Engaged millennials opt for laboratory gems instead of the real thing

RALEIGH, NC (KTRK) -- As the old song goes, "Diamonds are a girl's best friend." But these days, they're actually something more and more young women are willing to live without.

For Nathan Foster, proposing to the love of his life, Samantha, was a precious moment he'll never forget. It was a perfect spring day in North Carolina, with their 1-year-old, Landen, nearby and a beautiful, sparkling engagement ring.

"It was just a really, really cool experience in general, but then when she saw the ring, it just sent it right up over the top," said Foster.

The couple says the eye-catching, brilliant stone represents more than just their love for each other, but also their desire to give back. Instead of natural diamond mined from the earth, Nathan and Samantha decided to go with moissanite, a gemstone created in a lab.

"We're actually a product of Cree," said Suzanne Miglucci, CEO of Charles & Colvard, a North Carolina supplier of moissanite and major manufacturer of the gemstone.

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"Cree is the global leader in manufacturing of silicon carbide. It just so happens silicon carbide helps them make products for light bulbs and it helps us make moissanite," Miglucci said.

Since 1995, Charles & Colvard has been supplying the world with moissanite that's sold mainly online and, thanks to millennials like Nathan and Samantha, is cutting into diamond industry profits.

"We're doing something to help the planet, we're doing something to help other people," said Foster.

He purchased Samantha's ring from the website DoAmore.com, which sells moissanite and what they call "conflict-free diamonds." When you buy one of their rings, their partners drill a water well for a village in a developing country.

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"To have the daily reminder of that on your finger or every time you see your significant other, that's pretty cool and important," said Foster.

Then there's the cost.

Moissanite usually runs about a tenth of the price of natural diamonds -- another plus for cash-strapped millennials.

"We're finding the millennial buyer is seeking us out," said Miglucci with Charles & Covard. "It goes back to that concept that they're very educated consumers, they're out there searching."

Nathan found exactly what he was looking for online, never setting foot in a jewelry store. Though it may not be the real thing, Nathan says his story still has all the sparkle and shine he and Samantha could ever want.

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"I'm definitely singing the praises of it, and whether anyone else goes forward with it or not, I don't know, but I'm definitely singing the praises of it right now," Foster said.

Despite the popularity of moissanite, DeBeers, a leader in the diamond industry, say that demand for the real thing here in the U.S. is still at a record high and that many of those buyers are millennials.
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