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Lie detector: Russian scientists invent the instruments to fight against polished diamond fraudsters

10 december 2018

Detectors enabling to distinguish between natural rough and polished diamonds and synthetic ones appeared in Russia. This shows the joint efforts of the Russian diamond miners, scientists and jewelers to stand against the inflow of synthetic diamonds. Notwithstanding that the price for the detectors is high today, their manufacturers promise to offer more affordable ones to the jewellery community and consumers next year.

Synthetic diamonds come out of hiding

Even 2-3 years ago, jewelers and diamond miners did their best to keep mum on synthetic diamonds wary of frightening their consumers. Now, the situation has changed: the man-made diamond market is growing (according to the Research Nester prognosis, it will be up to US$27.6 bn by 2024, almost double compared to 2015), their production processes are being upgraded, it is more difficult to separate synthetic diamonds from natural ones, and prices for synthetics are 30-40 percent lower than those for natural stones.

Synthetic diamonds gain recognition from the legal point of view. For example, last summer, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) broadened its definition - the notion of a ‘lab-grown diamond’ is also referred to as a ‘diamond’, as a natural one, although earlier, this term was referred to a natural cut diamond only.

More than this, diamond mining giant de beers presented its ‘synthetic’ unit - Lightbox - in August that would sell synthetic diamond jewellery. while this brand is positioned as ‘everyday’ jewellery, nevertheless, the purpose of the company is clear – it can't fail to engage in the ‘synthetics’ feast of life’ but to have additional revenue from the lab-grown diamonds, and the company emphasized that the synthetic goods would not become a competitor to the natural ones.

Polished diamonds from … Armenia

“So, the problem of fakes faces our – and not only our – society to the utmost extent because the ‘black’ synthetic diamond market grows parallel to the official one and fraudsters increasingly try to pass their synthetic stones for natural ones”, says Sergey Goryainov, expert of the information and analytical agency Rough&Polished. “For example, only one polished diamond was natural in a large polished diamond parcel of above 1,000 stones submitted to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) to be graded and the rest were ‘lab-grown’ ones.

According to the estimates of the Ministry of Finance of the RF, the share of ‘synthetics’ in the national market is 30 to 40 percent, sometimes even up to 60 percent. The ALROSA experts’ estimates show the ‘black’ market (when synthetic diamonds are mixed with natural stones and then sold as natural diamonds) to be 80% of the total synthetics on the market.

The Russian Ministry of Finance believes that they should stand with the consumers. According to Alexey Moiseyev, Deputy Minister of Finance, the authorities have nothing against lab-grown diamonds but think it impossible to market them as natural stones because it is the violation of customer rights. This top official explains his position saying that the ‘synthetics’ will fall in price in future and those who purchased synthetic diamond jewellery as natural diamond jewellery will lose.  

That is why the separation of natural diamonds from synthetic stones becomes of more importance. That said, we are talking not only about the consumers buying their diamond jewellery in stores but about the jewellery community on the whole. The problem is that the jewelers themselves cannot always have complete confidence in the provenance of roughs used to make the jewellery.

According to Eduard Utkin, General Manager of the Russian Jewellers Guild Association, the minerals supply system looks now as follows. Their natural origin can only be guaranteed if the roughs go through the customs, in this case, the natural origin of diamonds is confirmed by state supervision that is made by the Gokhran (State Precious Metals and Gems Repository) having the required equipment and experts. However, most of the supplies come from the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) – Kirghizia, Belarus and Armenia - and these channels are not under the Gokhran’s control.

“For example, 70% of polished diamonds come to our national jewelers from Armenia,” said Eduard Utkin. “Craftsmen have no possibility to make sure of the natural provenance of a stone, they have neither required devices, nor experts, nor skills, and if it was found out at this stage that a synthetic polished diamond was sold to a jeweler as a natural stone, it starts its ‘journey’ on the market in a jewellery piece.”

Lease the ALROSA Diamond Inspector

Nowadays, the problem of ‘fake’ diamonds is not only discussed openly but also people try to find a solution, because it is useless to keep silence about the fakes any longer. ALROSA was the first to make steps in this direction. In September, the diamond miner granted its invention on lease to the Assay Chamber as an experiment - several dozens of ALROSA Diamond Inspectors that will help those who check stones to separate natural diamonds from fake ones.

