How Can De Beers Market Diamonds When Beautiful Lab-Made Stones Exist?

Image courtesy of kyler kwock

De Beers, the company that had a near-monopoly on jewelry-quality diamonds for much of the 20th century, has a problem. Synthetic diamonds (or “lab-created,” as their marketers would prefer that you call them) have made amazing progress in the last few years, and now can be grown faster, better, and colorless. You need special equipment to tell the difference between a diamond made in a lab and a diamond made deep underground. Why should consumers pay more for a difference they can’t see?

That’s the key job of marketing, of course. 34 years ago, The Atlantic detailed how De Beers was able to destroy the market for used diamonds by creating the well-known slogan, “a diamond is forever.” The high cost of diamonds is purportedly because they are rare and take millions of years to grow; communicating to women that they should keep their diamond jewelry for life and snub used jewelry cuts off much of the resale market.

Synthetic diamonds present a special challenge, though. De Beers now controls about 30% of the mined diamonds in the world, and Reuters reports that for now, De Beers is depending on consumers’ perception that natural diamonds are superior and have “investment value” that they’ll retain, while synthetic diamonds do not.

This means that helping jewelers ensure that diamonds are real with 100% accuracy is important to the survival of the company. De Beers produces equipment that helps diamond dealers, jewelers, and gemologists tell the difference, which earns it money and helps boost the reputation and cachet of diamonds from its mines.

De Beers also makes its own synthetic diamonds, but is careful to only make the kinds used in industry, not the more lucrative jewelry market. It hasn’t yet made a synthetic diamond that the equipment it sells can’t flag.

Here’s one of those systems in action.

If you need special equipment to tell the difference, is it really worth paying a significant premium? De Beers hopes that it is.

De Beers stakes its reputation on spotting the difference [Reuters]

9 Things We Learned About Lab-Grown Diamonds
Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond? [The Atlantic]

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