Are culture diamonds, diamonds like others?

©Dmitry Kostyukov

In La Tribune 04/10/2019

Each year, Russian, South African, Namibian, Canadian, South African, …, diamond miners consistently extract about 150 million carats of gem diamond for jewelry. Unfortunately, once again since 2014, in 2019 consumption fall by 30% on a yearly bases by end of August. Contemporary elements are at stake: international trade tensions that accelerate economic cycle towards a recession and slow sales in the first two world markets, the United States and China; Brexit, which announces losses of growth in Europe and consequently increased destocking in jewelry from cutting to marketing

Production is excessive; it encourages miners to reduce their supply. Already controlled by the two main producers Alrosa and De Beers, it will soon be reduced by the exhaustion and closure of Rio Tinto’s Argyle mine in 2020. Eleven percent of global volumes will disappear, with further decreases within 10 years that will double attrition, without being fully offset by new production. 

At the same time, production of cultured diamonds for jewellery has increased by 50% each year for the past 5 years, with volumes in 2019 expected to be close to 6 million carats. They will have been manufactured by companies from across the Atlantic, China, India, Russia and Europe. Since each country can produce its own diamonds, within 10 years they will have tripled their market share to 20%. Why is the phenomenon global? Because technology provides an ecological solution to diamond production. In France, the sales of the leader, Courbet, have increased six fold, more than one in two cultured diamonds are bought for a wedding, the balance for celebrations and self-purchases, soon its stones will be of French origin.

Prices

Mining and cultured diamonds are both 100% two authentic diamonds with identical structures. The first, more than a billion years old is produced at an average cash cost of $100, a carat is sold for an average of $11,000; but its production is not eternal, mines will be running out and investments in mineral exploration have declined. The latter is manufactured in three weeks, thanks to economies of scale its cost of production is continuously decreasing, at about $300 it has already been divided more than tenfold in 10 years. Its production being by definition with no shortage, i.e. a certain eternity, its market price should eventually be lower than the traditional diamond, thus bringing, like any revolution, an equity linked to progress. However, depending on retailers’ differentiation strategies, the selling price range of a one-carat cultured diamond is wide, between $800 to $9,000. 

Loss of references

The price signal of a diamond, another gemstone or precious metal is rarely linked to its glitter or relative scarcity – otherwise the price of platinum should be higher than that of gold – but of the social status it symbolizes: buying prestige and without constraint. 

Lavish, elitism and dreams have fabulously built a luxurious sociology of natural diamonds. That is why I believe the emergence of the cultured diamond hits this symbolism with its three codes: the first is science, a cultured diamond is the High-Tech that takes possession of emotion; it is ethics that controls through blockchains a transparent production that has never been linked with conflict; and third, ecology established as a new social value and new luxury: consuming diamonds as much as before, but preserving the planet 

The shock of the two diamonds is cosmic. It is that of a resurrected Nicolas Flamel, abandoning the failure of the transmuting lead into gold to triumph over that of carbon to diamond; it is therefore the shock of a loss of references for financiers who anticipate casualties in their investments in natural diamonds, while his status is crumbling in favor of other precious stones such as emerald and ruby; It is also the shock of the cultured stone brilliance , a clear light inhabited by all and nothing at the same time, that is identical to the eye to that of the traditional diamond, to the point that the latter questions its own soul: Who am I facing this double? That is the question

Philosophy of the two diamonds.

This is indeed the question: question of the same nature as the philosophical revolution that will follow the announcement of life on another planet, or similar to the search for an identity in the face of its twin or another skin. Would the answer be that natural diamonds must evolve their dream of purity? Emeralds also seek a pure glow, but their particularities, their gardens, their jade clouds that would disqualify them if they were diamonds are they not defects capable of invigorating them, of humanizing them. If the two diamonds attack each others on their two lights, should one of them differentiate itself and illuminate its future with moon flakes in codified inclusions; where eyes will rest from a reverie, a hope for better days or a nostalgia for past days? Will these new landmarks be far from tradition, or will they illustrate the new state of mind of modernity and a different world of luxury?

Tradition versus modernity. The diamond becomes Janus, the god with two faces. A face turned towards the familiar, the traditional diamond always haloed with its solid and ancient virtues. But he is destabilized, blinded by his own lack of anticipation; his supporters are losing business by accusing mezza-voce the message of modern pro-Gaïa to be a false poetry, yet there would be another message to produce and in another form. The second face, the cultured diamond turned towards the unexplored, recorded excellent performances thanks to the Jevons paradox of a modernity that seduced a new avant-garde clientele. But, still frightened by its own breakthrough, like an explorer dumbfounded at the idea of mapping an immense just discovered land, this precious stone did not build the philosophy that must precede the emergence of its social status. This latter remains unclear, insufficiently worked, hesitant in the method because without the industrial discipline and the determined guidance of a stope team leader at work. It really needs to be done.

Tradition and modernity, the debate is old and brings us back to the jewelry discussions between the gold and platinum schools, when they were immobilized, stuck in the worst of situations, on the defensive, they finally decided to adapt and choose. Similarly, rather than an opposition between the two diamonds, what would an alliance playing on the two market segments be worth in the long term: traditionnal diamonds in stores, cultured diamonds in lightbox De Beers at $800/carat and marketed via the Internet?

It does not seem that this choice of strategy is futile; it is the result of fashion philosophy, that of a mix of ideas speaking a language that few people hear, but that everyone uses. With a certain magic, this creativity crystallizes the comings and goings of travelers in the strata of society. All these sailings reveal new social requirements that lead to technical innovations and new imaginations. The fairmined gold vector pointing to ethical jewellery is an illustration of a commitment to transparency that guarantees and strengthens the unique links of one’s own existence with life. That is why, over time, I believe that the pure hearts of the culture diamond will be in doubt: convinced today of protecting themselves through progress, will they one day contradict their first truths by being unfaithful to their youthful convictions and by jumping from one diamond peak to another diamond ?

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