As was informed by the ALROSA Corporate Press Service, the investments in the detector development were over ₽10 mn. Now, the ALROSA Diamond Inspector is manufactured and marketed by the Diamond Research and Technological Centre set up by the AK ALROSA (PAO) and the FSFRI Technological Institute of Superhard and New Carbon Materials, a research organization. The detector costs US$9,900 including VAT, while the foreign detectors of a similar class can cost US$18,000 to US$ 20,000. “At present, the experts of the Diamond Research and Technological Centre work on decreasing the detector cost, and plan to form a detector line with a various price level,” said the Press Service.

The ALROSA Diamond Inspector is a mini-laboratory that allows the identification of natural polished diamonds, lab-grown diamonds, simulants and moissanites. Still, the detector is not intended to evaluate the stone clarity, cut quality or its weight. The detector allows to automatically detect - among other things - synthetic polished diamonds, no matter whether the stones were manufactured using HPHT or CVD processes.

ALROSA says that the detector’s high reliability is explained by the combination of three analytical methods. this is a know-how protected by the international patent and ensuring lower price for this detector compared to that of the competing counterparts. Nevertheless, the producer recommends to make 2-3 measurements to avoid a probable mistake.

The developers see the detector’s competitive edge in its high quality of analyses at a relatively low cost. “There is quite a number of detectors in the market - both high-end and low-end ones - that make mistakes when determining the polished diamond provenance because they use 1-2 analytical methods only. But a polished diamond owner or buyer needs a reliable conclusion for each stone. Our analytical detector uses three analytical methods of determination at once, and the measurements are several times cheaper than those made using the competitors’ detectors. Besides, it does not require of its users any professional knowledge in gemology, it is lightweight and no need to connect it to a computer,” the ALROSA Corporate Press Service said.

‘Diamond finder’ in a mobile

The ALROSA Diamond Inspector is really a unique national development that is cheaper than similar foreign detectors (according to the Russian Jewellers Guild Association, their price is from US$10,000 to US$30,000), but most of the Russian jewelers cannot afford them yet. According to Eduard Utkin, the majority of the jewellery workshops cannot afford to buy a US$10,000 detector, especially in a down economy and declining sales. But they will have a chance to purchase a much cheaper detector already in the nearest future.

This can be achieved thanks to the joint project carried out by the researchers from the National research Irkutsk state technical University (NRISTU) – the developers of the new technology enabling the separation of natural polished diamonds from synthetic ones, and the Brillianty Yakutii jewellers who were the investors. In April, a small-scale innovation firm Almazoiskatel (Diamond finder) was set up affiliated with the Technological Park of the NRISTU to develop software for the commercialization of the technology used to search and grade precious stones and metals.

Pavel Rumyantsev, CEO of the Almazoiskatel firm, told the information and analytical agency Rough&Polished that the talk is about the use of the technology developed by a team of corporate authors – the University employees – under the guidance of Alexander Nemarov designed to detect rough diamonds when stripping a deposit. “This is rather an old development patented in 2016, but the NRISTU had no money to continue their studies and the project was put on hold,” Pavel Rumyantsev told. It turned out that the invention could be used not only in the mining industry but also as a device to make express-grading of gems and polished diamonds and distinguish synthetic stones from natural ones.

According to Pavel Rumyantsev, the developers created the Almazoiskatel (Diamond finder) detector and in May, it was successfully tested together with the Irkutsk jewellery stores. “The detector surpassed all our expectations. It measures the polished diamond clarity, its cut quality, distinguish synthetic diamonds from natural ones and there is no need to remove a stone from a jewellery piece,” Pavel Rumyantsev stressed. Additionally, a mobile application was designed that allows the use of an ordinary smartphone to make express-grading of a stone. At present, the detector itself and the application are under further development and early next year, the Almazoiskatel detector can enter the market; the developers promise to set its retail price at the level of ₽50,000. The Almazoiskatel company’s CEO does not disclose the investment sum to this project.

“We think that the people on ‘both sides of the counter’ need this detector – both the jewelers and the buyers – and our task is to make it as easy available as possible,” Pavel Rumyantsev said. The Russian Jewellers Guild Association agrees with him. “Such a detector, undoubtedly, will be in demand from the jewellery community. All the similar detectors that are known to me cost much more and require a stone to be removed from a jewellery piece so that to determine the stone provenance. Moreover, they cannot evaluate the polished diamond clarity, to say nothing of the cut quality,” Eduard Utkin noted.

Roman Bizyukov, Rough&Polished