De Beers' diamonds won't come exclusively from mines anymore. In a significant about-face, the company announced Tuesday it is getting into the synthetic diamond game with Lightbox, its new man-made diamond brand that will offer full carat stones from roughly $800 beginning in September. That price point is essentially the point: While one of De Beers' genuine one carat diamonds costs about $8,000, Bloomberg reports similar lab-made ones currently run about $4,000. That means synthetics made by De Beers' rivals (among them Warren Buffett's Helzberg's Diamond Shops and Leonardo DiCaprio-funded Diamond Foundry) will be extremely expensive in comparison and the gulf between synthetic and real prices will widen, making the two categories more distinct.
CNN notes it's a big change for a company whose execs had pledged to never sell lab-grown stones; it even created a machine whose purpose is rooting out such fakes. It justified the change by citing consumer demand, with CEO Bruce Cleaver calling Lightbox "affordable fashion jewelry that may not be forever, but is perfect for right now." He called a spade a spade: "Lab grown are not special, they're not real, they’re not unique. You can make exactly the same one again and again." Lightbox's GM similarly painted the stones as low-brow in comments to the Washington Post: "This is something you might buy for a best friend or for a Sweet 16." The diamonds will be available in white, pink, and blue and made in a facility in Portland, Ore., that De Beers plans to sink nearly $100 million into. (Read more De Beers stories.)