An overview of the diamond market by Marie-Hélène Corbin-Lelièvre, founder and CEO of LLG
A mythical gem that draws admiration, fascination and often desire: the diamond is best known as a precious stone. Yet only 20% of world production by weight is used in jewellery, the rest being utilised mainly for industrial purposes.
Diamond as an industrial material
Diamonds offer specific properties making them a sought-after material in many industrial sectors of the economy. With a hardness of 10 on the Mohs scale and its high density, diamond is the hardest of all minerals. It is insoluble in acids and bases, has a low electrical conductivity (insulation) while offering a high thermal conductivity. Diamonds are therefore ideal as an abrasive for drilling, cutting, grinding and polishing. They are used in the manufacturing of certain tools and equipment as well as in the automotive industry, high technology and research.
The first synthetic diamonds
Due to high mining operation costs, natural diamonds are expensive. Too expensive for most factories and science labs for which they are intended. As from World War II, the South African group De Beers worked in collaboration with General Electrics to develop synthetic diamonds. The patent was filed in 1950.
Less expensive than natural diamonds, synthetic diamonds were initially intended exclusively for the industry. But the market evolution has gradually changed the situation.
The year 2000: a turning point
The last 20 years, the diamond market has seen many changes.
- New mining players like Stornoway in Canada and Alrosa have emerged
- The globalisation of markets and the political instability of several diamond producing countries have led to an increase in fraud (imitations, illegal sales).
- In order to limit the flow and trading of “conflict diamonds” (rough diamonds used to finance wars and guerrillas against governments), the Kimberley Process was launched in 2003, supported by a UN mandate. It federates administrations, as well as civil and industrial societies in more than 80 countries.
Synthetic diamonds in jewellery
In 2018, producers of synthetic diamonds like De Beers have decided to conquer the jewellery market. Synthetic diamonds cover an increased demand for diamonds from emerging countries like China and India. Labeled “lab-grown” or “man-made diamonds”, these diamonds sparkle as much as natural diamonds. At a lower price point, they respond to the socially responsible concerns of a new generation of buyers.
Complexity and confusion
Both for individuals and professionals (gemmologists, jewellers, appraisers), the fact that synthetic stones are more accessible today is a new challenge. In order to avoid confusion, they must be able to tell the difference between a natural gem and a synthetic diamond. But the complexity of the processes and treatments makes identification difficult, if not impossible, with the naked eye. Only sophisticated equipment combined with in-depth knowledge – two conditions that are met by LLG – can make a difference.