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Mined vs. Man-Made Diamonds: Can a Great Jewelry Collection Contain Both?

Diamonds that are lab-grown have identical physical properties to those found in nature—but where does the value lie, and can one outshine the other?

The Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle is a fan of man-made diamonds from fine-jewelry brand Kimaï; Penélope Cruz has collaborated with Atelier Swarovski on an ethical and lab-created range of jewelry; and Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow both famously opted for engagement rings with conflict-free diamonds for their most recent marriages. Clearly the provenance of the stones we choose to wear matters. But when it comes to transparency, could the ethical stance and quality of lab-made versions give natural diamonds a run for their money?

Jessica Warch and Sidney Neuhaus, the cofounders of Kimaï, believe so. As do their fans: the 2018 start-up, which uses only lab-grown diamonds and recycled gold, has quickly garnered endorsements—from the Duchess of Sussex, as well as stars such as Emma Watson and Jessica Alba. It’s also raised €1.1 million ($1,298,935) in seed funding from investors that include fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff, Facebook manager Fidji Simo, and billionaire businessman Xavier Niel.

The Duchess of Sussex wearing mad-made diamonds from Kimaï
For her first visit to the Smart Works charity in 2019, the Duchess of Sussex wore Kimaï’s Felicity earrings—0.28 carats worth of lab-grown diamonds set in 18-karat recycled gold. Image: Alamy

Atelier Swarovski is embracing a similarily ethical stance. The Austrian house’s range of man-made diamonds and precious stones is set in Fairtrade 18-karat gold and, designed in partnership with Cruz, is a deliberate move towards conscious luxury.

“We are trying to demonstrate that luxury and sustainability can go hand in hand,” says executive board member, Nadja Swarovski. “In the past there was a perception that the two cannot coincide, but actually we are trying to demonstrate the opposite.”

I am more aware of ethical jewelry now, and I’m hoping to motivate people to consider it as an option—Penelope Cruz

With so many big names sporting created gems it can be tempting to think of this as something of a recent trend. But Hollywood’s influence on ethical accessorizing is not entirely new. The 2006 film Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, helped to raise awareness of those stones that are illegally traded to fund conflict in war-torn areas, particularly in central and western Africa. In the years since, many consumers have become more conscious of seeking out diamonds that are certified conflict-free and ethically sourced. And from that demand, lab-made diamonds have found a niche.

Penelope Cruz wearing lab-grown diamonds and rubies from Atelier Swarovski
“Luxury brands have a duty to act in a responsible manner and be considerate to our planet,” Cruz says. “My collaboration with Atelier Swarovski gives me the opportunity to create products that have a positive impact.”

So, what’s the true difference? Lab-made diamonds are created either using a process known as high pressure and high temperature (HPHT) or chemical vapor deposition (CVD). Both methods are performed in a laboratory and produce stones that display the same physical, chemical, and optical characteristics as natural diamonds. This means that in terms of size, clarity, sparkle, and even strength, natural and synthetic stones are equal.

We are trying to demonstrate that luxury and sustainability can go hand in hand—Nadja Swarovski

But when it comes to value, the difference is vast, says New York-based Rahul Kadakia, Christie’s International Head of Jewelry. That’s because the value of a natural diamond derives from its rarity and origin. “I’m a strong believer in the appeal of the rarity, and long-term value, of natural gems,” he says. “I come from a family of jewelers and I’ve been at Christie’s for 24 years. During that time, diamonds have become rarer in size and color, and the prices have grown higher. And they’re set to become scarcer as mines no longer produce as much as they used to.”

The D Color Diamond sold at Christie's online auction
Estimated at $1-2million, this 28.86-carat, D color diamond is the highest valued lot ever offered in a Christie's online sale and received a total of 31 bids from four countries, spanning Asia to America.

As the cost of mining increases and production decreases, many of the natural diamonds bought and sold in the future will be older gems from collections and estates, says Kadakia, which adds to their appeal, and therefore value.

He points to two recent Christie’s sales as examples of this fact. In June, Christie’s achieved $2,115,000—a world-record price—for a 28.86-carat D color diamond in the Jewels Online auction. “The stone possesses a transparency and purity that can only be found in the world’s finest diamonds,” Kadakia explains. And, only a month later, the top lot at the Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction in Geneva went to a vivid twin-stone diamond ring by Parisian jeweler Reza, which achieved CHF 8,730,750/$9,388,698.

Diamonds are set to become scarcer as mines no longer produce as much as they used to—Rahul Kadakia

While Kadakia maintains that natural diamonds hold a resale value that lab-made diamonds can’t, he does account for the worth of synthetic diamonds in other sectors, such as surgical equipment. “I think industrial use is where the production of lab-made diamonds, at greater capacity and in bigger sizes, will help them hold a certain value,” he explains.

A twin stone ring featuring blue and white pear-cut diamonds
Christie’s estimates that this ring's 5.37-carat, internally flawless white diamond accounts for $200,000 of its $9.3 million sale price, with its 5.34-carat, fancy-vivid-blue diamond fetching approximately $1.7 million per carat thanks to its rarity.

There is an argument to be made, however, that if the physical properties of both types of diamonds are identical, the perception of value can shift as ultra-high-net-worth individuals demand sustainable alternatives. As Atelier Swarovski, Kimaï, and other emerging labels are showing, lab-made diamonds are an appealing option, which offer high style without compromising on design, quality, or ethics.

And choosing between natural jewels or lab-made diamonds need not be a mutually exclusive decision. A respectable collection can contain both. As Cruz explains: “People have asked me, ‘does this mean you will only wear created stones for the rest of your life?’ No, it doesn’t. But I am more aware now. It’s about motivating people to consider them as an option.”

Banner image: Getty Images