At the heart of the Université Paris 13 in Villetaneuse and within the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), Guide-Joailliers had the privileged opportunity to preview the Diam Concept laboratory.
Alix Gicquel, president and co-founder of Diam Concept, sheds light on her journey and strategy for developing lab-grown diamonds.
How did you come up with Diam Concept?
Alix Gicquel: It all began in 1990 with the creation of the first “diamonds by plasma” research team in this laboratory at the CNRS in Villetaneuse. From the outset, the researchers gravitated toward the high tech applied to the industry. It’s only for the past three or four years that interesting new perspectives appeared in the jewelry world. So, in 2016, I created the company Diam Concept and, since the end of 2018, Philippe Pradel has served as its director general. The tech team is made up of two R&D engineers and a technician. Diam Concept is the first French producer of lab-grown diamonds for jewelry.
How are your diamonds made?
Alix Gicquel: We use the Plasma CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition, aided by plasma) technique involving successive layers achieved through a carbon condensation/crystallization process. A diamond seed, created by Diam Concept, is placed in a reactor. A plasma composed of methane and hydrogen is submitted to microwave heat, which causes the carbon to condense and deposit itself in the form of a diamond. After around 4 to 6 weeks, we obtain a rough diamond of approximately 4 carats. It will be cut like a classic diamond and end up as a diamond of around 1 carat.
Can you tell us about your collaboration with the jewelry house Courbet?
Alix Gicquel: The house of Courbet, located on the prestigious Place Vendôme, is a brand that positioned itself from the very beginning on creations using lab-grown diamonds. The co-founders, Manuel Mallen and Marie-Ann Wachtmeister, approached me some two years ago because they were interested in diamonds that were 100% “Made in France.” They created the first collection, Pont des Arts, to use French diamonds – Diam Concept diamonds – and unveiled it last November at a press conference. The Pont des Arts collection features a total of eight “Made in France” diamonds, with a larger diamond of 1.34 carats set in a pendant. It was clearly natural for us to give them the priority of our first diamonds for the commercialization of this collection.
What is your production capacity and do you plan to increase it?
Alix Gicquel: We have now, thanks to one sole reactor, produced some 60 diamonds of various qualities and colors going all the way to “E.” We can produce white diamonds and yellow ones with champagne or cognac nuances. We would like to expand our production capacity by 2023 to around 7,500 diamonds a year with more than two dozen reactors. All of this is made possible thanks to new investors. In addition, we have joined Accelair, by Air Liquide, which enables us to move and to accelerate the creation of the first production site.
Are there other similar laboratories?
Alix Gicquel: For Diam Concept, we conceived the very first large-scale reactor, which is the product of 30 years of research at the laboratory of the CNRS. It’s thus a huge investment, and in France, we are – to this day – the only ones. Yet on an international level, it’s new territory that’s up for grabs, especially with Diamond Foundry (in the United States), financed in part by the actor Leonardo DiCaprio. But Russia and China have also created important laboratories; their technique often relies on methods involving high pressures/high temperatures (HPHT). Some offer several diamonds of “D” quality (Russia) and others, it would seem, are more oriented toward mixed diamonds (China).
What’s the big deal about lab-grown diamonds?
Alix Gicquel: Lab-grown diamonds have a limited environmental impact (unlike open-pit mines) and the traceability of these diamonds is guaranteed. In terms of ethics, lab-grown diamonds are conflict-free and the work conditions conform to standards. In addition, while the extraction of natural diamonds is decreasing, the demand for diamonds is increasing. Therefore, we propose a viable solution for humans and the environment. The production of lab-grown diamonds in France emits less than 10 times the CO₂ in the atmosphere, with 20 to 50 kg/carat, compared to the values ranging from 200 to 1,000 kg/carat for mined diamonds. In terms of water consumption, it is negligible, as we use closed circuits to reduce our ecological footprint to the greatest extent possible.
Can you talk to us about cultured diamonds versus natural diamonds?
Alix Gicquel: In the United States, the “cultured” designation exists, but in France, it is still necessary to qualify these diamonds as “synthetic” or “lab-grown” because the law has not yet evolved to address this question. But as this exists for cultured pearls, we hope that it will soon arrive in France. This term is better aligned with the reality given that we are reproducing a natural process but in an accelerated fashion.
What is the market potential for lab-grown diamonds?
Alix Gicquel: Today, lab-grown diamonds represent only 2% of diamonds sold on the market, and the principal producers are located in the United States, Russia and China. Their price tag is between 30% and 50% less expensive. New emerging brands and large groups are beginning to show interest, like De Beers and others that will unveil themselves. To propose a French alternative with a short production circuit is a crucial bet for jewelry and especially for French brands. I am personally very proud to participate in this beautiful adventure!
Contact: DIAM CONCEPT
Interview by Kyra Brenzinger – translation from Jessica Volz
Captions for images:
1- Lab-grown diamonds form in a reactor, thanks to the Plasma CVD technique
2- Alix Gicquel, president and co-founder of Diam Concept, in her research laboratory
- Paris 13 University in Villetaneuse where the CNRS and Diam Concept are located
- Press conference at Courbet with the house’s co-founders, Manuel Mallen et Marie-Ann Wachtmeister, for the launch of the Pont des Arts collection featuring the first “Made in France” diamonds, produced by Diam Concept
- House of Courbet pendant from the Pont des Arts collection starring a 1.34-carat diamond created from an 8-carat rough lab-grown diamond
- House of Courbet set from the Pont des Arts collection
- House of Courbet bracelet from the Pont des Arts collection
- A diamond seed, created by Diam Concept, on which carbon layers are deposited
9- A deep-brown, fancy-cut diamond (2.38 carats) created by Diam Concept
10-A faint-brown diamond (0.40 carats) certified by the International Gemological Institute