Will lab-grown gems supplant mined stones?

Executive Summary

The business of producing and selling diamonds, long known as conservative and insulated from change, is being reshaped by a wide spectrum of forces that include volatile demand, new production technologies, advances in laboratory gem-making and questions about financial transparency. The mining of diamonds is still dominated by a few large companies, such as De Beers and Alrosa. But consumer demand has been stagnant as tastes change and marriage rates fall, especially among the Millennials who make up an increasing share of the market. Lab-produced diamonds are improving in quality and growing in availability. Companies are moving to improve transparency, including the use of blockchain technology to track diamonds and assure customers that the diamonds they buy do not contribute to conflicts or human rights abuses. And online sales of diamonds are rising much faster than sales in brick-and-mortar stores.

Some key takeaways:

  • Sales revenue for diamonds is growing at a far slower rate than it did in the early 2000s.

  • Millennials now comprise the largest part of the market for diamonds in the United States.

  • The industry is exploring ways to open itself up to outside investment, including the creation of cryptocurrencies backed by diamonds.

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Resources for Further Study



Kanfer, Stefan, “The Last Empire: De Beers, Diamonds, and the World,” Farrar Strauss Giroux, 1995. An author traces the origins and history of the world’s largest diamond company.

Zoellner, Tom, “The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire,” St. Martin’s Press, 2006. An investigative journalist explores the diamond industry, from mining to polishing to marketing, including the issues with conflict stones, or diamonds controlled by or that benefit armed rebel groups.


Baker, Aryn, “Blood Diamonds,” Time, 2018, http://tinyurl.com/h8q2nv4. The newsmagazine examines the Kimberley Process’ impact on the diamond industry and the continuing worries over conflict stones and human rights abuses at diamond mines.

Daniels, Jeff, “Blame millennials: Diamond jewelry business in a rough spot,” CNBC, June 16, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/ycxeeukl. A journalist looks at changing consumer preferences for engagement rings and other diamond jewelry, as younger generations are marrying less and later and are increasingly concerned about the environmental and human costs of producing luxury items.

Epstein, Edward J., “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?” The Atlantic, February 1982, http://tinyurl.com/y6unm5eb. A journalist explores how diamonds came to be seen and marketed as rare and precious, and controlled by a small group of companies.

Griffin, Oliver, “Diamond Mines Are Drying Up. Are Lab-Grown Gems the Answer?” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 26, 2018, http://tinyurl.com/ycmyoy5x. A reporter discusses how more diamond companies are producing and marketing lab-grown stones and what this trend means for the industry.

Popper, Nathaniel, “Diamonds as a Commodity,” The New York Times, April 13, 2012, http://tinyurl.com/y6uvqcbd. A journalist examines attempts to turn diamonds into a commodity and how they have traditionally been traded.

Roberts, Jeff John, “The Diamond Industry Is Obsessed With the Blockchain,” Fortune, Sept. 15, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/y7xq9vss. An article explores how the diamond industry is embracing blockchain – a tamper-proof trading ledger – to track stones as they move from mines to jewelry stores.

Sullivan, Paul, “A Battle Over Diamonds: Made by Nature or in a Lab?” The New York Times, Feb. 9, 2018, http://tinyurl.com/y6wbdk4y. A journalist reports on how lab-grown diamonds are made and whether they will hold their value.

Reports and Studies

“The Diamond Insight Report 2018,” De Beers Group, 2018, http://tinyurl.com/y7tkt4rd. In this annual report, the diamond giant outlines industry trends, focusing on how the Millennial Generation is changing the market.

Boele, Georgette, and Maria Anne van Dijk, “Diamond Sector Outlook – Nothing is Forever – part 2,” ABN Amro, Dec. 14, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/y8pjnj3w. Analysts for the Dutch bank examine the challenges in the global diamond market, including the rise of lab-grown diamonds and decreasing profits for the part of the supply chain that turns rough diamonds into polished gems.

Linde, Olya, et al., “The Global Diamond Industry 2017: The Enduring Story in a Changing World,” Bain & Co./ Antwerp World Diamond Center, Dec. 11, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/y7dtd3j7. Analysts describe trends in the diamond sector, including slow demand for diamond jewelry and struggles for financing and profits among polishers and cutters.

