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August 09, 2021
Host Chew Wui Lynn: This month Pandora the world's largest jewelry brand announced that it will no longer be using mined diamonds, instead it will only use diamonds grown in labs as part of its sustainability and accessibility efforts.
Host Stanley Leong: So is this a sign of a growing preference for lab grown diamonds among consumers? And if so, will it have any impact on the value traditionally placed on natural diamonds? Time to speak now with Ashley Lecaine who is one half of the husband-and-wife team behind LeCaine Gems. Ashley, thank you for making time to speak with us today.
Guest Ashley LeCaine: Thank you Stanley. Thank you Wui Lynn.
The distinct difference between Moissanite and Diamond:
Host Stanley Leong: Now Ashley I understand that you specialize in Moissanites and that is a different type of diamond as compared to what some people may call natural diamonds. Tell us exactly what Moissanite is.
Guest Ashley LeCaine: Moissanite is very close to the diamond in terms of its physical properties. It is a different type of stone. It’s not a diamond, neither is it a lab-grown diamond. The diamond traditionally is 100% carbon, whereas the Moissanite is 50% carbon and 50% silicate, making it the second hardest gemstone after the diamond. It is really very popular in the US and UK over the [last] twenty years because it is a diamond alternative. Instead of getting a diamond, the next closest thing is the moissanite, to replace the diamond.
The Types and Properties of Lab-grown Diamonds:
Host Chew Wui Lynn: Apart from Moissanite, are there other types of lab-grown diamonds and how do these compare with mined ones?
Guest Ashley LeCaine: There are actually two types of lab-grown diamonds right now in the market and we are referring to the real lab-grown diamonds. Not diamond simulants, not cubic zirconia, and not even moissanite, because the moissanite is of a different category [of] gemstone. There are two types of methods we use for lab-grown diamonds. The first is “HPHT”, which stands for High Pressure High Temperature. The next one is “CVD”, which is the Chemical Vapour Deposition. Both of them yield the same results to create the lab-grown diamond within a few weeks.
Host Stanley Leong: So are lab-grown diamonds as you describe it even closer to natural diamonds or is moissanite an even closer alternative to diamonds.
Guest Ashley LeCaine: The lab-grown diamonds are definitely a closer alternative to the diamond. Because it is made a hundred percent the same in its physical properties, it is purely carbon. The Moissanite as mentioned earlier, is 50% carbon. But in terms of clarity and cut and carat weight, they are very similar. Both are very close to the diamond, but the lab-grown diamond is definitely the one that is identical to the diamond. However, at this juncture, the market prices of the lab-grown diamonds are pretty high. It is about 40-50% of the natural diamond price, so a lot more people are opting for the moissanite which is only about one-tenth of the natural diamond price.
Price Disparity between Moissanite, Lab-grown Diamonds and Natural Diamonds:
Host Chew Wui Lynn: Why is Moissanite so much cheaper?
Guest Ashley LeCaine: The technology to create the moissanite has been around a longer time. So the market has [an] abundance of moissanite, whereas the lab-grown diamond was really made popular within the last few years and it is really expensive to be creating the lab-grown diamond, and of course because of the value of the diamond. The lab-grown diamond can be viewed as similar to the diamond, hence you get this marketing exception that we can sell the lab-grown diamond almost like the real thing. So the price is really closer to the diamond [as] compared to the Moissanite.
The Environmental Impact:
Host Stanley Leong: Ashley what drew you and your husband Michael to look at lab-grown diamonds and even Moissanite, as compared to natural diamonds as a business that you have set up?
