The Guardian reveals that De Beers, the monolithic diamond firm (which has made artificial scarcity its business model for the better part of a century – actually posting guards and building fences around barren tracts of African desert because people walking around in there might pick up a few shiny rocks and send the global price of diamonds tumbling), is getting into the lab-grown gemstone business, selling synthetic stones at 10 percent of the normal price:
De Beers, the 130-year-old diamond company founded by Cecil Rhodes with funding from the Rothschild family, is to start selling diamonds “grown” in a laboratory near Ascot, Berkshire.
The company, which mines billion-year-old diamonds across Africa and in the Canadian Arctic, on Tuesday launched a range of much cheaper “lab-grown diamonds” created in just three weeks by scientists using a process similar to 3D printing.
De Beers, which created the famous “a diamond is forever” slogan and once had a near-monopoly on global diamond production, said it was launching the new range of synthetic diamonds to meet demand for “affordable fashion jewellery that may not be forever but is perfect for right now”.
The Lightbox brand diamonds will sell for between $200 (£150) for a quarter-carat stone to $800 for a one-carat stone. Nimesh Patel, De Beers’s chief financial officer, said the prices represented a 85-90% discount on the cost of natural diamonds.
“We’re not pretending they’re unique or rare,” Patel said. “If you lose it, it’s not going to hurt as much as if you lost the real thing. It is not for those great moments in life you want something inherently precious.
“If I were giving a gift to my 12-year-old daughter, I wouldn’t want to give her a natural diamond, and this a good alternative.”
The diamonds are made by a process called chemical vapour deposition. It involves pumping gases into a low-pressure vacuum. The gases react to create layers of carbon that consolidate into a single stone. De Beers said it would spend $94m creating a new Element Six factory near Portland, Oregon. When it is up and running the factory will be able to produce more than 500,000 carats of diamonds a year.
The cynic in me has to wonder if they’re finally selling gem-quality synthetic diamonds (they’ve been selling industrial diamonds for years now) because they’ve figured out a way to introduce planned obsolescence into the new process. Like, you can’t really sell pre-flawed diamonds for a diamond-tipped mining drill… but you could probably get away with it for gifts for 12-year-old girls, you know?