Linde, Olya, Oleg Geyler and Ari Epstein, “The Global Diamond Industry 2018,” Bain & Co./Antwerp World Diamond Center, accessed Dec. 27, 2018, http://tinyurl.com/y9lg5v27. Analysts describe trends in the diamond sector, with a heavy focus on the role of lab-grown diamonds.

The Next Step


“Israel diamond exchange to launch cryptocurrency backed by gems,” AFP/The Times of Israel, Feb. 7, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yblvogqm. Israel’s Diamond Exchange has launched two cryptocurrencies based on diamonds, one for use by investors and the public, and another solely for dealers to increase transparency in the market.

Callahan, Thomas, “Hello Diamonds to Launch First Diamond-backed Cryptocurrency on BCH Smart Contract Platform,” Ibinex News, Nov. 26, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yaqrxtpc. A diamond-trading platform is set to roll out the world’s first cryptocurrency based entirely on the value of diamonds, called DiamCoin, in early 2019.

Weinland, Don, and Krithika Varagur, “Tokenised diamonds to test limits of cryptocurrency investing,” Financial Times, May 6, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yb5lucsm. A new form of asset-backed digital token, issued by a Singapore-based group, is tied to diamonds whose value is audited monthly to assure that the tokens’ own valuation is accurate and secure.

Generational Shift

“Millennials and Gen Z Dominate Diamond Demand,” Rapaport, Sept. 13, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y79zvrbq. Millennials and Generation Z accounted for two-thirds of global diamond jewelry demand in 2017, and Millennial spending is projected to overtake spending by Baby Boomers by 2020, according to a 2018 De Beers industry report.

Hanbury, Mary, “Millennial attitudes are forcing a massive change in the diamond industry,” Business Insider, May 10, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y7twlpgv. Millennials are increasingly interested in purchasing lab-grown diamonds instead of mined ones, according to a survey by a luxury-focused consumer marketing firm.

Harilela, Divia, “Millennials like their diamonds ethically sourced or man-made, and jewellers are responding,” South China Morning Post, updated July 17, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y7hxwlkw. Millennials are more concerned than previous generations about environmental and ethical considerations when shopping for a diamond engagement ring, according to top industry members.


Diamond Producers Association
Hoveniersstraat 22, 2018, Antwerpen, Belgium
Industry group representing the world’s largest diamond mining companies that markets and promotes mined diamonds through advertising campaigns and governmental lobbying.

Gemological Institute of America
GIA World Headquarters, Robert Mouawad Campus, 5345 Armada Drive, Carlsbad, CA 92008
Fax: 1-760-603-4080
A nonprofit institution engaged in research and education about diamonds and other precious gemstones.

Global Witness
1 Mark Square, London, EC2A 4EG, UK
+44 (0)207 4925820
Fax: +44 (0)207 4925821
International nongovernmental organization that researches and exposes corruption and human rights abuses in many fields, including in the diamond mining and trading industry.

331 Cooper St., Suite 600, Ottawa, ON K2P 0G5 Canada
Nonprofit organization that researches and advocates for the protection of human rights and the environment in the mining and gem-trade industries.

International Diamond Exchange
260 Madison Ave., Suite 204, New York, NY 10016
Fax: 1-212-382-2671
Online diamond-trading platform and provider of news and other information about diamond prices and trading trends.

International Diamond Manufacturers Association
Industry organization for all sectors of the global diamond business, with a focus on developing best practices and participating in the Kimberley Process certification scheme.

International Grown Diamond Association
860 Aviation Parkway, Suite 900, Morrisville, NC 27560
Association that promotes and supports the development of the lab-grown diamond sector.

One World Trade Center, 28th Floor, New York, NY 10007
Company that provides news, information and analysis on and for the global jewelry industry and organizes large international shows and conventions.

Rapaport Group
1212 Avenue of Americas, Suite 801, New York, NY 10036
Fax: 1-646-572-8535
Email: ny@diamonds.net
International group of companies providing information, analysis and an online trading platform for the diamond and jewelry industries.

World Federation of Diamond Bourses
Elikaanstraat 62 B-2018, Antwerpen, Belgium
+32 (0) 3 234 91 21
Fax: +32 (0)3 226 40 73
Organization that regulates trading and resolves disputes in the world’s diamond exchanges.

DOI: 10.1177/237455680502.n1