With Synthetic Diamonds Becoming Mainstream, What Will Become Of Botswana?

Today, Pandora A/S, the world's largest jewelry manufacturer, launched its first synthetic diamonds collection and also announced that it will stop using natural mined diamonds in its jewelry production, replacing them permanently with the lab-manufactured synthetic diamonds.

Pandora cited concern over unethical production methods of natural diamonds as well as the long-term sustainability brought about by synthetic diamonds as the main reasons for adopting the latter. Younger generations, according to diamond jewelry market reports, are increasingly keen to purchase jewelry from sustainable producers and natural diamonds, with their questionable environmental and socio-economic impact on producing countries, are failing to meet that sustainability threshold.

This of course is not good news for Botswana, a country where diamonds contribute 75% of export earnings and about 40% of government revenue. This change in stance on natural diamonds by the world's largest jewelry manufacturer is likely to see smaller manufacturers also following suit, a situation which would deal a huge blow to natural diamonds prices and consequently the country's entire economy.

Synthetic diamonds have been part of the diamond industry for quite a while now but this move by Pandora is set to accelerate their market presence. Over this time, while De Beers, Botswana's partner in the 50/50 Debswana venture, has embraced synthetic diamonds and is dabbling in their production, marketing, and retailing, the country itself has not and is not doing much to prepare for the inevitability of synthetic diamonds market domination.

Instead of investing in the necessary Research & Development as well as technology on synthetic diamonds by utilizing the country's vast experience and expertise in diamond production acquired over the years, it seems like Botswana is rather choosing to ignore the synthetic stones trend as a passing fad that will not rival natural diamonds, a bad move.

The fact that synthetic diamonds are not only cheaper but more environmentally sustainable points to them being the future in a world that is becoming increasingly environmentally conscious and less hooked on the "sentimentality" offered by natural diamonds, substituting it with the pragmatism of sustainable development that comes with synthetic diamonds.

The need to diversify Botswana's diamond mining, which has been and still is more focused on just the mining, has long been apparent but to this day, apart from the establishment of Okavango Diamond Company to market and sell the country's rough stones and Diamond Trading Company Botswana as well as the establishment of a few private diamond polishing firms in the capital Gaborone, nothing else much has been done to push the diamond beneficiation drive to diversify the industry from just mining.

Synthetic diamonds are a chance for the country to make up for the lethargy in not diversifying the diamond industry over all these years. Trying to instead fight the adoption of these lab-grown stones because we believe they are less valuable than natural ones will be a losing battle. The best the country can do is realize that the world is changing and then change along with it.

There was a time when the worst fear was the country eventually running out of diamonds to mine. With synthetic diamonds now becoming the norm, it seems like our worst fear should not be running out of diamonds but having diamonds that no one has use for or is interested in. But it does have to come to that. We still have a chance to catch up with the world by investing in our own lab-grown diamonds industry. The clock is ticking.