Is lab-grown still a dirty word in the industry?

Leah Meirovich

Some jewelers are keeping their synthetics sales low-key to avoid pushback from the trade.

Lab-grown diamonds have been steadily gathering steam throughout the industry in the past five years. 2021 survey from wedding website The Knot found that nearly one-quarter of all engagement-ring purchases that year featured a man-made stone, up 11% from 2019.

Some independent jewelers who spoke to Rapaport News during the recent Christmas season estimated that synthetics comprised more than half of their bridal sales. However, many in the industry still shy away from stocking them — or from saying they do. Many carry them only because they are strong moneymakers, but they don’t feel comfortable about it. The question is, are lab-grown diamonds still taboo in the natural-diamond industry?

Hidden gems

Two of the jewelers Rapaport News interviewed refused to discuss carrying lab-grown on the record. They both said they kept their synthetics out of sight and brought them out when customers asked.

There’s just a lot of people in the industry, including my diamond dealers, who really look down at the idea of selling lab-grown,” says a Maryland-based jeweler who prefers not to be named. “I don’t even want some of my diamond dealers to know I sell them. Some of them are really very, very upset about the lab-grown industry and think that it’s a sham… I only do it because I’m selling what people want. But I keep them hidden until someone asks.”

A jeweler in Idaho also carries synthetics on the sly. He prefers customers don’t know he stocks them unless they specifically request the product. He also worries about the reaction from fellow jewelers, noting they can be quite judgmental, and he doesn’t want to suffer any repercussions for trying to make a living.

Maria Buduo, owner of Maria’s Fine Jewelry in Worcester, Massachusetts, says that while she doesn’t fear pushback from others in the industry, it took her a while to start offering lab-grown.

I had a hard time wrapping my head around lab-grown,” she notes. “But it’s what the customer wants. I’m not going to let them leave. So, if that’s what they want, that’s what we’re going to carry.”

From the source’s mouth

The reasons some jewelers hesitate to sell synthetics vary. Some fear judgment from fellow jewelers, others from dealers.

I don’t have the conversation with my [natural-diamond] supplier about also carrying lab-grown,” notes Leslie Sandler, owner of Leslie E. Sandler Fine Jewelry in Rockville, Maryland, noting she had been made to feel uncomfortable about synthetics in the past. “We have to maintain a relationship with our suppliers, and you’ve got to be sensitive to that.”

Mark Clodius, owner of Clodius & Co. Jewelers in Rockford, Illinois, agrees.

We get calls from diamond wholesalers all the time, asking how come we never order anymore,” he says. “When I tell them we’re buying less natural for stock and doing more with [lab-grown], they say, ‘You shouldn’t sell labs.’ I had somebody berate me, saying what we were doing was not good for the trade.”

Clodius also shares the story of a friend and his son visiting from California. The son had been looking at diamond engagement rings to propose to his girlfriend. He visited a jeweler in San Francisco who was “extremely adamant [about] not selling labs, and pushed him so hard to go natural that he felt uncomfortable about the situation,” he says.

Another source of the resistance, according to the two under-the-radar lab-grown sellers, is the influential 26,000-member Facebook group Jewelers Helping Jewelers (JHJ). The page banned synthetics sales in 2019, and while discussions of the category are allowed, the topic frequently draws a negative reaction.

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Source Rapaport

Photo © Engagement Ring courtesy of Grown Brilliance