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March 2005

The media’s fascination with the issue of synthetic diamonds seems to never cease. Newsweek International (but not in the U.S.) recently had a cover story on “Romancing the Stone,” which said that the synthetic diamonds “fool the experts” and they could “undercut prices and puncture the illusion of value” of natural diamonds.

Perhaps more disturbingly, a press release from an organization we’d never heard of before called Diamonds for Humanity and synthetic manufacturer Gemesis announced they were giving out gift bags of “eco-friendly” products to Hollywood celebrities at the Academy Awards. These gift bags contain what they call a “conflict-free” diamond lapel pin, which is of course a Gemesis synthetic (or “cultured” stone, as they call it, although a German court has ruled against this terminology.)

All this brings up many issues. First off, synthetics are nothing new; we have been writing about synthetic gems for nearly 30 years. The increased media attention could mean the manufacturers have more goods and that the industry may have to face this issue sooner than originally anticipated.

Secondly, Newsweek got it wrong when they said that the diamonds “fool the experts.” As a response from the International Gemmological Institute that appears on the Newsweek web site makes clear, by using the two De Beers machines, all synthetic diamonds are detectable. The Newsweek article also erroneously says that CVDs aren’t detectable by the machines; in fact they are.

Thirdly, as well-intentioned as Diamonds for Humanity may be, it is hard to think of something more wrong-headed than someone buying a synthetic diamond and thinking they are helping Africa.

Natural diamonds are a vital part of many African economies, and if the market for diamonds collapses, it is very likely that the economies of many of Africa’s most prosperous and stable democracies will too. In addition, the Kimberley Process has been set up to eliminate illicit stones from the pipeline. Add to that the fact that the wars originally driven by diamonds are over, and at this point the odds are overwhelming that any diamond one purchases is conflict-free.

Finally, all this media attention severely underestimates people’s preference for things that are natural, particularly people who are eco-minded. There are many places you can buy a fake Picasso. But a replica bought in a museum store just doesn’t have the same emotional pull as the actual painting that hangs on the museum‘s wall. Something created by G_d will always capture the imagination more than something created by a machine which has no rarity.

But let’s not just blame the media for promoting synthetics. In some ways, the industry has done this to itself. For years, De Beers has pushed the idea that diamonds have to be sold as a fashion product, preferably as part of a nationally advertised brand. Yet as we rush to turn Moses Klein into Calvin Klein, we are promoting something other than the diamond. We are selling the sizzle, and forgetting the steak. Which means that we are not telling people that the stone itself has an intrinsic value. If all that matters is the design, the stone might as well be synthetic or even a cubic zirconia.

In other words, we don’t need synthetics to “puncture the stone’s value,” as Newsweek says. If we don’t get back to telling the world what is so great about our core product, a natural diamond— rather than concentrating on what the latest fashion or brand is—we risk puncturing the stone’s value ourselves.  

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