By Scott Patterson and Alex MacDonald
A small team of scientists working for De Beers is scrambling to stave off a looming threat that could tarnish the luster of natural-mined diamonds: high-quality man-made stones.
In the past few years, lab-grown diamonds have become indistinguishable from natural diamonds to the naked eye and are growing in sales. While still a small fraction of the market, synthetic gems could account for nearly one-tenth of rough-diamond sales within five years, according to Morgan Stanley estimates.
Made by a small group of private companies as well as giants such as De Beers itself, man-made diamonds could undermine the value of the entire diamond industry, some experts say. These diamonds have the same chemical and physical properties as their natural counterparts. They sparkle like mined stones, are hard and durable enough for intense industrial purposes and—perhaps most important—can be marketed without any hint at their provenance.
Infinite quantities of man-made diamonds could be theoretically produced, upending a market that depends on a perception of relative scarcity to secure premium prices.
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