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The Trade Comes To Grips With New Synthetic Stones

Nov. 2003

It shouldn’t be a surprise to our readers that we are seeing increased production of synthetic diamonds. We have long written about the subject, and in the last few years there have been increasing reports about companies that want to mass produce synthetic gems. But now the outside world has found out too.

First, there was the big synthetic story on the cover of Wired. Then TV programs from Good Morning America to CNN picked up the story. Just recently, 60 Minutes called us up for an upcoming story. We’ve even received one request from a consumer asking for a “cultured” diamond.

While no one seems particularly overjoyed by this, there is also no reason to panic. For now, most synthetics on the market are colored diamonds—primarily greens and yellows. While synthetic producers can make synthetic colorless diamonds, for now they are the most expensive to make, and most companies are staying with the fancy-colored diamonds. It does seem likely, though, in the future, someone will figure a way to mass produce synthetic colorless stones.

True, these are real diamonds, which makes them very different from prior diamond imitations like cubic zirconia and moissanite. The only physical difference between these synthetic stones and naturals is they are produced in a lab, not in nature.

Even so, these stones are not likely to destroy the diamond industry. As we wrote many years ago, when GE first began producing synthetic diamonds, “Despite the fact that the cyclotron-bombarded fancy colors and permanent and beautiful in coloration, they do not command colors close to the natural diamond. The same wide gap in prices is seen between synthetic and natural rubies, emeralds and sapphires.”

The analogy we’ve always used is that a synthetic gem is like a computer-generated Picasso. The computer might get the colors and the picture exactly right. But it’s not the same thing.

We certainly can’t see any market for synthetics in engagement rings, which are the backbone of the industry. We certainly don’t want to be in the shoes of a man who declares his love for his beloved with a “synthetic” stone. It’s not sending the most romantic message, to say the least.

Sure, depending on the price they are sold at, there may be a market for synthetics among lower-end customers in search of fashion jewelry with small stones. But it’s very likely that those customers would have bought pieces with cubic zirconia.

The real danger is not competition, it’s consumer confidence. If consumers—or the trade—feel that they have no guarantee that the stone they buy is natural, it could make consumers wary of buying diamonds, especially flawless stones. It’s a real problem, but fortunately the GIA and De Beers say there are ways to identify most of these diamonds. There are also reports of plans to develop synthetic detectors.

Generally, detection technology improves with advances in other technology. Given the advances that have already been made, by the time we start to see a large amount of affordable synthetic colorless stones on the market, we are hopeful that there will be a machine that will let everyone in the trade detect the natural from the lab-grown.

For the time being, the key is disclosure. It goes without saying that these stones should be disclosed for what they are. No one is saying that these diamonds shouldn’t be sold; just that consumers have to be informed so they can make an educated decision.

Fortunately, the companies have said they want to disclose that the diamonds are synthetic. All well and good. But at least one keeps using the word “cultured” diamond, like cultured pearls. We feel the terms “synthetic” or “man-made” are more accurate for the consumer.

In the end, synthetic diamonds are something to be concerned and certainly we advise everyone to get educated about them. But they will not spell the end of the real thing, no matter what Wired says.

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