Where are my cheap diamonds?
September 27, 2010 8:05 AM   Subscribe

Every few years I read a story about someone who can make artificial diamonds absurdly cheaply. Then I don't hear anything more, and I eventually notice that diamonds are not in fact absurdly cheap. What's going on? Are these stories just hype, or do the manufacturers just reach an eventual accommodation with De Beers?
posted by Joe in Australia to Science & Nature (30 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Diamonds aren't cheap. Cubic Zirconias are cheap.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:07 AM on September 27, 2010

Also, the diamond market is not a rational one. It is an artificial near-monopoly, with decades of advertising-based consumer manipulation behind it.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:12 AM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

See here for (non-consumer) markets where synthetic diamond is widely used.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:14 AM on September 27, 2010

What they said. You might be interested in the Wired article "The New Diamond Age" that explains a little more about it.
posted by crapmatic at 8:14 AM on September 27, 2010

Google "fake diamonds" and it links to sites like CARAT, Diamond Nexus labs, and Better than diamonds. I think that's what you're looking for. They can't top the advertising that regular jewelers spend, but they're out there.
posted by Neekee at 8:15 AM on September 27, 2010

Crapmatic, that article was the basis of the FPP I linked to. They say they have made big, cheap, artificial diamonds - and that was six or seven years ago! So where are they?
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:18 AM on September 27, 2010

When you say "where are they?", what do you mean, exactly? Macy's, for instance, has tons. If you mean "How come everyone isn't buying CZ instead of mined diamonds?", then see decades of advertising-based consumer manipulation behind it.
posted by rtha at 8:28 AM on September 27, 2010

Also, look up Moissanite.
posted by Neekee at 8:31 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

L'Estrange Fruit writes "Diamonds aren't cheap. Cubic Zirconias are cheap."

Synthetic Diamonds are not Cubic Zirconia. A synthetic diamond is essentially indistiguishable from a mined diamond except for the presence of invisible minute impurities. In large quantities those impurities result in Fancy (IE: Coloured but still transparent) diamonds. And they are cheap (compared to mined monopoly diamonds anyways); DL sells a 1 carat engraved diamond for $150. 3 carats for $450.
posted by Mitheral at 8:35 AM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Cubic zirconia is not diamond. The question relates to real synthetic diamonds, not other stones.

Gemesis is one manufacturer - their web page has links to find sellers. But for some reason the stones I see are all highly colored. Perhaps if they could produce uncolored diamonds they would be more popular.
posted by exogenous at 8:36 AM on September 27, 2010

The producer of the 3 carat for $450 stone linked by Mitheral admits "It's not a diamond."
posted by exogenous at 8:38 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

To expand on my point, De Beers has a chokehold on the diamond market and has for over a century. They are essentially the descendent corporation of a cartel formed to forcefully limit the supply of diamonds and trade on their apparent rarity. Combined with a staggering advertising spend that has moved the 'diamond engagement ring, should be X months salary' and 'diamonds are a girl's best friend' memes from localised, class-based phenomenon to near universal acceptance and you get to today's diamond 'market'.

It's the ultimate example of an inherently valueless physical commodity being given value based on manipulation. Or 'they're worth what you people are prepared to pay'. If diamonds were cheap(er), they'd lose the cultural weight that De Beers advertising has created for them.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:40 AM on September 27, 2010

I think no one sees the point in spending a billion or two dollars building a diamond factory, when you'd be competing with CZ and other dirt cheap diamond substitutes.

If you could come up with an artificial diamond that was literally indistinguishable from a mined diamond, you could maybe sell it to jewelers. But I don't think that's possible, if only because mined diamonds are now engraved with an ID number that can be traced to their source.
posted by miyabo at 8:42 AM on September 27, 2010

decades of advertising-based consumer manipulation behind

This sounds really interesting. Could you please expand on it?
posted by Tarumba at 8:42 AM on September 27, 2010

Also, moissanite is not diamond but is very, very hard to distinguish from diamond due to similar optical and thermal properties. I don't see it making huge inroads in the diamond market.
posted by miyabo at 8:45 AM on September 27, 2010

I highly recommend Tom Zoellner's book "The Heartless Stone." It's an amazing story start to finish.
posted by cyndigo at 9:07 AM on September 27, 2010

Gemesis, the company from the Wired article, has one online retailer selling them - Jewelnet - who have lab-produced diamonds coloured Yellow, Pink, Blue, Red, Orange and Green. $1,100 gets you a 0.69-carat orange diamond. No clear diamonds, though.

Apollo Diamond, another company from the Wired article, sells diamonds online here. They'll sell you a 0.31 carat diamond pendent for $1,100.

But if you just look to regular diamond retailers, $1,000 gets you a regular 0.5 carat diamond engagement ring.