Guest Ashley LeCaine: The diamond is, you know like the old saying goes “A girl’s best friend” and all right. We have actually researched very deeply about Moissanite, about the diamonds and all. You know there are still people asking for diamonds. And if they want to have diamonds, the ethically sourced diamonds, we would have to check out for them on which is the best option [and] where we can source for the diamonds. But ethically speaking, moissanite would be one that has a lesser carbon footprint. It impacts the environment less than the mined diamond. So after much pondering on the business model, we decided that moissanite would definitely be what we want to use moving forward for our jewelry, for everything we design, versus the mined diamonds. So it’s pretty much for the environmental impact that spurred us to go into this option [of the] Moissanite. Of course there are right now a lot of the lab-grown gemstones available in the market so it is actually better because now consumers have more choices on the type of gemstones they can choose using the lab grown method, instead of going for mined options.
Host Stanley Leong: It sounds very similar to how we often also on our program talk about food and proteins and then you have plant-based protein, it's somewhat similar right?
Guest Ashley LeCaine: It’s definitely similar, just that we did hear of a customer compar[ing] the real diamond and the lab-grown diamond like a lab-grown baby and a real baby which is kind of a bit off. Because we don’t compare the baby and the diamonds, they are totally different things. I think currently, some in the market are trying to sell the diamond and the lab-grown diamond as the same thing. Which ethically speaking, it is still not the same thing, one is lab-created.
Host Chew Wui Lynn: Now there are purveyors of natural diamonds who are trying to hit back at that argument that lab-grown diamonds are environmentally friendly. Well, these people say that they aren’t that environmentally friendly, especially for those lab-grown diamonds that come from China, where the use of coal powered electricity is widespread. What would you say to that?
Guest Ashley LeCaine: I think at the end of the day we just need to figure out the company that is sourcing these diamonds. Whether they are fake endorsers of the environment, [whether] they are just wanting to make money out of it. So for us, when we get our supplies, we ensure that we know the supplier. We don't purchase from anybody who just sends us a price list and tells us they have got the best price and so forth. We work with suppliers that we know, who share the same vision as us. There are many different production companies right now in the world making lab-grown diamonds and the lab-created gemstones. There are variations of creating such gemstones, so we got to weigh the pros and cons as well. We need to find out exactly what this company is offering us, whether they are making the stones the way we would expect them to do.
How Moissanite is created at LeCaine Gems:
Host Stanley Leong: Yeah, you are talking about lab-grown gems, lab-made diamonds. Actually how is moissanite made, if you can take us into the lab and give us a brief as to how it comes about.
Guest Ashley LeCaine: For the moissanite, we use this technology where we create a block exactly like a stone. It is highly electrolyte, with the components of carbon and carbon silicate. So it will be polished just like a stone, like a rock. Polished then cut, with different facets, with different cuts like a diamond or the fancy shapes. With the final hand polishing, we get the stone. It requires more electricity to do it, so as compared to mined diamonds [where] you need to go into a mine, [with] the whole process of mining where you have a lot of dangers involved. Everything else with the moissanite is done in the lab.
The Grades of Lab-grown Diamonds:
Host Chew Wui Lynn: And are there different grades for lab-grown diamonds?
Guest Ashley LeCaine: Yes there is. So the grades for the diamonds, lab-grown diamonds and the moissanite, they are pretty much similar. We have the 4Cs: we have the cut, the clarity, carat weight as well as the colour. ‘D’ ‘E’ ‘F’ are the best colours. We can go for the ‘D’ colour. and provide very excellent clarity and cut for the consumers. Because they are all lab-created, they can be controlled. So the 4Cs exist in the lab-created gemstones as well.
Host Stanley Leong: Oh okay, you mentioned about those colours and you gave us some codes there. What exactly are those colours, are they like white, off-white?
Guest Ashley LeCaine: So ‘D’ ‘E’ ‘F’ are the best colours for diamonds. Generally, the ‘D’ ‘E’ ‘F’, they command the highest prices for diamonds because ‘D’ being the best colour, is whiter. So as you go down the alphabetical order, like if you get to ‘G’ or ‘J’, it is slightly yellower. And then if you go for a very good clarity like a ‘VS’ or ‘VVS’, you get a stone where you can see lesser flaws and inclusions. So that’s how consumers actually go for their preferred cut and clarity.
