They said they'd never do it, but De Beers has started selling lab-grown diamonds through a subsidiary called Lightbox Jewelry. And it's hilarious to watch how they're both selling and disparaging this new, far cheaper product line.
The myth and mystique surrounding diamonds is largely the work of a single company and its horribly insidious (or positively brilliant, depending on your perspective) advertising. De Beers, in conjunction with New York advertising agency N. W. Ayer, managed to convince 1940's America – and later, the world – that any man who was serious about his romantic intentions would seal them with a diamond.
A diamond is forever? That's De Beers. Gentlemen should spend at least two months' salary on an engagement ring? De Beers. Combining relentless marketing with what's been called "the most successful cartel arrangement in the annals of modern commerce," De Beers turned a solid form of carbon into a universally recognized symbol of status and romantic devotion.
Having concocted a billion-dollar magic aura around these pretty, but essentially worthless gems, De Beers has fought hard against a rising tide of far cheaper lab-grown diamonds, which are now so close to the real thing that – no joke – you need a portable spectrometer to tell them apart from the ones De Beers digs up in Botswana and Namibia.
De Beers' entire business model, worth upwards of six billion dollars a year, would crumble if customers twigged to the fact that there's nothing particularly special about these stones. And yet, De Beers has set itself up with quite a nice little side business manufacturing the "fake" ones. Named Element Six, De Beers' lab diamond production operation has turned out to be the world's lowest cost producer.
Until now, though, they haven't had to face the ignominy of selling them essentially side by side.
Claiming to have identified "an opportunity here that's been missed by lab-grown diamond producers," De Beers has decided to launch Lightbox Jewelry, a lab-grown diamond jewelry company dedicated to undercutting competitors on price.
And it's almost uncomfortable to watch the marketing team twist itself in knots trying both to sell the new product, but make it damn clear that the magical aura of the company's "real" diamonds most certainly does not apply to these ones.
Just listen to the disdain dripping off the press release: "affordable fashion jewelry that may not be forever, but is perfect for right now" ... "A fun, pretty product that shouldn't cost that much" ... "Sparkle and colors, at a very accessible price."
The press release bemoans customer "confusion" about what lab-grown diamonds are, and the fact that customers can't work out why they're not as special and magical as "real" diamonds despite, I'll remind you, looking so similar that you need a spectrometer to tell them apart.
To combat this, De Beers says that any lab-grown stone bigger than 0.2 carats "will carry a permanent Lightbox logo inside the stone. Invisible to the naked eye, but easily identified under magnification, the logo will clearly identify the stone as a lab-grown."
The company is also refusing to give the stones a traditional diamond rating, CEO Bruce Cleaver telling Australia's Financial Review "lab grown are not special, they're not real, they're not unique … we don't think they deserve to be graded. They're all the same."
Yes, De Beers, they are all the same. Sparkly, ostentatious trinkets that your advertising minions have been convincing people to buy for roughly 80 years.
Source: De Beers
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