When a diamond created in a laboratory is indistinguishable from a diamond mined from the earth, is it really a diamond? Does it hold the same allure and inspire the same desire even when no one else can determine its origins?
This is not only a question for romantics. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is considering the potential cultural disruption that could ensue from the labels that we decide to apply to diamonds of different origins.
The FTC is seeking comment on proposed rules for diamond nomenclature that will help consumers understand what they are buying.
At issue are the words that would describe laboratory-produced diamonds as they enter the market. These are different from “simulated” diamonds such as cubic zirconia, moissanite, or yttrium aluminum garnet. They have the identical optical, physical and chemical composition as a “mined” diamond – but they are less expensive, thus putting price pressure on the diamond market.
Is laboratory-grown really “cultured?”
On one hand, The Diamond Producers Association Jewelers Vigilance Committee and others take the strong position that the word “cultured diamond” should not be used to describe laboratory grown diamonds. They argue that the process to make these diamonds is not organic or cultured like a cultured pearl and that the term is deceptive. Two different approaches can be used to grow diamonds — High Pressure, High Temperature Process, and Chemical Vapor Deposition — a far cry, they say, from the more organic process that makes a cultured pearl or a “natural” diamond from earth. They also want the words in the new rule to conform to the International Standards Organization, as jewelry is international in nature and there should be no confusion of terms.
On the other hand, members of the new International Grown Diamonds Association want descriptive words such as “cultivated,” “created” and “cultured” to be used in their marketing efforts to distinguish and differentiate laboratory-produced diamonds from the mined version. They do not want the word “synthetic” to be tied to their product because it confuses consumers with simulated diamonds and denotes a lesser quality when, in fact, the laboratory-produced diamonds are of the quality of rare IIA diamonds, which make up fewer than 2 percent of rough mined diamonds. The diamonds have the same 4 C’s at a lower price, usually saving the consumer 30 percent to 40 percent. The IGDA says its diamonds appeal to a new class of younger, ethically minded consumers who associate mined diamonds with war, environmental damage and human rights issues. And perhaps this is the impetus behind the new advertising slogan of the mined diamond industry: “Real is Rare.”
Diamonds are forever, wherever they are created
No matter what the outcome will be in the new Jewelry Guide, laboratory-produced diamonds will not be going away any time soon. In fact, I think this is going to be a real game-changer in the jewelry industry, hence the strong stances on word use from both directions. In 2016, according to the NPD Group diamond tracker service, laboratory-produced diamonds amounted to about 3 percent of all retail diamond sales, or less than 1 million carats. Frost & Sullivan, an independent market research and analysis firm, estimates that by 2018 laboratory-produced diamonds will reach two million carats and by 2026 it is expected that grown diamond production for the luxury market will increase to more than 20 million carats. This is perhaps just as significant a challenge to the traditional diamond industry controlled by the De Beers cartel, which measures the discharge of diamonds into the market as a way of keeping prices high and the allure of diamonds high.
Excluding our signed “diamond” costume jewelry, most of us have been purists when it comes to wearing diamond jewelry. We’ve worked hard to acquire antique and contemporary “real” diamond pieces and now, speaking for myself, I find myself confounded by the newer laboratory-created product.
Throughout history, the allure of diamonds was connected to their rarity, their use as a sign of status. The most luxurious jewelry was expensive and individualistic — pieces to have and sacrifice for (though perhaps not to the degree that Mathilde suffered in de Maupassant’s “The Diamond Necklace.”) Will the new laboratory-produced diamonds erase old ideas about diamonds as rare status symbols? Will the value invested in stones be turned on its head, bringing more disruption to the jewelry industry? Jewelry lovers, I would love to hear your thoughts for a future blog.
By Cookie Lewis
Cookie Lewis combines her passion for jewelry history with her skills as an information specialist to analyze trends in the antique and estate jewelry markets. In addition, she curates jewelry collections for private clients looking for the unusual and hard-to-find. She is the founder of “Baubles for Babes,” which specializes in antique and vintage jewelry for infants, toddlers and the kid in everyone, no matter what the age. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org