At the moment I'd say the flood of cheap lab-grown diamonds is more like a trickle of regular-priced lab-grown diamonds.
posted by Mike1024 at 9:13 AM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Tarumba - Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond? Note the date.
posted by djb at 10:13 AM on September 27, 2010

Basically you have two groups of buyers:

1. Not interested in paying a premium. Wants something shiny. Buys CZ.

2. Interested in paying a premium. Wants to be able to brag about the cost. Buys mined diamonds.

The person who's interested in bragging rights won't buy a CZ - or a synthetic diamond. The person who's interested in the cheapest price tag won't pay more for a synthetic diamond.

The market wants either cheap, or diamonds. But not both.

Put another way, what's the point of a cheap diamond?
posted by ErikaB at 11:06 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tarumba - Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond? Note the date.

That's fascinating. Thank you for posting it. If it hasn't ever been turned into an FPP, please consider doing so?
posted by zarq at 1:05 PM on September 27, 2010

This sounds really interesting. Could you please expand on it?

Diamonds are a classic example of a Veblen Good -- something where demand falls as price decreases. (The Harpers article mentioned in that link is well worth reading).
posted by tallus at 2:12 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some of them are here. A woman I know - who could probably afford to buy a whole bloody diamond mine if she wanted to - shops at Secrets because they are much cheaper than 'real' stones but as nice to the untrained eye as the real thing.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 3:03 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Synthetic diamonds are not moissanite or CZ, they are diamonds. The disagreement right here shows the misconceptions out there. Despite the fact that synthetic diamonds ARE diamonds (chemically), just created synthetically and not mined, people are convinced they are somehow "fake" and there is a stigma to fake. There is a raging debate about this on the internet, and de beers continues to profit only if people believe that mined diamonds are the only "real" diamonds.

There is a market for synthetic diamonds, and its among people who want to be eco-friendly and blood free in gem buying. All gems here are manufactured: greenkarat.com

I'm assuming that since that wired article the manufacturers of synthetic diamonds decided to sell them at a premium rather than for a few hundred dollars so they would make more money, that's probably why they aren't cheap. They do exist though.

And for fun, check out the diamonds you can make out of your dearly departed
posted by rainydayfilms at 4:49 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

My engagement ring came from Diamond Nexus Labs. I like the fact that it is green and conflict-free, plus way cheaper than a mined diamond, but it looks gorgeous and gets tons of compliments. I tell everyone that it's a lab diamond. I love my ring and would highly recommend a lab diamond any day. SCIENCE!
posted by acridrabbit at 8:37 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was reading up on Diamond Nexus Labs and from all the research, it sounds like their diamonds are CZ?

CZ are decent, but don't they get scratched and lose their 'shine' after a few months?
posted by ijaaz at 6:09 AM on September 28, 2010

Secrets and DNL are simulants, not synthetic. Simulants 'look' like diamonds, where a synthetic IS a diamond.
posted by ijaaz at 6:16 AM on September 28, 2010

As many have pointed out, cubic zirconia and moissanite are simulants (fake, imitation, Diamond Nexus Labs, etc.) and can be bought for just a few dollars per carat. Synthetic diamonds (man-made, lab-grown, cultured, etc.) are real diamonds and have the same chemical, optical and atomic properties as mined diamonds. Fancy colors like orange, yellow and blue are easier to grow than white, and cost a fraction of their fancy mined counterparts, but are still thousands of dollars.

There are a couple companies that grow colored synthetic diamonds (D.NEA, Gemesis, Chatham), but the only two companies so far to grow white diamonds are Apollo through CVD and D.NEA through HPHT.

I run D.NEA and can say that we are not being suppressed by or in cahoots with DeBeers. In fact, DeBeer's Element Six division is the largest producer of synthetic diamonds, though just for industrial and research purposes. White diamonds are just very difficult to grow in gem-quality results. Right now (and for the past many years) it costs more to grow a white diamond than it does to mine one. Once you have a rough diamond, the polishing (hundreds of dollars per carat of rough) and grading costs are all the same as mined diamonds. Synthetic white diamonds only exist in very small quantities and limited sizes. It will be a few more years until there is any regular supply of whites in larger sizes, but even then, prices will be around the same as mined white diamonds. The costs just for the rough, cutting and grading will keep them in the thousands of dollars per carat price range, without even taking into account capital, machinery and R&D costs.

Most of our customers buy for reasons other than price. Synthetic diamonds are eco-friendly, conflict-free and high-tech so many people purchase for those reasons. They also make colored diamonds much more affordable, and IMHO a blue diamond looks way better than a sapphire.

You can learn more about white synthetic diamonds here.
posted by EEFranklin at 1:45 PM on September 28, 2010 [10 favorites]

Diamond Nexus Labs stones are not CZ or moissanite. I have had my ring for about a year and a half now - no scratches, still shiny.
posted by acridrabbit at 7:39 PM on October 19, 2010

@acridrabbit - DNL sells simulants, not real lab diamonds. See exogenous' link to their own site ("Yes, it is a diamond simulant"). Other companies have confirmed Diamond Nexus Labs sells cubic zirconia. Regardless of what they call it or how they market it, the fact is, it is not a lab created diamond and while it may be pretty in its own right, it isn't what the OP was asking about.
posted by EEFranklin at 2:34 PM on October 21, 2010

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