David Perry & Associate’s contributing editor, Kathleen Beckett, shown below, covers the luxury market, which is predicated on rarity—diamonds mined from the earth, silk harvested from cocoons and leather tanned from the hides of animals. But as she notes in her recent article in Departure’s magazine, How Tech Is Shaping the Future of Luxury Fashion, as scientists develop new ways to grow diamonds, leather and silk in labs, more designers are choosing these eco-friendly, humane—and yes, rarefied—materials. Because we cover the jewelry world and because there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about manmade diamonds, we asked Kathleen to tell us what she’s learned about this growing industry.



DPA: In the past, artificial diamonds consisted mostly of cubic zirconia. But in your article you tell us that diamonds produced in laboratories are not artificial—they’re identical to the real thing. How can that be?

KB: There’s a big difference between any old artificial diamond and lab-grown diamonds in that lab-grown diamonds contain the same ingredients as the real deal—or “mined” diamonds as the industry calls them. And that is carbon. Carbon subjected to extremes of heat and pressure whether down deep in the earth, or in a special machine. So the ingredients are the same, the process is virtually the same, and the result is the same in terms of hardness, brilliance, clarity and all the qualities associated with mined diamonds.

DPA: You’d think diamonds made in a lab would cost less, but that’s not the case. Can you tell us why?

KB: Right now a lab-grown diamond can be quite expensive, because the machinery and expertise needed to make it are rare, costly, elaborate and time-consuming. It’s assumed that in the future, as the technique and materials become more advanced and widely available, the costs will go down.

DPA: Which designers are using them in their pieces and do you think more will follow?

KB: One of the leaders in using lab-grown diamonds, as well as other lab-grown gems such as emeralds, is, surprise, Swarovski. The crystal giant still uses crystals in most of their collections, but their high-end, luxury Atelier line features lab-grown gems, and is priced accordingly. Another surprise: De Beers, the diamond monolith, recently announced that they are going to start selling lab-grown diamonds.

DPA: Do you think they’re catching on with consumers too? Even for engagement rings?

KB: Even though the first lab-grown diamond was produced in the 1950s, it’s only been recently that technology advanced to a point that they could be viably produced for the market place. So it’s really too early to tell how the public will warm up to them. Certainly De Beers would not be selling them if they didn’t know there was a customer for them. On the other hand, whether lab-grown diamonds will be embraced by customers looking for engagement rings seems a bit of a stretch. Symbolically, the ring, the marriage and the diamond are all supposed to last “forever” and a diamond made billions of years ago in the earth certainly delivers that message more successfully.

DPA: In your research did you get to try on jewelry with lab grown diamonds? Could you tell the difference between one made in nature?

KB: I saw lab-grown diamonds being made, cut, set into jewelry and draped around my neck. Gorgeous! But not only could I not tell the difference, right now the only way to distinguish lab from mined is with a special spectrometer. Right now most jewelry stores and jewelers don’t even have the right instrument to see the difference, but the GIA is in the process of creating a desk-top spectrometer that can.

Jewelry shown is from the new Atelier Swarovski collection.