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Synthetic Diamonds: What You Must Know NOW to Avoid the Traps - June 1999

The Diamond Registry Bulletin has been reporting on the synthetics issue for 29 years, but now it has become more than just a theoretical problem. The advent of the availability of gem-quality synthetic diamonds opens two traps for jewelers: the unscrupulous scam artist and, sadly, the investigative reporter who creates a sensation along with his story by embarrassing uninformed jewelers.

Long-time readers with good memories may recall the August 1970 issue in which the DRB stated: "We believe GE will try, and eventually succeed in, manufacturing large diamonds at low prices [Should this] cause worry to diamond merchants and the public investing in diamonds? The answer is a definite no." As usual, experience is the best teacher here: fancy-colored diamonds can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, but cyclotron-bombarded fancy colors, while beautiful and even permanent, simply cannot command prices close to the natural fancy colors. The same wide gap in price is evident between synthetic and natural emeralds, rubies and sapphires. Those that are man-made can be bought on the street for a few dollars. Yes, there is a market for both natural and synthetic diamonds, but they rarely compete.

Again, in June 1992, the DRB clarified the situation in the midst of industry nervousness, "[the Swarovski family firm] decided not to sell lab-made diamonds after a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study found consumers were unwilling to pay high prices for synthetics." The DRB had also spoken with General Electric "whistleblower" Edward J. Russell. Russell confirmed BCG’s findings saying "a natural diamond meant love to consumers and a synthetic wasn’t the same."

Where gem-quality synthetics were once only talked about within the industry as a "what if," and rarely discussed in the media, the synthetic diamond is now being produced without the extremely high pressures and temperatures requiring the large and expensive equipment of the past and being produced at lower than natural diamond costs. It may only be a question of time before the media begins to test jewelers on their diamond knowledge as it already has done with synthetic moissanite, a diamond simulant.

The Moissanite Trap: Even Her Jeweler Doesn’t Know!

On Wednesday, May 19th, the Fox Network’s Ten O’clock News ran a story on moissanite and how easy it is to fool the industry. A piece of jewelry set with moissanite was taken to several jewelers and to the laboratory of the International Gemological Institute (IGI). Of the jewelers, only those with the special C3 moissanite tester or one of the less expensive generic testers, could tell the difference. The DRB interviewed Mark Reyes, Laboratory Director at IGI, and got some pointers on detecting synthetic moissanite. "Once you have the training, detection becomes very easy," said Reyes. And, that does seem to be the case: IGI passed the test with flying colors. Reyes said that, for set stones, the best test is one of refraction. Moissanite is doubly refractive with a birefringence of 0.043 (diamonds have none). That means that moissanite will show doubling of the rear facets when viewed at an angle. Reyes said, "You can use a microscope, but a trained gemologist or even somebody with good experience with gems should be able to tell using a loupe." To test: turn the stone so that you can see a reflection of the Culet through a bezel facet. If you see double, it’s no diamond!

In loose stones, of course, it is much easier to tell the difference, it’s when the stone is mounted that things become more complicated and the standard diamond tester, made to discern CZ, won’t help with moissanite. Jewelers can purchase moissanite testers from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) by calling the gem instruments office 1-760-603-4500. However, there are ways to discern moissanite from diamonds without one of these testers:

Synthetic moissanite has a higher refractive index, similar to peridot – 1.648-1.691 – compared to a diamond’s 2.417.

A diamond’s dispersion – 0.044 – is much lower than is moissanite’s at 0.104.

And the sure-fire tip-off for loose stones? Moissanite’s specific gravity is 3.22 which means that it floats in 3.32 liquid (pure methylene iodide), where a diamond – at 3.52 specific gravity – will always sink.

What with the growing sales of synthetics - and moissanite-related scams on the rise - some clarification should be made as to the difference between synthetic diamonds and moissanite. Synthetic diamonds are actually laboratory-produced diamonds whereas moissanite is a diamond simulant like CZ, a synthetic silicon carbide manufactured by the Morrisville, North Carolina-based company, C3. Moissanite is not a synthetic diamond.

The Synthetics Manufacturers

While the biggies – GE, Sumitomo and De Beers itself – have not marketed gem-quality synthetics as of yet, the smaller producers, using what seem to be inexpensive methods to produce their goods, are coming to the fore.

Long expected to be the first producer of gem-quality synthetic diamonds, was Chatham Created Gems, Inc., with Thomas Chatham at the helm. Chatham tried to produce synthetic diamonds in Russia but was unable to turn the quantity necessary. The Company is now trying to bring the Russians here and is currently at work on its own scientific model. The Company does produce one of the most popular synthetic emeralds, as well as other colored stones, but Chatham does not yet manufacture synthetic diamonds. The Company does have the scientific model for production but, "For De Beers it’s cheaper to dig out the diamonds, for me it’s cheaper to make them," Chatham said.

One enterprise already turning out high-quality synthetic diamonds is the Morion Company, based in Brighton, Massachusetts and, again, scientifically led by Russians. The DRB talked to Leonid Pride, one of the founders of Morion who now works as a consultant with the Company. When discussing synthetic diamonds it’s important to remember that they are diamonds, just not naturally occurring stones. The only difference being that the crystal has been grown in the laboratory rather than dug out of the earth. Morion supplies rough synthetics to a number of famous US gem cutters and hopes eventually to move into the polishing end of the business.

At the moment, Morion has quantities of near colorless stones of up to 1.25 carats, rough. This means, of course, that the largest cuttable from these rough are .60-.70. So far Morion has not moved into producing larger stones but Pride said the Company hopes to have larger stones available in the near future. Morion has also managed to produce synthetic GIA type IB fancy-yellow diamonds and, while only a few blue diamonds have been produced to date, Morion is working to widen the range of color available. Prices for the synthetic diamonds are slightly high – $550 for 1 carat colorless to near-colorless Synthetic diamonds, in case you’re wondering, are easy for a laboratory to discern from natural diamonds by their metallic-flux inclusions and their non-octahedral faces. Synthetic diamonds can even be certified by the GIA; the certificate will read, "Diamond: Synthetic."

One hears the industry wondering if the "created diamond" will become as popular as the "cultured" pearl. But the DRB said it then and now says it again (June 1992), "...we need not fear that artificial diamonds will reduce the value of natural stones."

Think about it: twenty-nine years ago, no one could have imagined how deeply and permanently computers would be part of our lives in just a few short years. We have so many computer-generated things now: animation, sound, photos. But, even as the words of George Washington as printed from a word processor will never touch the value of an actual letter penned by our Founding Father; even as a "perfect" Picasso mimicking every detail will never have the worth of a work painted by the master, each natural diamond is a unique and ancient masterpiece of Nature herself.

Remember: If we do our jobs well, no customer will ever even consider an artificial diamond. Have confidence in your product – it is an extraordinary one. Protect your reputation – your customer should know that you, like Tiffany, would never sell a synthetic diamond or even a treated natural diamond in some underhanded manner. Educate your customers – they deserve your attention and care. Now get or even a treated natural diamond in some underhanded manner. Educate your customers – they deserve your attention and care. Now get out there and sell some real diamonds! v



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