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.
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 financial 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.
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.