Montreal firm overcomes obstacles to construct lab-grown diamond market

Montreal firm overcomes obstacles to construct lab-grown diamond market

Lab-grown diamonds’ market share is predicted to make up 10% of the worldwide diamond business by 2030

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Philipe Henriques has all the time had reservations concerning the diamond business. “I’m fairly positive lots of us have seen the film Blood Diamond,” the highschool social research instructor stated. The 2006 movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a diamond smuggler in civil war-era Sierra Leone, the place warlords pressure captive males to sift for the dear stones via muddy water at gunpoint.

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“I don’t assume it’s all the time like that,” he stated. “However I nonetheless assume there are lots of injustices.”

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Even so, Henriques knew he’d want to provide his girlfriend, Marjorie Gonzalez, a diamond engagement ring when he proposed. In June, he designed a lab-grown stone at Philippe and Co., a jeweler in Montreal, and introduced it to Gonzalez, who known as it the “ring of her desires.”

He was glad, too. His conscience was clear, just like the pear-shaped diamond he purchased, which was set in a gold band with a tapered end, smaller diamonds working their means as much as the principle stone.

It seems, millennials akin to Henriques are a key demographic driving the expansion of the lab-grown diamond business, however there wasn’t a homegrown supply till Montreal-based Groupe RSL Inc. in September grew to become the primary firm in Canada to create one.

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Making lab diamonds requires a mixture of information and experience that wasn’t beforehand current right here, Luke Sinclair, co-founder and chief monetary officer of Groupe RSL, stated. It’s data the corporate has needed to construct from scratch, however the potential payoff might be excessive as a result of lab-grown diamonds’ market share is steadily rising, and is predicted to make up 10 per cent of the worldwide diamond business by 2030.

“It’s additionally creating an entire new market section or client group that didn’t exist earlier than,” Sinclair stated. “We’re on the lookout for customers who’re of the view that perhaps diamonds don’t have to be mined … and admire that they’re getting one thing native. They know the place it comes from, from A to B, and that it’s going to be a high-quality product as a result of it’s made in Canada.”

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Philipe Henriques with his fiancée.
Philipe Henriques together with his fiancée. Picture by Handout/Philipe Henriques

Lab-grown diamonds had been first produced by Normal Electrical Co. 50 years in the past, however have turn into extra widespread as know-how allows them to be grown sooner, cheaper and extra effectively. The marketplace for them is predicted to develop to $49.9 billion in 2030 from $19.3 billion in 2020, and China is the world’s high producer.

Henriques needs his stone had been produced domestically as a substitute of in China. For the reason that stone was sourced from afar, he has lingering doubts about whether or not it was certifiably lab-grown. However there have been no lab-grown diamond corporations based mostly in Canada when he bought the ring.

Sinclair plans to capitalize on customers akin to Henriques on the lookout for a “native contact.” This, he stated, will make Groupe RSL diamonds extra aggressive than these sourced from China and elsewhere.

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The thought to create a diamond-growing enterprise within the first place got here when Sinclair was planning to suggest to his girlfriend, however couldn’t discover a diamond that was socially accountable, domestically produced and environmentally pleasant.

“A part of the rationale we needed to get began is as a result of a lot of the lab diamonds are coming from abroad, which we consider didn’t make a lot sense, since a lot of the diamonds are bought in North America,” he stated.

The native contact, nonetheless, comes with an even bigger price ticket.

“Canadian mined diamonds are historically offered at a premium,” Sinclair stated. “We consider that being the primary and solely producer in Canada … and being powered by renewable electrical energy and whatnot will place our product within the premium vary.”

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‘A brand new business’

Constructing a first-in-Canada lab-grown diamond enterprise hasn’t been with out its challenges.

“We now have had problem discovering experience, however that primarily pertains to the truth that we’re creating a brand new business right here,” Sinclair stated.

Groupe RSL should additionally cope with a deeply entrenched mined diamond business. Canada ranks third on the earth within the manufacturing of tough mined diamonds — those who have but to be reduce or processed. It has 5 energetic diamond mines, most within the Northwest Territories, they usually produced 18.6 million carats of tough diamonds valued at C$2.25 billion in 2019.

However Canada’s diamond historical past is comparatively younger, hardly older than Henriques. It dates again to 1991 when diamond hunters Chuck Fipke and Stuart Blusson discovered the kimberlite that might turn into Ekati, Canada’s first diamond mine. (Ekati is now owned by Vancouver-based miner Lucara Diamond Corp.)

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Across the identical time, the time period “blood diamond,” or “battle diamond,” emerged, as insurgent teams in Central and West Africa waged wars financed by the sale of diamonds to western consumers.

The business took a public relations hit with the discharge of the Blood Diamond film, which depicts the casual, diamond-centred financial system financing the 1991-2002 Sierra Leone civil warfare, involving baby troopers, warlords and smugglers.

Although it was only a film, it had a profound cultural impression. Some credit score the movie with serving to to bolster The Kimberley Course of Certification Scheme, which has 85 nations attempting to forestall battle diamonds from coming into the market.

Canada ranks third in the world in the production of rough mined diamonds.
Canada ranks third on the earth within the manufacturing of tough mined diamonds. Picture by Maxim Babenko/The New York Instances

In nature, diamonds kind in carbon veins 100 to 200 kilometres underground, over a span of 1 to three.3 billion years, underneath 900 to 1,200 C of intense warmth and 725,000 kilos of stress per sq. inch — roughly equal to 150 elephants sitting on a scrabble tile.

