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LGDs will continue to be an option for consumers, from the high-quality bridal market to the fashion market

10 january 2022

richard_garard_xx.pngRichard Garard is a founding member of the International Grown Diamond Association, which was established in 2016.  He serves on the Executive Committee of IGDA as President and Secretary General.

IGDA was created to represent, promote and educate the market on the benefits and features of lab grown diamonds.  Mr. Garard has been involved in research and technology for growing diamond material in the lab for over 30 years.

Richard is currently CEO of Microwave Enterprises, a company supplying capital equipment and development of CVD technologies for diamond deposition.

In his role for IGDA, Richard provides administration, a point of contact and communication for the organization.  The non-profit organization recently launched IGDA 2.0 to respond to the rapidly growing market and expanding consumer interest in lab grown diamonds.

Here, in an Exclusive Interview, Richard Garard spells out the plans chalked out for IGDA 2.0 to expand and support the LGD sector.

Some excerpts:

Can you explain to our readers briefly about IGDA’s presence and work in the Lab Grown Diamond (LGD) sector? And with Lab Grown Diamond Council (LGDC) also in the fray, how does one differentiate activities of the two organisations?

The International Grown Diamond Association was founded in 2016 and has membership in over a dozen countries around the world. IGDA was created to ‘Represent’ the lab grown diamond industry with a common voice; to Educate the market truthfully about what lab grown diamonds are, and what they are not; and to Promote the lab grown diamond industry to consumers and throughout the supply chain. In our first three years, we were instrumental in working with the US Federal Trade Commission that resulted for the first time, in defining fair terminology for lab grown diamonds. We established a web site with information and references to facts and knowledge about lab grown diamonds as part of our education commitment; and since 2016 the lab grown market has seen rapid increase in consumer awareness and recent rapid growth for our industry. As to the Lab Grown Diamond Council, there was an initial start in 2019 but to the best of my knowledge, they never fully launched and are not active today. So from our perspective, IGDA remains as the only structured organization representing the lab grown diamond industry worldwide.

What LGD industry issues has IGDA planned to tackle immediately? Please also spell out IGDA’s aims and plans for the future.

IGDA stayed in communication with our members during the Pandemic and we did sponsor some market survey reports about our industry. However, we were basically silent from mid-2020 until mid-2021 which gave us a chance to look at how best to move forward.

We recently launched a renewed and revamped association as IGDA 2.0, with a commitment for expanded leadership and with consumer-oriented promotion and training programs that can be implemented through regional IGDA representatives in local markets around the world. So, one initial objective is to move from a primarily US focus to a worldwide focus to increase consumer demand. Part of this approach is to develop training aids for point of sale use to assist in suggesting positive message description of the benefit of our lab grown diamond products. We will also develop promotional material for use in local environments throughout our membership and intended to increase consumer demand.

Regarding future plans, IGDA remains a small group of volunteers from various sectors of the lab grown diamond industry. Our industry was founded by entrepreneurs with a drive to create a new market opportunity with 20th century technology. The industry grew from within and by consumer interest driven away from the traditional mined diamond industry and appreciated the true choice of a lab grown diamond product. So our future goal is to track the maturity of the lab grown diamond industry with similar growth and expanded operations of our association. It is also important to note that the lab grown diamond industry represents less than 5% of the overall diamond jewelry market and so we are a long way before we would attempt to compete with an industry marketing budget that is afforded by the mining industry.

Does IGDA have a sustainability standard for the LGD sector? With the industry being accused, at times, of not being very transparent in its dealings, what are IGDA’s guidelines for the sector?

From the beginning, IGDA has stressed that all our members should follow the FTC guidelines that require 3rd party support for any claims of environmental impact and sustainability. We do not yet publish or recommend any one policy. We have been in communication with the organizations that provide sustainability certification and will continue to monitor together with the needs of our members. Regarding transparency, one of the founding principles of IGDA is full transparency of what we produce and sell. We sell real diamond, but diamonds that are grown above the ground in a lab, not mined. We are proud of this and believe the resulting marketing and promotion is clear and transparent about that fact. This clarity is the most critical factor of transparency for the lab grown diamond industry. Beyond that, lab grown diamonds trade in a diamond industry with a long history of transparency issues, and trying to address that is still ongoing. So, it is interesting that with the small market share that lab grown diamonds attract the mining organizations push for transparency while the entire industry struggles for an answer.

Do the IGDA members come from across the globe, and include the whole pipeline? What are the rules to qualify as a member of IGDA?

IGDA membership extends to all corners of the world and certainly every major market sector and/or country growing and manufacturing lab grown diamonds. Our members represent growers, polishers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers, plus equipment and service suppliers to the lab grown diamond industry. IGDA requires that a member must have a business that is active in the lab grown diamond market under any of the above categories and that if selling lab grown diamonds at any level, full transparency that they are indeed a lab grown product.

What steps has IGDA taken till today in promotional, educational activities …and other issues that crop up regularly for the overall growth of the LGD sector?

Up until the recent launch of IGDA 2.0, our strategy on promotion has been budget limited and has focused on a few key points of support and information for our members. This included developing a website that provided information and sponsoring market research that offered trends and opinions from consumers and the industry as a whole. With a knowledgeable and curious consumer base, the internet provided early information about the true choice available for a concerned customer about the origin of the diamonds and that lab grown diamonds were identical material as a one dug out of the earth. Early strategy on support/representation was dominated by interaction and response to the FTC during development of the 2018 Jewelry guides and interaction with CIBJO.

The initial uproar over FTC’s guidelines seems to have subsided, but have the parameters smoothed out with the natural diamond sector? What’s the current situation? Your comments.

IGDA welcomed the changes made by the FTC in the jewelry guidelines. They represented the truth that diamonds grown in the lab and extracted from the earth were indeed the same material, with identical properties. They stressed that lab grown diamonds be promoted with a clear message that they are lab grown and that has always been our recommenced message. The FTC also stressed that when promoting mined diamonds, the marketers should not use the terms natural, real and synthetic to imply lab grown diamonds were anything other than a diamond.

Market analysts see LGDs as well as natural diamonds enjoying separate and distinct markets eventually. What’re your thoughts about this happening going forward?

We strongly feel that lab grown diamond and mined diamonds can and will coexist and that while consumers now have a choice, the availability of lab grown diamonds has returned many shoppers back into the retail stores. Lab grown diamonds will continue to be an option for consumers, from the high-quality bridal market to the fashion market and everywhere in between. But that really means a bigger overall market opportunity for both products.

Aruna Gaitonde, Editor in Chief of the Asian Bureau, Rough&Polished