In 1993 I married my childhood sweetheart. We were 23, freshly graduated and ready for adventure. My engagement ring was a cabochon amethyst set with two tiny accent diamonds set in white gold to complement the host of silver rings I had stacked on my other hand and I loved it. Four years later, on a trip to the beautiful island of Pulau Perhentian Besar, set in crystal clear waters of the South China Sea that I lost it. Left nestled in soap dish amongst all my other rings on the sink in the hotel the tiny shimmer of the diamonds had attracted what, a monkey, a magpie perhaps… I will never know but I returned from breakfast to find the one ring that meant so much more to me than any of the others had gone. I resigned myself to the fact that I would maybe be able to replace it one day and took to wearing my simple wedding band until on our 5th wedding anniversary my very intuitive husband delivered its replacement.
A beautiful 58 facet brilliant cut round solitaire diamond seemingly floating in a simple band of white gold. The tension setting was not something I was familiar with but it’s simplicity and lack of adornment let the beauty of the stone speak for itself and I love it as much today as I did when I first saw it. I didn’t question at the time, why it is that a diamond speaks such volumes about love, romance and has become the cherished symbol of union with another person. The answer, it turns out, is a simple one. It’s all down to those clever, creative people in marketing…..
Our love affair with diamonds could be said to date back to 1866 when a teenage boy playing by the sides of the Orange River near Hope Town South Africa found an alluring shiny stone which turned out to be the 21.25 ct Eureka Diamond.
By the 1888 Cecil Rhodes and Barney Barnato had joined forces to form De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd They realized early on that if they didn’t control the supply of diamonds prices would plummet and so began one of the most successful cartels in modern history which has spawned a multi-billion dollar industry ever since.
Fast forward to the 1930s and it had become more important than ever to maintain the allure and desire for diamonds rather than reduce the cost after the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression of the 30s. In 1938, Harry Openheimer, the then CEO of De Beers appointed N.W. Ayer to front their marketing campaign. Europe was at war so the US had become the focus of their marketing strategy for engagement rings. At that time, diamonds were perceived as only being something the very rich and famous would aspire to owning. Only 10% of all engagement rings in the US contained a diamond. The focus of that campaign was to create an association with diamonds and eternal love and romance. The idea that ‘a diamond is forever’ proved to be an incredibly powerful one and the diamond dream was born.
Since then, De Beers have faced many challenges but probably the largest credible threat to the industry in recent years is the emergence of a couple of big players in the lab-grown, synthetic diamonds that have arrived on the market. Sparking controversy even in how they are to be named with ‘cultured’ or ‘lab-grown’ being favoured over ‘synthetic’ which is seen as catch all phrase that encompasses other materials such a cubic zirconia or even Swarovski crystals which may look like diamond but are by no means identical.
So what exactly is the difference between a natural diamond and a lab-grown diamond?
The bottom line, as the scientists behind the technology to create man-mad diamonds know, is that there is no difference. Diamonds are in essence, carbon which has been subjected to massive pressure at an optimum temperature deep inside the earth’s crust over millions of years and then carried up towards the earth’s surface by volcanic eruptions. The same conditions also prevail in space and have been deposited as tiny diamond fragments during meteorite crashes – the ‘stardust’ of fairy-tales. The full scientific explanation leaves you in no doubt as to just how much these sparkly wonders of nature should be the source of captivation and wonder. But the really big question is, now that man has been able to successfully recreate those conditions and can reproduce an atomically identical substance in a laboratory in a matter of months, does that diminish the magic somewhat? Enter Leonardo Di Caprio and his new found friends at The Diamond Foundry preferring terms like ‘hot-forged’, ‘Made in California’ and ‘environmentally superior’ the team are making a play for the generation of consumers to whom these things matter. The fact that these new kids on the block are also entirely traceable and on average 20-30% cheaper than their natural counterparts is all part of the allure. Jenni Avins sums it up brilliantly in her article Would you propose with a diamond grown in a lab? For me, as a designer whose job it is to work with clients to create a piece that tells their unique story, inspires and delights them it’s all down to a matter of personal choice. Whether you want something that may even have been brought to earth as a tiny spec of stardust or prefer to invest in a piece of modern technology as innovative and pioneering as space exploration itself is ultimately all down to you.