, so why not diamonds?” he asks. Jain says besides big metros, he also gets orders from cities such as Jaipur and Indore. As awareness about lab-grown diamonds grows, he expects more sales in smaller towns.
“The general thinking is that an engagement ring should be equivalent to three months’ salary. I say spend one and a half months’ salary on the ring and travel with the balance,” says Jain, explaining that a $2,000 ring with a mined diamond will cost around $1,100 with a lab-grown diamond. Aupulent offers 90 per cent buyback or lifetime exchange, therefore providing lab-grown diamonds the same resale value as natural diamonds. It has recently launched a range of jewellery made of coloured lab-grown diamonds, the first in the country.
Motwani says that while her customers buy lab-grown diamond jewellery for themselves and for gifting to friends and family, the bridal jewellery bought by parents for the bride is still natural, mined diamonds. “It is probably a generational thing,” she says.
Lab-grown diamonds are certified by the same institutes that certify natural diamonds.
Globally, memorial diamonds, or diamonds made from a loved one’s ashes or hair are also becoming popular with a few start-ups making it possible. When Nandini Sharma, a 43-year-old financial consultant in New York, lost her father in May last year during the second wave of Covid-19, she was unable to come down to Delhi for his cremation. However, she requested the family to save a cup of his ashes for her, while they poured the rest in the river Ganga, as per Hindu custom. On a later trip, she collected the ashes and sent it to Austin-based start-up Eterneva. Over a period of 10 months, the ashes were converted into a diamond that she now wears as a ring. “To some it may seem morbid but to me it was a way of having my father close to me always,” says Sharma.
The 0.29 carat diamond cost her $3,499. Eterneva extracts the carbon from the ashes and then uses the HPHT process where the machine mimics the pressure and heat conditions under the earth’s crust to convert the carbon into a diamond. That is the same process which is used to create lab-grown diamonds, but while several diamonds are created at once in the lab, Eterneva creates only one diamond at a time.
Sustainability, ethical scourcing or simply price, whatever may be the reason, lab-grown diamonds will continue to shine bright.
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