Trends in Consumer Preferences:
Host Chew Wui Lynn: This is Money Mind on CNA 938 and we are discussing the characteristics of lab grown diamonds as well as natural diamonds with Ashley Lecaine, from the jeweler LeCaine Gems. Ashley, you mentioned earlier that one of your customers compared lab-grown diamonds and natural diamonds to the process of growing a baby, artificially versus naturally. Do you think that demand for natural diamonds will always be there? Or are you seeing younger customers showing a preference for lab-grown gems?
Guest Ashley LeCaine: Okay that is a very good question. So the young consumers are really very savvy about the choices. They do extensive research, they check with us on the types of diamond alternatives available and then they start the design discussion process with our jewelry designers. So that on its own is actually away from the traditional diamond sourcing process. They just want to go more for the design of the rings, more so than whether it is a real diamond, or the sapphire or anything. But to answer the question about whether the market will still go for natural diamonds- Yes. There are various groups of consumers out there, and there will always be the supporters of genuine gemstones. They value them differently, they see them as heirloom pieces, something that they can keep and pass down to their kids, their future generation. However, because there are so many lab-grown choices right now, it is possible that the mined choices will become a little bit scarcer in the future. Not sure when but that might make them actually a little bit more expensive or priced higher than it is supposed to be priced, like now.
Value of Diamonds, Lab-grown Diamonds and Moissanite:
Host Stanley Leong: But that also then suggests that if you’re planning to invest, and maybe make money in time to come, natural diamonds would be more the option of choice wouldn’t it?
Guest Ashley LeCaine: Yes and no. Because natural diamonds do hold some form of value compared to the lab-grown diamonds for sure. For the lab-grown diamonds I am pretty sure there is no resale value at this point in time. But not all natural gemstones have the same resale value. Generally, when you purchase, you’re buying a story behind this stone- why would you want to pick this stone for its clarity, colour, and its brilliance. But when you hold onto the ring, it’s pretty much that you want it for yourself, unless somebody’s in the market to do investment or reselling of the diamond, and that probably has to be a bigger piece, something that has a royal story behind it.
Host Chew Wui Lynn: So at the end of the day, do you think for younger consumers it's all about the affordability of lab-grown diamonds as opposed to ethical issues or environmental issues?
Guest Ashley LeCaine: A mix of both. I think it is really financially sound to be deciding on getting an engagement ring that is a lot more affordable. Because you’re getting a ring no less you’re getting a beautiful ring as well. Imagine saving for the rainy days right now, especially [with] what is happening these two years. I think it is easier for a young couple to say, “Hey we’re saving this chunk of money, instead of spending $10-20k on a diamond ring. I can get a really good engagement ring, a really beautiful one that is a thousand to three thousand dollars.” So that is a huge chunk of savings.
Host Chew Wui Lynn: What are some consumer trends that you are noticing amidst the pandemic, are people still willing to splash out on jewelry?
Guest Ashley LeCaine: Yes. I think people are buying not just jewelry, but they are buying something that they feel that since they are going to buy a pair of wedding bands or engagement ring, they might as well spend it on something that is affordable, that is not too exorbitant but yet they can get something they can customize, like a ring with a design on the milestone, on the journey. There is definitely a demand during the pandemic, because regardless, young couples are still going to get married. For the individual customers who are collecting jewelry all their lives, for them they are more open to moissanite and lab-grown gemstones I would say. For those customers, they love to get matching sets that would suit their personality and fit their overall statement style. So pandemic or not actually, this group of customers are still there. It's just that I think, if you ask them to make more sensible decisions, to cut down on costs of getting a mined diamond to open themselves to more lab-grown options.
Host Chew Wui Lynn: Alright, thank you very much for sharing the latest trends in the jewelry business. We were speaking with Ashley Lecaine, she's from the jeweler LeCaine Gems. You can check out their products at lecaine.com
Check out our Moissanite Jewelry Collections: https://lecaine.com/collections
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