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Explained: What are lab-grown diamonds that are getting a Budget push?

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said India needs a solid lab-grown diamond industry. These ‘environmentally-friendly’ diamonds have been gaining popularity for the last few years

A worker checks a diamond at a diamond polishing workshop in Ahmedabad on 10 January
A worker checks a diamond at a diamond polishing workshop in Ahmedabad on 10 January (AFP)

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In her Union Budget speech on 1 February, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a research grant for five years to Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) to boost the production of lab-grown diamonds in the country.  "Lab-grown diamonds is a technology and innovation and energy driven sector with high employment potential," the minister said in her speech.

Lab-grown diamonds are slowly gaining ground in India, pulling in the younger generation with their mix of technology, lower price and eco-friendly tag, as Lounge wrote earlier, pointing out that the technology had improves so much that if you are shown both natural and lab-grown diamonds (LGDs), chances are you won’t be able to tell the difference.  

Also read: Pandora is going big on lab-made diamonds

Do lab-grown diamonds look different from the real thing?

No one would be able to differentiate the two till they are put under a microscope. LGDs are not imitation diamonds, as cubic zirconia or moissanite are. LGDs have the same chemical, physical and optical properties as the ones formed over billions of years beneath the earth. It takes 15-30 days to create them in a laboratory in Surat in Gujarat, India’s diamond capital. 

How much cheaper are lab-grown diamonds?

They are cheaper—a one-carat mined diamond could cost as much as 5 lakh while its lab-made counterpart may be priced at 1-2 lakh.

Sitharaman's boost for the lab-grown diamond industry points towards its growing popularity. A 2021 Lounge article states India is on its way to becoming a hub for the production and processing of LGDs. The country, which produced 1.5 million carats last year, is playing catch-up with China, the current world leader with an output of three million carats, says a Bain & Co. report released in March 2021. 

From a global perspective, production of LGDs rose to six-seven million carats last year, while mined diamonds fell to 111 million, having peaked at 152 million in 2017, notes the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, a public-private corporation, in Belgium. The total market share of LGDs is expected to account for 10% (estimated at 19.2 million carats) of the worldwide diamond market by 2030. 

Much of the demand is coming from American, European and Australian shoppers, who, like Jhaveri, are seeking affordability and turning away from mined jewels as unethical and environmentally harmful. In India, awareness of LGDs is growing slowly, say experts.

Also read: World’s No. 1 jewellery maker is ditching mined diamonds

Are LGDs as environment-friendly as they are made out to be? 

Pooja Sheth, founder of Mumbai-based Limelight Diamonds, which describes itself as India’s largest lab-grown diamond brand, says, in the Lounge article, a carat LGD saves 109 gallons of water and 250 tonnes of land extraction. “Plus, we have all seen Blood Diamond to know how problematic mining is. All of this is absent in an LGD," she adds, referring to the 2006 film on conflict diamonds.

The highly regulated mined-diamond industry, in the firing line for decades, begs to differ. Sachin Jain, managing director of De Beers India, told Lounge: “The majority of LGDs are produced using fossil-fuel energy, and with the very high energy requirements for producing LGDs, this can have a significant impact. LGDs deliver minimal socioeconomic benefit in the developing world."

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