Just two years ago, lab grown diamonds were fetching prices nearly on par with natural versions. But it's still rated as a consumer category with potential by many UAE jewellers. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: They look the same, have more or less the same chemical structure inside of them, and both have the certifications to prove it.

Yet, a substantial price difference is now building up between natural diamonds and those stones grown in labs, giving off the same sort of sparkle and caratage. This is the issue facing jewellery designers and retailers in the UAE (and elsewhere) about whether they should be focusing on lab-grown diamonds as well.

Some of that indecision is rubbing off on consumers in the UAE, at a time when lab-grown diamonds were expected to develop into a major category of its own. Some potential customers Gulf News spoke with gave a split verdict on whether or not they were keen on buying lab-grown diamonds.

Abdul Salam
Yes, we were evaluating whether to introduce lab diamonds as part of separate collections..." - Abdul Salam K.P., Vice-Chairman at Malabar Gold & Diamonds Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

Yes, we were evaluating whether to introduce lab diamonds as part of separate collections – but lack of transparency in pricing within the supply chain has made it difficult to decide one way or other," said - Abdul Salam K.P., Vice-Chairman at Malabar Gold & Diamonds. "Especially when the price drops hit 50 per cent or more for lab-grown diamonds.

“The question was being asked by shoppers why lab-grown diamonds had to have the same premiums when the making charges are significantly lower.”

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Not just about ‘emotion’

The price difference – local jewellers say of 25-75 per cent – between natural and lab diamonds has played out only over the last 12 months or so. In 2021/early 2022, jewellers – including some of the biggest names in the world – either launched lab diamond collections or was just about to launch.

It was felt consumers were ready for it. In the UAE, there is a consumer base, especially among the younger lot, who have acquired tastes and the inclination to buy the lab versions. (Plus, Leonardo DiCaprio was an early investor in one of the lab-grown diamond ventures that came into prominence, and there was true sense of feeling that these stones could match up to whatever the Earth had to offer in natural ones.)

Then the price drops started to happen for lab grown studded collections internationally, and that’s when some of the doubts started to creep in.

As in gold, diamonds can have it too

“If there are differences in gold – 22K, 18K or lower mixes – and each comes with its own buyer, why not the same for diamonds?” said Chandu Siroya, Managing Director of Siroya Jewellers, one of the biggest names in the Dubai precious metals trade. “Not every aspiring buyer can afford to pay for a natural diamond studded wedding ring or jewellery. That’s where lab grown versions come in.

“We were among the first in the UAE to launch standalone collections, based on stones imported from India, Italy or the Far East. The price difference and all the required info was always made available to shoppers.

“As with gold jewellery, natural and lab-grown diamonds can co-exist and shoppers can decide what’s best for them. Even with this price softening, one can go around Dubai Gold Souq and you will find a majority of jewellers now have lab grown diamonds as part of their collections. It’s the market that decides what should be sold – and shoppers want them too.”

Chandu Siroya
"Gold has its variants, 18K, 22K, you name it. With lab grown, shoppers get to decide what best suits them and their budgets. Lab grown diamonds will soon find a bigger niche in the UAE" - Chandu Siroya of Siroya Jewellers Image Credit: bjewelled

What exactly is a lab-grown diamond?

They are just as ‘real’ as natural diamonds mined from the bowels of the earth, but if anything the natural have gotten pricier over the ages. Check out some of the auctions of late, and natural diamonds in various hues have been fetching record prices.

Mass produced lab-grown diamonds are a different category all together, they are akin to fast fashion and costume jewellery.

- Richa Singh, Managing Director – India and Middle East, Natural Diamond Council.

“They are something you buy casually on an impulse, and wear because you are in the mood for it. Consumer feedback shows they do not consider LGDs for auspicious or authentic occasions in their lives. So, I believe that both cater to the young audience, but at very different price points, for different occasions and for very different reasons.”

We believe in the story, emotion and rarity of natural diamonds; and our consumers value the same. We have had people across generations come to us, for the heirloom and investment value of a natural

- Muhammad Tamjid Abdullah, Deputy CEO of Jawhara Jewellery

What of the ‘early’ buyers?

Jewellery industry sources say that there were some early buyers who took to lab grown just as the hype was building around it two years ago. “If DiCaprio found value in a lab grown venture, a lot of people thought it was the Next Big Thing,” said a shopper who bought in 2021. “The pitch by the retailer was it was the same compared to natural diamonds, but with a ‘slight’ price difference.

“The price differential only widened in the last 2 years.”

It’s such concerns that retailers have to address, and convince new shoppers to give it a try. As Siroya says, it’s always about the pricing – minus the hype. “They are buying real diamonds, certified by some of the best entities in the business,” he said. “It’s jewellery for occasions, but comes at more affordable rates.

“And consumers in the UAE are learning fast – I have shoppers who have ordered solitaire wedding rings set in lab grown stones. Maybe, the emotion is there as well – with some shoppers...”

We have noticed a rising trend of stackable jewellery where people are mixing and matching metal colours but allowing their diamonds to shine, as a reflection of their personalities. When you can have so much fun with natural diamonds, why would a younger consumer be allured by mass-manufactured replica

- Nishith Shah, CEO of La Marquise Fine Jewellery, makes it clear what he thinks of the debate