Angela Ponce became the first transgender contestant in Miss Universe history in 2018. Bernadette Belle Ong, Miss Universe Singapore 2020, made waves with a cape embellished with “Stop Asian Hate”. Nandita Banna, Miss Universe Singapore 2021 wore a crown made up of 677 lab-grown diamonds. Apparently, the world’s most famous beauty pageant appears to be evolving into more than just a parade of physical (and some say mental) attractiveness, but a platform that celebrates diversity and progress.

And rightly so, because the new generation is always seeking to do better. Just ask Marcus Wong, Clarrisa Neo and Adeline Lin (far right, in picture), the trio behind The Better Diamond, the bespoke diamond jeweller that supplied the conflict-free diamonds for the Miss Universe Singapore crown.

“It all started when a friend of ours asked us for help finding an engagement ring. He wasn’t comfortable with the idea of natural diamonds because of the ethical, moral and environmental issues associated with them, so he wanted a better alternative,” shares The Better Diamond’s managing director Wong. “We found that lab-grown diamonds are the perfect substitute because they are chemically, physically and optically identical to natural diamonds, but with none of the negative consequences.”

Boosted by an affinity for disruptive technology, and eager to overturn the many misconceptions surrounding lab-grown diamonds, Wong roped in his friends Neo and Lin to help launch and run The Better Diamond earlier this year.

(Related: B.P De Silva’s new diamond necklace is inspired by shophouses)

“Diamond tests classify both lab-grown stones and natural stones as diamonds. Therefore, they are not fake diamonds,” explains Lin, who is the company’s chief marketing officer. “As this is still a niche market, most of our customers already know this and know what they want. Yet there are still a few who ask why there are cheaper options elsewhere. Most likely, they are diamond simulants, which are glass or cubic zirconia.”

The price of lab-grown diamonds is undeniably appealing, even if they don’t have the feel-good factor of organic diamonds. “They’re about 40 to 50 per cent less expensive than natural diamonds,” says Neo, the chief operating officer. The savings could be substantial if clients want bigger stones, such as the 15-carat diamond they are growing for one client.

The Better Diamond’s largest demographic by volume is still 25- to 35-year-olds looking for engagement rings. But its biggest customers are older ones shopping for cocktail jewellery. The diamonds are supplied by a partner laboratory based outside Singapore, while local artisans design the jewellery and set the gems. In the next five years, they plan to launch a daily wear line and open their own lab. They are also excited about upcoming partnerships that align with their support of sustainability, like the one currently in the works with Sea Change Wine, an eco-friendly wine company. “We’re not here to replace natural diamonds,” says Neo. “We just want to give people an option to choose a greener alternative.”

(Related: How SGX and DBS continue the battle for gender diversity in the corporate world)