Mumbai—There is a growing buzz among gem and jewelry exporters in India these days as lab-grown diamonds have rapidly become a larger part of the industry.
In a period of five years, India’s exports of polished lab-grown diamonds have soared, from $197.9 million in 2017 to $1.72 billion in 2022, Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council figures show.
It is an incredible leap, by any measure.
Multiple factors have fueled this growth, but the industry believes this is just the beginning.
At the just-concluded Hong Kong jewelry show, GJEPC Chairman Vipul Shah said the figure could reach $8 billion within the next three to four years.
The mood is bullish, further buoyed by two recent policy announcements made during the Government of India’s budget for 2023-24.
To boost what was described as “a technology and innovation-driven emerging sector with high employment potential” in the short run, customs duty on import of lab-grown diamond seeds used in manufacturing was reduced from 5 percent to zero.
Further, with a view to “encourage indigenous production of lab-grown diamond seeds and machines, and to reduce import dependency,” a research and development grant of $30 million was announced, subsequently allotted to one of India’s premier technology institutes, IIT-Madras.
Anup Zaveri, director of Real Illusion, one of India’s leading exporters of lab-grown diamonds, believes the announcement has boosted the industry’s credibility and visibility.
“Indian-manufactured lab-grown diamonds have already developed a significant presence in the U.S. market,” he said, adding that this reflects the maturity of older players, now experienced and highly skilled.
His own company, which began in 2019 with 24 reactors now has more than 80 at its diamond-growing unit in Jaipur.
“The stones are cut and polished in Surat, and we have an established network of buyers among U.S. retailers,” he said.
Smit Patel of Greenlab, another large manufacturer with more than 1,000 reactors spread over four factories in Surat, said the lab-grown diamond segment of the industry already has seen “explosive and exponential growth.”
As convener of GJEPC’s Lab-Grown Diamond Committee, Patel said India’s capacity has doubled in recent years.
How Big Is This Segment Today?
Estimates by industry players, analysts and trade bodies place the total number of reactors at between 4,000 to 6,000, producing upward of approximately 1.5 million carats of rough annually.
These numbers are likely to continue to rise, as many companies invest in expansion, and existing units for polishing mined diamonds shift some of their capacity to polishing lab-grown diamonds.
Currently, the lab-grown diamond industry employs between 250,000 and 400,000 workers, and these numbers are clearly heading north.
Is This Growth Causing Oversupply and Price Correction?
In India, at least, no alarm bells are ringing over the dramatic drop in retail prices of lab-grown diamonds and jewelry. Most view this as expected due to the changing nature of the market.
Patel, of Greenlab, reflects the industry mood while stating that market dynamics will always result in some price swings, but the situation is “now stabilizing as more and more buyers are seeing the benefits of working with a consistent supplier.”
India, though a late entrant, has now developed capacities across all sizes, shapes, and colors.
Real Illusion, for example, deals in lab-grown diamonds between 1 and 10 carats in size, focusing on colorless rounds.
Zaveri said the company is also supplying lab-grown diamonds for bridal jewelry and opines there is a growing acceptance of the use of lab-grown diamonds for engagement rings and other wedding jewelry.
Greenlab has an even wider range of sizes, ranging from 2-20 carats. Last year, it manufactured a polished diamond of 27-plus carats, reportedly the largest lab-grown diamond made in India.
Both companies believe their earlier investments in technology and research and development are now paying dividends.
Their experiences are in sync with what India’s government is pushing for—investment in developing technology and expertise today that will yield dividends tomorrow.
The government’s Ministry of Commerce, which consulted with a joint committee of government, the GJEPC and industry representatives in allotting the grant to IIT-Madras, said research efforts would “make the technology available for start-ups at an affordable cost, increase employment opportunities, increase exports of lab-grown diamonds and thus play a significant role in fueling India’s economic growth.”
What Does the Future Hold?
It is almost certain there will be a rapid boom in production of lab-grown diamonds initially fueled by cheaper imports of seeds and, subsequently, by the entry of new manufacturers as technology becomes more accessible.
But there is another trend that is already surfacing—the move to manufacture lab-grown diamond-set jewelry for the export market. Many larger manufacturers already have launched forays in that direction, while new entrants abound.
An example is Dazzling Jewels, a part of the over-a-century old KGK Group, which already has a strong global presence across most segments of the gem and jewelry value chain.
Amar Singhvi, who heads the initiative, said, “We have newly entered this segment, less than a year ago, but the response has been very positive.
“We plan to focus on fashion jewelry for the U.S. and Middle East, with prices in the range of $200-300 per carat.”
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