A Great Heights lab-grown diamond ring.
Courtesy Great Heights
A diamond can take anywhere from 1 billion to 3.3 billion years to form in nature; the alchemy happens when carbon atoms that are miles deep into the surface of the Earth begin to crystalize due to the intense heat and pressure that occurs beneath the Earth’s crust. The rocks are then brought up to the Earth’s surface through eruptions that bring up the volcanic matter to the top. The long process and the manpower that it takes to mine the diamonds account for the high pricing of the rocks, but technology has produced a more cost-effective method of producing the coveted stone.
A number of companies creating lab-grown diamonds have emerged on the market, including Great Heights, the New York-based start-up founded by Ryan Bonifacino and Alex Weidling. Lab-grown diamonds are created in a tiny fraction of the time it takes natural diamonds to form, which results in lower costs. But just what is a lab-grown diamond, and why should consumers explore them as an alternative to mined diamonds? I quizzed Bonifacino about the process behind creating lab-grown diamonds, the difference in pricing, and why he thinks they’re more ethical than mined diamonds.
What is a lab-grown diamond and why is it less expensive than mined diamonds?
A lab-grown diamond is exactly what it sounds like, which is a real, authentic diamond that is formed with scientists duplicating nature’s process above ground. A lab-grown diamond is just as real and contains the exact same properties as one that is formed underground. The only thing that makes a lab-grown diamond different from a mined diamond is its origin. A lab-created diamond touches fewer hands than in the mining process so it’s more cost-effective. Great Heights diamonds are priced by 40 to 60 percent less compared to mined diamonds.
How can a process that can take millions of years occur in a lab? What makes it faster?
Lab-grown diamonds are created with a process that mirrors what occurs in nature, but without the massive environmental and ethical harm. What happens beneath the Earth’s surface is replicated in a lab using advanced technologies. The process takes between six and ten weeks, and yields diamonds that are ready to be cut and polished, then graded and certified by the same gemologists at organizations that certify mined diamonds.
How do lab-grown diamonds compare to real diamonds compositionally and aesthetically?
Lab-grown diamonds are physically and chemically identical to mined diamonds in every way but free of environmental and ethical harm. Lab and mined diamonds use the same IGI certification and inspection process, which includes grading for carat size, cut quality, color, and clarity. Every Great Heights diamond is IGI certified and an SI2 (slightly included) or better — making them eye-clean to the naked eye.
What is your background and how did it lead you and your co-founder to start Great Heights?
Great Heights combines my direct to consumer expertise at places like Alex and Ani, Outdoor Voices, Tuft & Needle with my co-founder Alex Weindling’s third-generation diamond merchant knowledge to create an online retail experience to guide consumers through the biggest decision of their lives.
Describe the experience of buying a diamond from Great Heights.
In stores, there’s only so much inventory you can offer to a customer, but Great Heights has one of the largest selections of lab-grown diamonds in the world. Our algorithms identify every attribute that you can for a diamond, including the Four Cs — carat, cut, color, and clarity — to match our consumers with the perfect stone for their budget. We partnered with the award-winning CGI team from Game of Thrones to show dynamic 360-degree views of the ring to simulate exactly what you would see in stores. We also have a 100-day no questions asked return policy — the best on the internet, as well as free shipping and free ring resizing.
What’s the benefit of buying diamonds online versus in person?
The modern consumer shops online. Starting as brick and mortar would limit our customer interactions, where we can immediately access them digitally. Great Heights services exceed the in-store experience. We eliminate the jewelry counter intimidation while providing an unprecedented level of customization in lab-grown diamonds and bespoke engagement ring creation.
What is the investment value of a Great Heights diamond?
Shopping for lab-grown diamonds, or any diamond jewelry for that matter, comes with layers upon layers of deception and sales practices that are arguably predatory. It’s important to do your research, and not rely solely on third-party reviews—many of which can be paid for. It’s also important to shop around, get educated in person and online. Nobody buys a diamond on the first visit. What the diamond industry doesn’t tell you, ever, is that you don’t need to spend that much to accomplish what you want, and they certainly don’t speak in plain English as it relates to the four Cs. One of the most important things to understand as a first time engagement ring buyer is the amount of money you save on the purchase relative to the remainder of your life, as opposed to thinking about the diamond purchase as a store of wealth. For example, if you’re 25 years old, spending $4,000 on a 1.5 carat lab grown diamond (with no visible imperfections, a respectable cut and color) versus $8,000 for a 1.5 carat mined diamond with the exact same cut, color and clarity, the $4,000 savings when invested in an index fund becomes $30,000 or even greater once you reach retirement. Lab grown diamonds are 40 to 50 percent less expensive than mined diamonds, the larger the stone, the larger the percentage, and of course a way to ‘life hack’ your way into having more things in the future and also get the street cred for not supporting digging holes in the earth visible from space.
How much more affordable is a Great Heights diamond than a real diamond?
The price differential varies depending on the size and quality of the stone, but Great Heights is 40 to 60 percent less than a comparable mined stone. On the higher end, we have several $100,000 and up stones, the mined equivalent would sell for millions at the big auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s. So the larger, or the more rare, the higher the ‘discount’ from mined pricing.
Who is your target market?
We target consumers who are very aware and socially conscious as they’re perfect for the lab-grown space. Typically that is females ages 25 to 44 and their significant others. The proposer is usually highly informed from their partner, either directly or indirectly through friends and family.
The future is bright for Great Heights. Awareness and demand for lab-grown diamonds has grown significantly over a short period of time. Great Heights owns one of the largest selections of lab-grown diamonds in the world, so we are a leader in the category in developing and customizing products for our consumers. In 2020, we will be launching more fashion-based jewelry categories incorporating lab-grown diamonds, exploring retail concepts, and looking beyond selling in North America.