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Embracing the Splendour of Lab-Grown Diamonds

By Bianca Husodo

Katherina Jebb
 
Diamond Foundry x Dover Street Market: Ana Khouri

In a collaboration with above-ground diamond-maker Diamond Foundry and Rei Kawakubo’s retail behemoth Dover Street Market, six contemporary jewellery designers created one-off pieces featuring the foundry’s lab-grown gemstones. Pictured here is New York-based Brazilian jeweller Ana Khouri’s white-gold necklace, festooned with a bastion of the rocks. A round-cut diamond of 2.07 carats dangles as its sublime nucleus. (Photograph: Katherina Jebb)

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Diamond Foundry x Dover Street Market: Hunrod

Hunrod is a label that Michèle Lamy — muse and creative accomplice to husband Rick Owens — heads with jeweller and long-term friend Loree Rodkin. Asked what jewellery is to her, she answers, “Most definitely an extension of oneself.” Lamy practices what she preaches: Her arms are often covered a platoon of bangles, her hands with rings hailing from different decades, her teeth bejewelled in gold and precious rocks. For the collaboration, Lamy and Rodkin reinterpreted their label’s gritty snake ring. She says, “We used one diamond only — the biggest they could give us!”

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Diamond Foundry x Dover Street Market: Delfina Delettrez

“I’m both inspired by the organic and the inorganic,” says Delfina Delettrez, an Italian jeweller and fourth-generation Fendi. “As a jeweller of my generation, I want to be open to the new.” To her, offering an ethical alternative is the next step. Her designs for the collection span from earpiece to modern engagement rings. “I chose different cuts and bigger carats,” the designer says. “These pieces are [an exploration of] punk versus classic. As if a young girl would open her mother’s jewellery box and drill micro precious piercings throughout the diamonds to make them more “real” and rebellious.”

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Diamond Foundry x Dover Street Market: Hum

“We don’t understand much of lab-grown diamonds, so we can’t explain the difference between them and natural ones, but the innovative material made the possibilities of jewellery become endless,” says Yuka Inanuma and Tomohiro Sadakiyo, the duo behind Tokyo-based jewellery label Hum. An advocate for recycling metals from industrial waste (“Before it became our jewellery, it might have been the basis of scrapped computers and catalysts for cars.”), the designers hand-made an avant-garde ring inspired by the classic solitaire ring (“It’s a centre stone ring with no front or back.”) and refined it using leftover metal powder from their atelier’s production. “By the time this ring was completed, different perspectives were instilled within the facets,” says the duo.

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Diamond Foundry x Dover Street Market: Sophie Bille Brahe

“To me, diamonds are the most enchanting stone,” says Danish jeweller Sophie Bille Brahe. It doesn’t matter if they are formed by an operated machine. Brahe, often looking to the cosmos inspiration (this predilection stems from her ancestor, the seminal astronomer Tycho Brahe), opted for large stones in marquis and round shapes that ornamented simple linear earrings — like stars scattered across the night sky. She says of her design, “I wanted the diamonds to balance on as little material as possible, so they have a clean and modern look.”

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Diamond Foundry x Dover Street Market: Raphaele Canot

Raphaele Canot first approached synthetic diamonds with a dose of scepticism. It’s only natural. Prior to launching her namesake, the French jeweller worked for Cartier and De Beers, companies that exclusively worked with mined diamonds (last year, De Beers launched Lightbox, its first line of lab-grown diamond jewellery). “I was born and raised in the industry to believe in the beauty of nature,” says Canot, “yet, I was captured by the freshness of DF’s [Diamond Foundry] man-made diamonds. They make my new classics beautifully relevant.” She selected three cuts and builts elongated necklaces around them. “My coup de foudre was for the rose cut cushion that’s set in an extra-long rose gold chain — the longest I ever used.”

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When Frances Gerety coined the slogan “A Diamond Is Forever” for De Beers’s advertising campaign in 1947, what the copywriter had in mind was the glittering, hard-to-find gemstone that needed to be extracted from the depths of the earth. No one would have thought that the now-famous catchphrase — which inspired the title to a ’70s James Bond film to Kanye West’s lyrics — could also be pinned to gems birthed in laboratories.

Unlike past diamond substitutes like cubic zirconia or Swarovski crystals, today’s above-ground gemstones are the spitting image of their natural antecedents, down to the atoms. They are physically, optically and chemically alike.

It begins with a carbon seed. Placed within a microwave chamber, the seed is then superheated into a glowing plasma ball. This process creates particles which crystallise into diamonds in a matter of weeks. To the naked eye, and even under the unapologetic scrutiny of a jeweller’s loupe, the final stones are indistinguishable from their nature-made cousins. So refined are they that a machine was created for experts to differentiate between natural and lab-made diamonds.

At the centre of the scientific novelty is the divisive question of what defines a diamond. Is it its chemical topography, as argued by the synthetic manufacturers? Or is it its provenance: concocted under the wraps of Mother Earth rather than conjured in the belly of a machine?

The diamond is a paradoxical jewel. A linchpin to an industry that sits atop sentiment, its evolving definition is something many would like to mould in their profitable favour. Last year, the United States Federal Trade Commission updated the country’s jewellery guideline, in acknowledgement that lab-grown diamonds are real gemstones. Albeit the trade commission’s limited jurisdiction to the country, the decision is a culmination of the shattering of traditionalist beliefs the world over.

But the answer is most definitive, perhaps, in the perception of the wearers, and those who set the stones for them. “Molecularly, man-made and natural-made diamonds are identical,” says Italian fine jeweller Delfina Delettrez. “As a jeweller of my generation, I want to be open to the new.”

Delettrez is one of the six contemporary designers that Silicon Valley’s aboveground gemstone pioneer Diamond Foundry and Rei Kawakubo’s retail behemoth Dover Street Market have collaborated with on a collection of jewellery made of lab-grown diamonds. The other selected designers include the likes of Hunrod’s Michèle Lamy to Raphaele Canot.

“With Cartier and De Beers on my CV, I was born and raised in the industry to believe in the beauty fo nature,” says Canot. “I feel the new generation of man-made diamonds is opening a chapter of self-esteem, self-indulgence and guilt-free gifts. Man-made diamonds don’t mean less, they mean more.”

In the face of environmental decline, the currency of conscious sustainability holds influence. To mine a single carat diamond, an approximate of 200 to 250 tonnes of earth needs to be excavated, while 60 litres of air pollution and 65 kilogrammes of carbon dioxide are inadvertently emitted. Cultivating diamonds using the hands of science and technology — Diamond Foundry prides itself in using renewable energy sources — is considerably greener in its practices.

Given carte blanche to toy with Diamond Foundry’s unlimited supply of diamonds, the six designers created 18 pieces of jewellery that travelled across five of Dover Street Market’s stores around the world. Above, a closer look at the brilliance of machine-sculpted jewels.

The Diamond Foundry x Dover Street Market jewellery pieces are displayed at Dover Street Market Singapore until the end of August 2019.