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The Mona Lisa Syndrome — Synthetics Need Their Own Value Proposition

It would be fair to say that there are probably millions of prints of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting, the Mona Lisa. These prints are sought after and valued by their owners. They have an artistic merit of their own, but their primary value comes from the fact that they represent an original, that is of staggeringly great value.

There’s a huge market out there for prints of the Mona Lisa. A market that provides a legitimate business opportunity for a great many print shops. The millions of Mona Lisa prints have differing values based on a different set of criteria — how good the reproduction is, whether it recreates the feel of the original canvas, whether it mimics Leonardo’s original pigment hues faithfully and so on. It’s a great global business.

That business would, however, shoot itself in the foot if the print-shop owners launched a campaign saying the original was not something to be valued because Leonardo was a bad painter.

If the original in the Louvre museum in Paris, that is way beyond anyone’s purchasing power (see note below), is no longer perceived of being valuable, would anyone really want those prints?

That’s what the lab-grown diamond industry needs to understand. There is a huge and legitimate market for lab-grown diamonds. And this market will only grow in size and value as we go along. But just like those Mona Lisa prints, lab-grown diamonds derive their value from the consumer’s perceived value of the natural diamond.

Attacking natural diamonds for a variety of reasons isn’t going to endear lab-grown diamonds to the consumer. It will simply turn them off the idea of a diamond itself.

The idea is what gives a diamond its value. De Beers spent billions of dollars and a staggering amount of creative energy in building up that idea. In monetary terms, a diamond is worth far more than the cost of its extraction, cutting and polishing simply because that idea triggers a perception of value in the consumer. This is what is known as value-based pricing — basing pricing on the product benefits perceived by the customer instead of on the exact cost of developing the product.

Apart from the emotional content that the famous De Beers campaigns infused the diamond with, part of its perceived value comes from the idea that it is something rare and that no two diamonds are alike.

Lab-grown diamonds simply ride on this build-up of perceived value as a base. That is good in as far as it goes. But as a specific product segment, lab-grown diamonds should now develop a value proposition of their own. Lab-grown diamonds are a perfectly legitimate product category of their own and they will certainly find a global market if they project a set of attributes that are unique to themselves — or specifically built up by the producers the way De Beers built up natural diamonds.

Attacking natural diamonds, however, is like hacking the very branch of the tree you’re sitting on. Denigrate natural diamonds and you denigrate every product that derives value from it.

There are clear marketing benefits of positioning lab-grown diamonds as being responsible environmental and ethical alternatives to natural diamonds. These are ideas people will buy into — as long as they still value natural diamonds.

Somebody please tell the lab-grown association about this.

The Guiness Book of World Records lists the highest known insurance valuation for a painting as $100million assessed for the move of The Mona Lisa (La Gioconda) from the Louvre in Paris, France, to Washington, DC, and then New York City, for a special exhibition 14 December 1962 to 12 Mar 1963. However, insurance was not concluded because the cost of the highest security precautions was less than that of the premiums. Taking inflation into account, the 1962 value would be around US$782 million in 2016

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2 Comments
A great analogy which makes a very important point about how deliberate defamation of natural diamonds can only harm those that seek to benefit from the reputation of natural diamonds their own product categories whether it be lab created diamonds or even moissanite .
Dear Mr Rao: You make a very convincing argument except for one little detail: Lab grown diamonds are not a "copy" of natural diamond but are diamonds in their own right. A copy of the Mona Lisa is just that, a copy, even if Leonado did it himself! Everyone assumes our value system is based on natural diamond. This is not true, but is a benchmark to advertise our prices. The advent of lab grown diamond is quite old, over 60 years ago it was discovered but it was TOO EXPENSIVE for anyone to market. The processes we use and the equipment required is far in excess of what it cost to mine natural diamonds and theoretically, we should be more expensive! But we all know that would be ludicrous and bound to fail. Just like Kaplan found out, people wont pay more for something a little rarer than another stone. And even though we produce something that required unbelievable achievements on a scientific level, we can't charge extra for it. I agree that some companies overdo the ecological advantages of using a lab grown stone but that is only because those in the natural diamond arena refuse to acknowledge that we make diamond! Additionally, the derogatory term, "synthetic" has now been turned into a noun and everyone in the natural business love it. We have been banned in certain bourse's because some natural dealers can't be trusted to disclose. Why is that our fault? I think the fear of competition has pushed some in the trade to over react unnecessarily. We don't have this problem in emerald, ruby and sapphire, so why should diamond be any different? Take care of your own businesses and stay out of ours. regards, tom chatham a member of the IGDA, (International Grown Diamond Association)