Consumers View Natural, Lab-Grown Diamonds Differently, Says De Beers

Consumers View Natural, Lab-Grown Diamonds Differently, Says De Beers

By Rob Bates | March 31, 2021

Consumers are more aware of lab-grown diamonds, though their perception of them differs from their view of natural diamonds, according to De Beers’ latest Diamond Insight Flash Report.

The company’s latest poll of 5,000 U.S. consumers—conducted by 360 Market Reach—found that two-thirds were aware of lab-grown diamonds. That’s higher awareness than the company has found in the past, though lower than what’s been found in other surveys.

But it also found that more consumers view natural diamonds as “authentic” (60% for naturals, versus 6% for lab-growns); “romantic” (41%, naturals; 6%, lab-growns); and as a product that “make[s] me feel special” (37%, naturals; 3%, lab-growns).

The report also found:

• The top consumer concerns regarding lab-grown diamonds are that they aren’t as rare as natural diamonds, and that they won’t retain their value over time.

• Around 70% of consumers said that they would not pay more than $1,000 for a piece of lab-grown diamond jewelry.

• Some 47% of consumers did not agree with the statement that lab-grown diamonds are “real.” (The Federal Trade Commission has cautioned marketers that “it would be deceptive to use the terms real, genuine, natural, or synthetic to imply that a lab-grown diamond…is not, in fact, an actual diamond.”)

The results of the report could raise skepticism, especially from lab-grown sellers, since they align almost perfectly with De Beers’ positioning of its Lightbox brand, as well as its long-held views on lab-grown diamonds.

Stephen Lussier, De Beers executive vice president for consumer markets, tells JCK that the results of its latest Flash Report are largely in line with its past research.

“Data is data,” he says. “The data is not radically differently than [what] we have found in the past. People’s understandings have always been this way.”

He admits that the results could surprise U.S. retailers, who—for the moment—mostly sell lab-growns as bridal, at higher price points.

“Consumers are a big group of people,” he says. “If 70% of consumers wouldn’t pay more than $1,000 [for lab-grown diamonds], that still leaves some consumers who will pay more. [The data] gives you the indication of where the market will largely be. It doesn’t say that there aren’t some who will do something different.”

He believes that the two categories will ultimately be set apart by price.

“Wholesale prices [of lab-grown diamonds] are declining,” he says. “They are probably down some 20 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020 alone. The supply of lab-grown is increasing. We know that the China capacity is likely to come on. If you look at India, the imports are rising faster than the exports. That means the prices will keep going down.

“The good news, for lab-grown, is that is where consumers expect [prices] to be. And that’s where the long-term opportunity lies. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a sustainable place.”

The survey also found that falling prices could hurt retailers that sell lab-grown diamond engagement rings, if consumers expect lab-grown prices to remain stable.

Some 52% said if, after purchasing a lab-grown engagement ring from a retailer, the price of that ring dropped by 50 to 60% over the next two years—while natural diamond prices remained steady—they would be less likely to buy from that retailer again.

“Retailers need to treat consumers fairly here,” Lussier says. “They need to make sure they explain [the price for lab-growns might go down.] And if they are still happy, fine.… [The report] says, ‘Watch out, make sure you’re being fully transparent. It might come back to bite you later.’ ”

The report’s data also found that less consumers view lab-grown diamonds as “eco-friendly,” now that that point has become increasingly disputed.

“Consumers are becoming less persuaded of that point, over time,” Lussier says. “What we know, and they don’t, is this is going to become a Chinese production market. The HPHT [high pressure-high temperature] goods coming from China will soon be a majority of supply, and there’s very little [that’s] environmentally friendly about that. These are products that are manufactured with high energy, largely from energy sources that are not renewable.”

The survey also found a big opportunity for natural diamonds, especially with many still reluctant to travel.

“The first half of 2021 looks like it could be as good as the end of 2020,” says Lussier, “because of consumer attitudes toward meaningfulness; fewer, better things; things with value; things that last; things that aren’t in and out of fashion; things that aren’t trendy, or classic. That’s all good for us. And we need to ride that wave while we can. We have a consumer that is attitudinally right in our zone.”