Curating luxury for the discerning traveller

Diamond Debate: Are Cultivated Stones the Way Forward?


They look like diamonds and have the same chemical composition, but rather than being mined out of the ground, they are grown in a laboratory. Laura McCreddie-Doak looks at the new breed of cultivated diamonds

We’re led to believe that diamonds are unique. These glittering objects have their own special mythology, with histories that start in volcanoes. Rocks that are unassuming at first but which, through man’s skill, can be whittled, coaxed and polished into something beautiful and precious. Or, at least, that used to be the case. Now diamonds that look as good as the real thing are being grown in labs and used by savvy luxury brands conscious that customers want ethical purity almost as much as they want statement sparkle.

“We wanted to produce beautifully designed and seriously covetable diamond jewellery, but found that sourcing traceable gems was a very grey area,” explains Katie Rowland, creative director of new luxury jewellery brand Lark & Berry. “Diamonds can be used in a very exploitative manner to support war, conflict and human suffering. We discovered that cultured diamonds are no different than their mined counterparts apart from their origination, which in this case is a controlled laboratory environment.

Hero and banner pictures courtesy of iStock.

Laura McCreddie-Doak
Watches & Jewellery

Picture courtesy of De Beers

There, diamonds are grown in a way that mimics their natural formation deep in the Earth’s mantle. By switching to this innovative method, we can guarantee diamonds are conflict-free, are of a higher calibre – being that we only produce a Type 2a diamond, which is incredibly rare in nature – and don’t have the same negative environmental impact. For us, it was a no-brainer.”

For those in any doubt as to whether these stones have any relation to cheap imitations such as cubic zirconia, Lark & Berry has ensured that everything about it says “luxury”. The metals are all precious and prices range from £225 for a pair of small mismatched stud earrings in its “demi-fine” selection to £34,500 for a diamond necklace that wouldn’t look out of place in the window of De Beers – a comparison which now has interesting parallels. 



Fashion Jewellery 

In May, The New York Times revealed that De Beers, the brand that invented the diamond engagement ring and backed the ‘Real is Rare’ campaign run by the Diamond Producers Association in 2016, was turning its attention to cultivated diamonds. It transpired that, in a run-of-the-mill industrial building in rural Oxfordshire, under the moniker Element Six Innovation Centre, De Beers had been hard at work producing its own laboratory-grown stones. “We remain wholeheartedly supportive of ‘Real is Rare’, as all of our consumer research shows that for the important and meaningful moments in life, people want a natural diamond, as natural diamonds are rare, finite, unique, billions of years old, and have enduring financial value,” explains David Johnson, head of strategic communication at De Beers Group, when asked about the change of heart. “Laboratory-grown diamonds are pretty and sparkly, but they don’t have these attributes that people look for in natural diamonds, and they don’t retain their value in the same way.” 

To emphasise that point of difference in the minds of its customers, De Beers is putting its cultivated stones in a collection called Lightbox, which is aimed at those women wanting some sparkle without the accompanying price tag. It was also given a different identity to De Beers’ genuine diamond offering to make sure customers weren’t confused about how a brand famous for its genuine stones would be using these laboratory-grown impersonators.

“The launch of Lightbox Jewellery, with a limited range of fashion jewellery products, followed extensive research to understand consumer perceptions towards laboratory-grown diamonds,” says Johnson. “This research clearly indicated that people are currently confused and it highlighted that people see laboratory-grown stones and natural diamonds as very different products that are suitable for very different occasions in their lives, but that the existing laboratory-grown diamond offerings did not reflect this. They told us they see laboratory-grown diamonds as fun, fashion products that shouldn’t cost that much, as they are mass produced to order through a technological process. That’s why Lightbox is focused on fashion jewellery, incorporating colour and playful designs at prices much lower than other laboratory-grown diamonds currently available.” 


Pictures courtesy of Lark & Berry

Ethical Transparency

This confusion is something Lark & Berry has also had to address but Rowland has also been keen to emphasise the ethical and environmental gains as well. “Our clients have enjoyed the experience of learning about cultured stones and about the fact that they are more affordable than a dirt diamond,” says Rowland. “This means you really can have luxury for less. Our diamonds also produce less emissions, less waste, use less water and have less environmental impact than mined stones. And we’ve even created several bespoke engagement rings set with cultured diamonds. So, in this instance, less is definitely more both ethically and romantically.”

Coming into the laboratory-grown business from the opposite end of the jewellery spectrum is Swarovski, though considering its background in material innovation it’s surprising it didn’t enter the arena sooner. “We see a trend in material convergence across fashion and fine jewellery, driven by consumer desire over the past decade. This is especially true for the fashion-conscious, self-purchasing woman,” says Nancy Leach, director of communications for the brand, when asked why Swarovski decided to create its own cultivated diamonds. Its first collection, launched in time for the 2017 Academy Awards, perfectly illustrated the fusion of fashion and fine jewellery that has been the calling card of its Atelier range. Swarovski went one better this year at Cannes by underscoring the ethical nature of cultivated stones by creating a collection with Penélope Cruz that featured laboratory-grown rubies and diamonds handset in 18-carat Fairmined gold.


It may take some time to wean the jewellery-buying elite off their reliance on genuine diamonds, but given that ethics play such a huge part in current thinking causing everything – from the rise in vegan restaurants to cool hybrid car designs – it isn’t too much of a stretch to think that cultured diamonds could become increasingly popular. “We design for the woman who appreciates high design and has covetable style, with a touch of eco chic,” says Rowland. Sounds like a woman we’d all like to be. And, more importantly, whose jewellery we definitely want to wear. ° °



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