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However Groupe RSL grows its diamonds in a vacuum, which implies it doesn’t want such stress or time, simply warmth. Sinclair stated the vacuum is inside a microwave, and contained in the vacuum is a plasma reactor, which holds a plasma chamber. Right here, diamond seeds simply three to 10 millimetres broad and 0.3 millimetres thick are positioned.

The scientists suck the air out of the vacuum and change it with a gasoline combination of hydrogen and methane. Then they activate the microwave and warmth the seeds to a excessive temperature, which separates the methane from the carbon atoms, which fall onto the diamond seeds.

The method known as chemical vapour deposition (CVD), although it sounds a bit like science fiction when described.

However Eira Thomas, chief govt of Lucara, stated CVD isn’t as environmentally pleasant as customers might imagine.

“Lab-grown diamonds should not essentially greener diamonds,” she informed Kitco Information. “The creation of a diamond in a lab requires great base-load energy. Sure, if you happen to’re plugged right into a inexperienced grid, then perhaps that’s doable. However you’re definitely not doing that with solar energy.”

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CVD requires fairly a little bit of electrical energy, Sinclair stated, however “being based mostly in Quebec, we’re fortunate sufficient to tug hydroelectricity from the grid on the lowest vitality costs in North America. The method could be very, very sustainable. We produce our diamonds with a really small footprint, and we have now renewable vitality, next-to-zero emissions.”

Even so, an environmentally pleasant product isn’t sufficient to sway client opinion, he stated.

“As our society turns into extra environmentally acutely aware, we’ve seen {that a} client is mostly not keen to alter their behaviour based mostly solely on sustainability,” he stated. “Tesla’s form of proven us that when a client is introduced with two viable choices, it’s going to select the extra sustainable possibility.”

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Cheaper, however not low cost

The price of producing lab-grown diamonds has considerably decreased over the previous few years, Sinclair stated, but it surely’s nonetheless costly, particularly once you add in delivery prices.

“It’s important to take particular care to make sure they’re shipped in a safe method, which could be very distinctive to our product. They’re small, however insecure,” he stated. “It’s very totally different than the entire mining business. It’s far more predictable within the sense that what we put in, we all know what we’ll get out after a sure period of time, however that doesn’t make it cheap; it simply makes it totally different.”

Henriques paid $6,000 for his 1.72-carat diamond and band from Philippe and Co. He estimates he would have paid $10,000 for the stone alone had he bought a mined diamond.

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“I ended up getting a a lot bigger diamond than I might have if it had been mined,” he stated. “Significantly bigger, particularly with at the moment’s costs.”

However Laferriere & Brixi Diamantaires Inc., a jewellery purchaser with places in Quebec and New York, stated in a weblog publish that the value of a lab-grown diamond is its deadly flaw. Lab-grown diamonds are cheaper, however retail costs will proceed to fall as they turn into extra common, so the worth of the diamond will depreciate over time.

Henriques, nonetheless, is unconcerned concerning the resale worth, as a result of he doesn’t plan to resell it. Even when mined diamonds had been comparably priced, he stated he nonetheless wouldn’t have purchased one.

A $6,000 pretend?

Previous to the Kimberley Course of, a mined diamond benefited from a degree of anonymity. A blood diamond regarded similar to an ethically sourced diamond.

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The availability chain of lab-grown diamonds is shorter and extra clear, for higher or for worse. You’ll be able to detect if a diamond is lab-grown utilizing specialised tools. Some folks, akin to Henriques’ dad and mom, consider that is the mark of an inferior product.

“They thought it was artificial,” Henriques stated, “like those you get for a highschool commencement ring.”

Patrick Godin, former chief govt of the now defunct Stornoway Diamond Corp., based mostly in Longueuil, Que., informed The Diamond Loupe, “There’s nothing improper with lab-grown diamonds as a product, but it surely can be harmful, as a result of the day you will have a mixture of artificial and pure diamonds, it may well kill the market. If customers have no idea what they’re shopping for, their confidence will tank.”

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That’s partly as a result of a diamond’s worth is decided by public notion. Within the Nineteen Thirties, few People proposed with a diamond, however De Beers Group’s A Diamond is Endlessly promoting marketing campaign succeeded in equating the dear stone with eternal love, primarily “inventing” the diamond engagement ring.

However millennials akin to Henriques consider the entire business is fictitious. The diamond market doesn’t regulate itself, he alleged, however is as a substitute managed by a not-so-invisible hand: the diamond corporations themselves. And for many years, 90 per cent of the diamond business was managed by a single firm, London-based De Beers, which regulated the accessible inventory.

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However, some folks assume diamonds must be price nothing. For one factor, scientists on the Massachusetts Institute of Know-how in 2018 discovered that diamonds are extra widespread than beforehand believed, since there are probably one quadrillion tonnes of tough diamonds beneath the earth’s floor.

Sapphires are a lot rarer than diamonds and price US$25 to $11,000 per carat on common, in comparison with US$1,300 to $16,500 per carat for diamonds, in response to Diamond Professional, an internet diamond-buying information.

“I’m exaggerating a little bit bit, however you may make a diamond out of a burnt banana if you happen to actually needed to,” Henriques stated.

However even when the intrinsic worth of mined and lab-grown diamonds could also be a query mark, when he seems on the ring on Gonzalez’s finger, “It makes me take into consideration the cash I spent on it,” he stated, “but in addition how a lot I like my great wife-to-be.”

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