De Beers lab-grown diamonds are for anything but marriage

Caught up in the romance.
Caught up in the romance.
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If you happen to be in the market for a diamond ring you’ll know that a 1-carat stone can go for anywhere between $2,500 to $19,000, give or take a couple grand. But starting tomorrow (Sept. 27), you’ll be able to get one for $800, and you can even snag it in a rare pink or blue flavor.

Old-world diamond magnate De Beers is officially launching Lightbox laboratory-grown diamonds, a collection of white and candy-colored gems it says are perfect for “lighter” moods and moments. Already the world’s leading diamond miner, De Beers is making its synthetic diamond debut with some of the cheapest lab-grown gems on the market (paywall), pricing its wares from $200-$800 based on carat, and assuring customers that they are perfect for things like “birthdays and beach days and just because days.”

Basically, they’re diamonds for just about anything besides engagements.

It’s a pretty rich move for the company, which didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Not only did De Beers invent the idea of the diamond engagement ring, but, to keep selling it, it has spent the past several decades trying to suppress the synthetic diamond industry.

De Beers’s diamond debacle

De Beers has been selling diamonds it’s pulled from the ground for over 130 years, and up until May it was hell-bent on convincing customers that only diamonds borne from the earth were worth wearing. In addition to lobbying against synthetic stones since their conception in the 1950s, De Beers and other mining behemoths in the Diamond Producers Association launched the “real is rare” campaign in 2016 to persuade millennials to pony up for natural diamonds even if they aren’t interested in marriage. While the effort didn’t radically reverse dimming diamond sales, it may have, ironically, convinced De Beers to finally give synthetic diamonds a shot.

Indeed, while De Beers clearly isn’t done sinking its diamond-tipped claws into the millennial singles market, the launch of a lab-grown line is a massive change of strategy. Even though they are atomically identical to natural diamonds, synthetic gems have only gained serious traction in recent years thanks to marketing pegs that frame them as an affordable, conflict-free, and environmentally sustainable alternatives to natural diamonds.

Leading makers of lab-grown diamonds have largely focused on a bridal demographic, finding a customer in the informed, ethical, and budget-conscious consumer. But Lightbox isn’t making a play for environmentalists or brides-to-be. It’s betting on single people and accessories, a move that has already knocked down the cost of synthetic diamonds from its existing markdown of 32% down to 45% (paywall).

A diamond is forev—just kidding, it’s just for you girl

With Lightbox, De Beers wants to unravel the cultural significance of the diamond engagement ring, a concept that it spun in the 1940s. Of course, engagement rings were around before De Beers, but it was ultimately an advertising campaign commissioned by the company that crafted the rock-solid relationship between massive gems and holy matrimony that still exists today.

Image for article titled De Beers lab-grown diamonds are for anything but marriage
Image: Flickr/National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution

De Beers copywriter Mary Frances Gerety coined the phrase “a diamond is forever” in 1947, and the rest is history: Over the next few decades sales of the company’s wholesale rough diamonds shot up, jumping from $23 million in 1939 to $2.1 billion in 1979.

So it remains to be seen if De Beers’s dramatic entrance into the synthetic space spells doom for the iconic diamond engagement ring. It could be that the company has created a symbol too solid to shatter, even if it was thought up over 70 years ago. In either case, it seems that with Lightbox, lab-grown diamonds will have officially entered the mainstream.