In a jam-packed program, the Dubai Diamond Conference set the stage well for its main bout: finally, a match-up between the lab-grown and mined diamond producers.
At its core, the debate among panelists in the discussion titled “Market Disruption — the Advent of Lab-Grown Diamonds,” boiled down to one fundamental question: What makes a diamond valuable?
In one corner, representing the lab-grown industry, Amish Shah, president of Altr Created Diamonds, saw the value in the emotion diamonds represents. “The rest is price,” stressed the synthetics proponent, who focuses on branding when selling lab-grown diamond engagement rings. As technology evolves and costs decline, he continued, economies of scale will create a better pricing environment, spurring demand and improving margins.
The “myth” about rarity will not hold up among consumers, since there are millions of carats coming into the system each year, and enough coming back as recycled, Shah argued. Besides, if diamonds had intrinsic value, their value would have gone up year over year, he added – a barb directed at the audience of mainly natural diamond dealers, manufacturers and miners.
“The value of the diamond is built when you package it and brand it in the consumer’s eye,” he stressed. “The origin — i.e. whether it’s mined or made –— doesn’t guarantee a value.”
“I couldn’t disagree more,” retorted De Beers marketing guru Stephen Lussier, sitting on the other side of the stage in his signature beige suit. “We can differentiate by origin because it’s a different thing scientifically, environmentally, in its social impact and in the consumer attitude. A natural diamond is inherently rare and precious,” stressed the De Beers’ vice president for consumer and brands.
Responding to Shah’s point that diamond prices had come down, Lussier distinguished between an investment and the value of something precious. “It’s what value the diamond has in the world,” he explained. “People need to see the diamond as something they will wear in 20 years’ time and [that will] retain its preciousness. That’s not an investment.”