There has been a lot of speculation and doomsday predicting in the wake of the De Beers announcement that it was launching its own synthetic jewellery line. Much of the reaction is driven by genuine fear. As an industry, we have been battling the insidious devaluation of our product by the undisclosed mixing of synthetics in parcels of natural diamonds.
The problem grew to such proportions that it became the cornerstone of the Diamond Producers Association (DPA) promotional campaign. One of the factors that formulated the DPA tagline of Real is Rare. Real is a Diamond is the need to clearly differentiate natural and synthetic stones.
So I also understand the consternation of many in the industry when De Beers announced it was launching Lightbox, its own synthetic diamond jewellery line. What will happen to that clear differentiation? Will De Beers, the Chair of the DPA now have its determination undermined because of its own product line?
We need to address this by first looking at Element Six, the De Beers industrial diamond research and production company. It has been around since the 1950s and it has probably the best research data on synthetic diamonds, their properties and methods of fabrication. So if they wanted to, they could have gone into mass production of gem quality synthetics long ago.
But De Beers has, to begin with, always understood the need for clear differentiation between natural diamonds and synthetics. It has been at the forefront of research to develop synthetic diamond detection equipment that can be bought and operated by any stakeholder in the diamond process pipeline.
So when they have now decided to launch Lightbox, they have done the industry a favour. They are the best synthetic producers bar none and they can bring the cost of production down so much that the existing synthetic producers — many of whom have been involved in the surreptitious mixing racket will be squeezed beyond belief. Nobody can match De Beers’ power to drive synthetic prices down.
Why would an unethical diamond dealer buy synthetics from the existing producers at 50 percent the value of natural stones when he knows that Lightbox is selling its product at some 10 percent of the value of natural stones — and is promoting the product through a separate channel to consumers? The game is no longer worth the risk.
As for consumers, there won’t be any chance of them having a problem with the perceived value of natural stones when the price difference is 90 percent! And don’t forget, the Lightbox brand is being promoted as fashion jewellery. There is a clear distinction between fashion and fine jewellery and the consumer knows it clearly.
We could all have theoretical arguments about likely conversations between consumers and Lightbox retail staff and the need to differentiate natural diamonds, synthetics and simulants. But I think that isn’t anything to worry about at all. At one-tenth the price of naturals, the value perception of synthetics will be clearly differentiated — just as we all want.
The coming of Lightbox is good for us all.