Lab-grown diamonds may still be relative newcomers to the luxury market, but not since the dawn of the internet has a subject left the diamond industry so divided. That’s why it was particularly shocking when, in May 2018, diamond behemoth De Beers announced its Lightbox line of lab-grown mounted jewelry, which launched online direct to consumers in September. Industry reactions ranged from excitement to fear, and while it’s still too early to know what the long-term impact of Lightbox will be, there is no shortage of opinions about the news.
For its part, De Beers says Lightbox came to market only after significant consumer research, which it reports has largely shown that people take labgrown diamonds less seriously than mined ones. “What we have seen increasingly over time is that there is really broad and growing confusion among consumers about what a lab-grown diamond is, and how they’re produced, and how valuable they are, what they should cost,” says David Prager, the company’s executive vice president of corporate affairs. “And we also identified that there was some interest in them as fashion jewelry, once people understood what they were, but that people really didn’t see them as something suited to a life event of real emotional significance.” Instead, he says, people “see them as pretty and sparkly and fun, and they should be marketed accordingly. You can buy Lightbox for a beach holiday, because you’re not worried if you misplace one of your diamond lab-grown studs. You can go on the website and you can buy one to replace it.” This more casual segment “wasn’t being served by the lab-grown diamond producers [before now], because they were going for the kind of classic diamond territory,” he explains. Nonetheless, he acknowledges that many customers may still consider Lightbox high-end. “There are going to be some people who feel like they’re getting a luxury product,” he says.
So while Lightbox may be “gaining people’s attention and headlines,” he says, “for us, it’s never going to rise to the level of our natural business.” It is. however, enough to make the industry question it relationship with luxury lab-grown diamonds. “This is here to stay,” says VanderLinden.
“And those who were highly against it are now involved with it. Things change, and if you’re not involved with lab-grown, you’re going to miss an opportunity.”