Yes, Diamonds Can Have Imposter Syndrome Too

How do you know you've “made it?” Or do you? Is the pursuit of trying to make it and then continually reinventing ourselves to make it to the next level what keeps us going in life? Or is it that we just refuse to believe our own success?

There's that laughably ironic and yet totally relatable Groucho Marx quote that Woody Allen appropriates at the beginning of Annie Hall that goes something like, "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member." It pretty much says it all: we're always trying to become something, until we achieve that something and even then, we still don't think we're worthy of it. Or maybe that's just me. And Groucho Marx. In any case, the modern-day version of this sentiment is called imposter syndrome.

The concept of imposter syndrome, or imposter phenomenon, was coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. They theorized that qualified, successful and intelligent people can sometimes feel like an “imposter” of their own achievements, explaining away their success as the product of luck and becoming crippled with fear that they’ll be revealed as someone who in fact has no idea what they are doing and will never be able to achieve that same success again. I can confirm that this is definitely a real thing. I also love this post by This Renegade Love on how to get over that self-doubt.

I’ve written before about how imposter syndrome kept me from really launching this project for almost two years because I felt a bit fraudulent: “Who am I to write about jewelry? I’m not a GIA certified gemologist, or a jewelry historian, or a former fashion editor. And there are already a million bloggers out there, with a million followers and they all used to work at Vogue so they clearly know what they’re doing…”

This inner dialogue was common, until a moment came over me when I realized that I had to stop feeling like a fraud in my own life. I had achieved all of the very things I had wanted and imagined since I was 14 and yet the only person who vocally thought I was a fraud was me. So, it’s time to shut up.

But thinking about imposter syndrome did tune me into the jewelry world equivalent: the mined vs. lab diamonds debate, with lab diamonds being the obvious imposters here. Or are they?

Lab diamonds, or man-made diamonds, are often erroneously referred to as “fake diamonds,” or synthetic diamonds, according to Ada Diamonds, a jewelry brand that offers its clients a range of designs using only lab produced diamonds. Ada explains that it is incorrect to call lab diamonds fake or synthetic because there is no synthesis required to grow a diamond in a lab. Man-made diamonds, they say, have the “same crystal structure, chemical composition, optical properties, and physical properties as a mined diamond.”

Since advances in technology over the past few years have allowed for lab diamonds of the quality and size required for jewelry to be made, it seems that they’re now the start-up du jour.

Leonardo DiCaprio has notably invested in Diamond Foundry, a Silicon Valley based company that makes lab diamonds. After perfecting its method over two years, the company launched to the public in 2015 and in late 2016 it acquired Vrai & Oro, an LA based direct-to-consumer jewelry start-up that was sourcing its diamonds from Diamond Foundry.

Similarly, the aforementioned Ada Diamonds and jewelry brand Brilliant Earth, which uses ethically mined and man-made diamonds in its designs, are also both based in California’s start-up mecca, indicating something of a trend here.

Given their “disruptor” factor, their 100% conflict-free status and their lower price tag (anywhere from 20-40% less has been cited), lab diamonds have all of the elements that typically appeal to the millennial set. They represent just $150 million of the $14 billion-dollar diamond industry, but are predicted to grow to $1.05 billion by 2020, according to a report by Morgan Stanley done in August 2016.

Unsurprisingly, the global diamond miners are not taking kindly to the rising awareness of lab diamonds. In May 2015, seven of the world’s leading diamond companies formed the Diamond Producers Association with the mission “to maintain and enhance consumer demand for, and confidence in diamonds,” and ensure “the long-term sustainability of the sector.”

The DPA launched its “Real is Rare” campaign in late 2016 with ads that feature a rather homogenous group of caricature-like, love struck young couples who seal their devotion with a “real” diamond. As a millennial, I find these campaigns to be completely cringe worthy, but they mark the first significant shot in the battle for the diamond market.

As in any argument, both sides claim their merits over the other. The DPA claims that mined diamonds are “of the earth” while lab diamonds require “enormous amounts of energy” to create. The lab grown camp claim that it takes the same amount of energy to grow a 1 carat diamond as it does to power the average US household for 25 days and they point to the detrimental environmental impacts that open-pit diamond mines have globally.

The whole thing comes off as a squabble between two groups trying to make money and is somewhat off-putting in this sense. Interestingly though, while the DPA’s tagline, “Real is Rare” is clearly a direct riposte to the burgeoning lab diamond industry, the implicit messages of its campaigns also strike me as a walk back of the original De Beers marketing campaigns that fabricated the tradition of diamond engagement rings back in the late 1930s and1940s. So, at the core it seems as though the DPA isn’t actually going up against lab diamonds, but is really battling its own historical message in order to appeal to modern couples.

Allow me to elaborate. We know that millennials respond to transparency and authenticity; they only part with their money when they have trust in a product and feel a real connection to it in some way. And when it comes to diamonds, this means not only ensuring the diamonds they buy are socially and environmentally ethical, but it goes all the way back to questioning the origin story of the diamond engagement ring altogether and whether they want to participate in the marketing construct that is the diamond engagement ring.

So, to combat this, two of the four Real is Rare campaigns feature couples rebelling against the tradition of marriage and the diamond ring that comes along with it, instead opting for diamond necklaces to profess their passion. While I do like their attempt at questioning this construct, Im still not convinced by the campaign.

Ultimately the diamond engagement ring isn’t going anywhere. According to the Jewelry Industry Research Institute, 75% of brides in the US wear a diamond engagement ring. While it does feel that De Beers pulled a fast one on us, (and don’t even get me started on the gender roles involved) the diamond engagement ring has now become so socially entrenched that it’s essentially now detached from its commercialist origins.

But back to mined vs. lab diamonds: some feel lab diamonds are less romantic and some worry they could be passed off as mined diamonds, while others still strongly question the origins and impacts of mined diamonds.

At the end of the day, if there’s anything that millennials like more than the truth, it’s the ability to take that knowledge and ultimately make our own choices. So, to both sides of the diamond debate, I would say: just be real. Nobody likes an imposter.

Lorraine Forster