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.
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