April 26, 2017
By Hemdeep Patel
This year marked a great deal of change and challenges for the global diamond industry as it made a stand against the influx of synthetics entering the market. Synthetic diamond manufacturers first encroached on the industry eight years ago with the emergence of large-scale synthetics making a strong push into the online retail marketplace. In response, the diamond industry has since brought together business leaders ranging from manufacturing associations to leading gemmological laboratories and sightholders to address the challenges facing the industry.
In the recent past, blood diamonds flooding the market resulted in the creation of the Kimberley Process (KP), a certification system monitoring the sale of rough diamonds from mine to market. This proved a triumph for the industry and drastically reduced the number of compromised stones. In an attempt to face the challenges of synthetic diamonds head-on, the industry has come together once again to help rebuild confidence in naturally-mined diamonds.
A two-pronged approach dedicated to providing screening protocols and in-depth knowledge at every industry level will help.
The focus of re-education requires the sharing of facts and dispelling misconceptions about the differences and similarities between synthetic and natural diamonds. In doing so, professionals will be able to decipher between the two. However, this re-education can only be done if industry members are willing to attend gemmological conferences, read articles, and go to workshops. Diamond miners, gemmological laboratories, and manufacturers must also be encouraged to establish testing and screening facilities to ensure rough and polished stones are properly identified.
As the diamond industry evolves, as with any other, different challenges are bound to arise. Alas, the various misconceptions regarding the actual threat of synthetic diamonds have been the most difficult to overcome.
The most common misconception regarding synthetic diamonds is that a hand-held diamond or moissanite tester can easily identify synthetic stones. This is not the case.
Unlike diamond simulants, which are stones made to look like diamonds without sharing the same chemical composition, synthetic diamonds are chemically and physically identical to their natural counterpart. Not only will a hand-held tester not be able to differentiate between natural and synthetic diamonds, but under a 10-power loupe or microscopic magnification, in the vast majority of cases, even professionals would not be able to tell
Another misconception perpetuated is the limited sizing of available synthetics. Again, this is not true, as synthetic manufacturers continue to streamline processes to find cost-savings and push the limits of manufacturing technologies.
Approximately seven years ago, when I first wrote about synthetic diamonds, the vast majority of them were produced in the 50-point to 1.00-carat range. Fast forward to 2016, and manufacturers from China, Russia, and India have perfected the technologies to produce diamonds as small as one point and as large as five carats, and now they are looking to extend market growth by quickening manufacturing times.
The most difficult misconception to overcome has been marketing; many retailers still believe nothing can beat the “a diamond is forever” tagline or that a diamond must be naturally-mined to be equivalent to love. The vast majority of synthetic diamond retailers are targeting a 25-to-35-year-old consumer with a message highlighting the eco-friendly and non-conflict nature of synthetic diamonds. Though the notion of love is not yet in this marketing message, I do think it’s only a matter of time before it is. The link between sales and stones has always been an emotional one, so once synthetic diamond marketers figure out how to target their consumers’ emotions, they will have made the next leap—this is what made naturally-mined diamonds shift from being a stone for a ring to a commoditized expression of love.
As trade leaders continue to highlight the growing issue of synthetic diamonds, behind the scenes, many of the major players in the mining, manufacturing, and gemmological sectors are establishing screening facilitates within their factories and making these resources available to a broad range of trade members, ensuring confidence in the rough and polished diamond sectors.
Though leading global gemmological laboratories continue to be vigilant in screening for synthetics, most diamond cutters, sightholders, wholesalers, and individuals working with diamonds acknowledge the primary threat with synthetics to be smaller-sized diamonds between one and 10 points.
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and De Beers, through the International Institute of Diamond Grading and Research (IIDGR), have established synthetic screening services at a number of locations to allow diamond trade members access to this valuable service.
In India, many diamond industry sites have invested in screening devices. These are used daily to ensure all parcels of diamonds are free of synthetics. Unfortunately, this still doesn’t address the new growing concern there has been an increasing use of synthetic diamonds mixed with natural stones in finished jewellery.
It is impossible to screen small-set diamonds in a cost-effective method, as this would require the stones be unmounted to allow accurate testing. Though many of these items have been bought and sold in local markets, there is a pressing fear mixed synthetic and natural diamond-set jewellery is being sold to foreign buyers. This will further erode consumers’ confidence in the products they are buying.
With a level of uncertainty as to when a testing protocol will be established to screen small-set diamonds, you can be certain legal actions will be taken by consumers who were sold jewellery without disclosure of synthetics when the time and technology comes.
In spite of the emerging growing issues with synthetics, there is a unique opportunity for jewellers to enhance their knowledge regarding synthetic diamonds and how it can impact business. Investing in knowledge and equipment can serve as a great first step in ensuring one can face this new challenge unharmed. Over the past year, there have been many hand-held devices screening technologies introduced to the market and they are an excellent investment.
With technology quickly changing in a diversifying industry, information really is the key to overcoming the obstacle of synthetic diamonds, after all.
Hemdeep Patel is head of marketing and product development of Toronto-based HKD Diamond Laboratories Canada, an advanced gemstone and diamond laboratory with locations in Bangkok, Thailand, and Mumbai, India. He also leads Creative CADworks, a 3-D CAD jewellery design and production firm. Holding a B.Sc. in physics and astronomy, Patel is a third-generation member of the jewellery industry, a graduate gemmologist, and vice-president of the Ontario chapter of the GIA alumni association. He can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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