Diamonds are forever, goes the saying, but that may not hold for exports of diamonds. Given that India depends upon imported rough stones for cutting and polishing them, the prediction that the supply of rough stones will decline, causes furrows on the forehead. India introduced diamonds to the world and for centuries, until its Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh mines went dry, it was a near-monopoly in the production and supply of the stones.
However, as production fell, India became an importer of rough diamonds, but nevertheless retained its position as the top cutter and polisher of the stones. India’s prowess in lapidary shines through the fact that in April–December 2022, the country exported $16.62 billion (₹1.32 lakh crore) worth of cut and polished diamonds. However, this handsome export figure piggy rides on imports of rough diamonds, worth $13.2 billion. The forecasted decline in the global supply of rough diamonds is actually an opportunity for India to regain its position as the leader in supply of diamonds. This is because natural diamonds are yielding place to their synthetic counterparts, which are lab-grown. India exported $1.3 billion worth of lab-grown diamonds in April-December 2022, and has an opportunity to do more. Only, it depends upon other countries for the supply of ‘seeds’ — crystals that have no nitrogen or boron impurities, which are the raw material for producing synthetic diamonds. By the looks of it, the future of the diamond industry is lab-grown diamonds and if India can produce the seeds by itself, it can seize the throne.
It is, therefore, imperative that India develops its own, indigenous technology for producing the seeds, so that this major export-earning, employment-generating industry is not condemned into a permanent dependence on imports for raw materials. This in mind, Budget 2023-24 has provided ₹242 crore to IIT-Madras to develop this technology. The institute plans to set up a National Centre for Lab-Grown Diamond for this purpose. Today, there is no indigenous technology to make high-quality mother seeds, but in a few years, there could be. Unlike in the cases of solar modules and electrochemical batteries, the Centre appears determined not to miss the bus. While development of indigenous technology is a long-term solution, for the short-term, the Budget has also done away with the 5 per cent customs duty on imported seeds, to make India’s lab-grown diamonds competitive.
According to experts, lab-grown diamonds outperform natural diamonds in every way, essentially because they can be cooked to be defect-free, whereas only 2 per cent of natural diamonds are defect-free. Since they are lab grown, they can be made to be flawless or given a colour of choice, even colours that do not exist in natural diamonds, such as green and pink. Apart from their use in the making of ornaments, high purity diamonds are needed for an assortment of emerging technologies, such as high-power electronics, 5G/6G base station electronics, sensors, magnetometry and quantum computing. Furthermore, lab grown diamond crystals of sizes between 1 and 3 carats are at least three times cheaper than the natural diamonds of the same size.
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