Mumbai—It was a process that took India’s natural diamond industry more than three decades to accomplish—the transformation from smaller, dispersed manufacturing units to massive, centralized complexes with state-of-the-art equipment.
The country’s emerging lab-grown diamond industry has managed to accomplish the same in a just a few years.
At the apex of the new segment of the industry are factories at mega-scale, employing thousands of skilled artisans and with turnover totaling many millions of carats.
Consider companies like Greenlab Diamonds, Lumex or Kira; some of the networks they have created are mind-boggling.
Greenlab has more than 1,000 reactors, 2,500 skilled employees and an annual production capacity of 2 million carats.
Lumex, which describes itself as an agile marketing and distribution company that can scale its operations as per market conditions, has access to a network of suppliers that can offer up to 200,000 carats of polished to the market.
And Kira, which is just a few months old, is staking claim to the title of currently being the largest grower in the world, with a 700,000-square-foot facility in Surat employing 2,500 workers.
Large swaths of the industry are adopting so-called green energy, such as solar or wind power, and are focused on some of the now popular sustainable development goals—women’s empowerment, energy-efficient processes, and recycling of materials to the extent possible, to name a few.
And most, if not all, of those at the helm are young professionals who have roots in families with a long history in the natural diamond business.
It seems difficult to believe this transformation is taking place against the backdrop of a major dip in price.
In his September “State of the Diamond Market Report
,” industry analyst Paul Zimnisky observed, “As of Q3 2023, a sampling of 1- to 3-carat lab-diamonds offered at retail are priced at an average 80 percent discount to that of equivalent-quality natural diamonds.”
He pointed out that the average amount spent on engagement rings in the United States (about $5,500 to $6,500) in 2023 could buy either a 1-carat round natural diamond or a 2.75-carat lab grown one.
Five years ago, the cost of a 1-carat natural diamond was equivalent to only a 1.4-carat lab-grown diamond.
Data provided by Edahn Golan
, another analyst who tracks trends in retail sales of diamond jewelry in the U.S., shows lab-grown diamond prices are down 28 percent year-over-year in August.
He reports, “The price gap between natural diamonds and lab-grown diamonds is wide and growing. In January 2020, the retail price of a 1-carat round lab-grown diamond was 35 percent less than a comparable natural diamond … Currently, the price gap is 76 percent even as the price of natural diamonds is declining.”
The gap at wholesale is even wider, more than a 90 percent discount, which is 10 percent higher than it was a couple years ago, observers say.
According to figures from the Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council, lab-grown polished diamond exports are down 27 percent year-over-year for the April-August 2023 period dropping to $562.5 million from $765.9 million a year ago, though industry sources say that in carat terms, exports are at prior-year levels.
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Large players in the lab-grown diamond manufacturing and distribution segments seem relatively unfazed by the drop in prices.
Vishal D. Mehta of Lumex, which has integrated operations from the trading to retail stages of the pipeline said, “Such trends are reflective of a market that is trying to find the balance between supply and demand and appropriate level of pricing. We have seen it happening in other industries, such as electronics, when technology creates new products and segments, and there is rapid expansion once the changes gain acceptance.”
Smit Patel of Greenlab Diamonds said currently there is “overcapacity in production” and the “surge in supply has outpaced consumer demand.”
The industry has moved past the initial level of prices set during the “high-demand, limited supply” phase. Competition has increased, pushing prices down, even though demand also has increased steadily over the past few years.
Rajesh Lakhani, partner at Kira, said, “Earlier, the prices were relatively high and there was a need for stability and normality, which has now been established. The sector is moving in a positive direction, even now we daily see several new traders and retailers indicating an interest in buying loose lab- grown diamonds or jewelry.”
Analysts believe that even at the lower price levels, manufacturers are able to cover production costs.
Though there has been some accounting loss in value of stock held, including for goods given out on memo, the total value loss is much lower than it would have been for businesses in the natural diamond segment.
Capex (capital expenses) in the sector also is low for now. Some part of the infrastructure at every stage of the lab-grown diamond pipeline, beyond the initial growing, has been taken over from what the natural diamond industry established earlier.
So, what’s next? There appears to be a near unanimity among major players that the market is young and evolving, with its potential clearly established.