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CIBJO: It was a good and well coordinated job

07 july 2014

Alla Nozhkina, Doctor of Engineering, Professor, Head of Research at the VNIIALMAZ laboratory, shared her opinion about the CIBJO Congress held last May in Moscow and about the problems discussed there at the Conference on synthetic diamonds. VNIIALMAZ is Russia’s leading institute in the field of research, development, production and use of natural and synthetic diamonds and diamond tools.

What is your evaluation of the conference results and how effective was the conference?

My evaluation is positive, because the pressing topics of present interest, in principle, were raised.  Nowadays, great attention is paid to the large-size synthetic mono-crystals that basically are competitors to our polished diamonds in jewellery. That is why the diagnostics is crucial: it is necessary to separate the synthetic diamonds fr om the polished ones, and also decide upon the attitude of the community towards the use of the cut and polished synthetic diamonds in jewellery pieces. These are the two core issues.

Then, it is necessary to discuss the actions to be taken to make everything mutually interesting and mutually beneficial. In this context, there was a very important moment, when Anton Siluyanov, Russian Minister of Finance, in his report at our session told that a package of documents had been worked out on the procedure of work with large-size synthetic diamonds. At the moment, we do not know what the documents are. But it was very interesting and important to know that the government handles this problem.

How fast can the use of synthetic diamonds for this purpose propagate?

This issue is also challenging, because the companies that are eager to deal with synthetics and use them in the jewellery are growing fast and gaining their footing. And to this effect, mono-crystals received by precipitation fr om the gaseous phase are promising. This is a Russian term for this technique and there is also another term - CVD (Chemical Vapour Deposition). This technology is really efficient. It is good as the crystals do not contain secondary impurities – there are no impurities because they do not present in the process. This is an ecofriendly process, no need to spend huge money to extract the diamonds from the matrix as in the case with a HPHT-process, a CVD process is a 100 percent environmentally benign method. And the HPHT (high pressure, high temperature) process has been developing successfully. In this field, China is very active because they use a very big-size chamber, which results in higher productivity and much lower production costs. This is an economic factor and it is of great importance.

That is why the conference on synthetic diamonds focused largely on the diagnostics as well as the reports presented by the Russian participants and representatives of De Beers and GIA (Gemological Institute of America).

What were the speakers’ standpoints?

In the first presentation, the economic aspects of the HPHT- and CVD-diamond production were compared because it is an important issue. Andrey Katrusha presented his stance as a researcher actively doing studies of these processes under HPHT, and it was absolutely certain as he has been working in this field for rather long. But he believes that both methods require approximately similar expenses. Although it should be discussed in details because the CVD-technique of growing large-size mono-crystals is at the initial stage of industrialization. The production costs at the initial stage are always high and they are decreasing during further development. And the HPHT-technique, on the contrary, is at the height of its commercial development, so it is difficult to expect any significant decline in the production costs. Certainly, there will be any decrease, but not steep, at least, unless anything new is invented. This issue is also of interest from the point of view how quickly the market would become saturated with the large-size synthetic diamonds. The great advantage of the CVD-method is that these crystals are of high clarity and of high colour category. The colour properties are the highest. There is another major advantage – it is possible to grow rough stones for the manufacture of large-size synthetic diamonds. It means that if the production of large-size synthetic diamonds would be launched – 5ct and 10ct stones – then there would be no any principal constraints… At present, 2ct-3ct synthetic diamonds are easily made. In future, only some efforts and upgrades are required relating to technological issues. These issues will be solved because the main tasks of the CVD in general have been already solved by a number of companies. There are few such companies, but all the same…

Are they few, yet?

There are few of them, but when the large-size mono-crystal growing technology has been already developed to be used for the production of large-size mono-crystals, then the further progress will be in quantities only. At that, the progress will be in large-size synthetic diamonds and colourless ones – Category 1, 2, etc. This is a strong advantage, and the costs for their production, certainly, are not higher than in the HPHT–technique. That is why I think that this conference was timely and challenging, and it raised all the issues relating to the organization of work in all the sectors of the jewellery industry – not only the ones relating to diamonds, but also pearls and other gem stones. At that, the conference gathered a huge number of professionals.

The representatives of 23 countries were among the participants ... 

It was a very representative conference – there were about 132 representatives from different countries, and it is crucial that all of them were of the same opinion about the situation. 

Yes, this problem has brewed up, the solution should be found because there was a tendency that the cut and polished synthetic diamonds should not be called ‘polished diamonds’, because Russian GOST (state standard) for polished diamonds calls for the use of the term ‘polished diamonds’ only in cases when rough material is used that did not undergo any type of chemical, physical and other effects influencing the rough diamond quality. It means that if it is a polished diamond, then – under the national GOST – it expressly means a natural diamond undergone no treatments except cutting and polishing, it is what the nature has created. But this was misused as cut and polished synthetic diamonds, especially when the stones are colourless, are difficult to be distinguished by eye from the usual natural ones. The development of the synthetic diamonds was marred by mixing them to the lots as if they were natural diamonds. And here lies the danger. That is why CIBJO posed the right question: let us determine the scope of use of the cut and polished synthetic diamonds as jewellery and protect the natural diamonds from the synthetic diamonds. The approach is very simple: every producer has to tell wh ere the rough material comes from, whether it is a natural rough diamond or a synthetic diamond, and what company is a producer or a manufacturer. This is a right approach, because the consumer should know for sure what he buys and have guarantees. Cut and polished synthetic diamonds are very nice, but natural gems are, certainly, better as they are unique, one-of-the kind, there are no two similar stones, etc. Moreover, the natural diamonds are depleting. In this sense, one should protect the purity of the notion of a ‘polished diamond’. This was declared at the congress and supported by everyone. The importance of the issue was proved by the fact that the Russian Minister of Finance made presentation at this conference, which is crucial. There were also the CEOs of the Russian major diamond manufacturers: Maxim Shkadov (Smolensk’s Kristall, the most powerful and experienced manufacturer, a pioneer in the polished diamond industry), the representatives of other Russian jewellery manufacturers. All had concurrent views and all these challenging issues were widely discussed at this congress.

What else was helpful at the conference?

You know, I liked everything very much. I also think it extremely useful that we have agreed that there should be general awareness. Now all the information is very fragmented. That is why we, the commission heads, proposed to combine all the information on the advanced developments, latest scientific achievements that could help in solving the problems of diagnostics and protection. CIBJO should set up an information centre that everyone could contact to get information. And the national representatives could have an access to the general information, which could, certainly, make their work easier. This business should be transparent, people should not hunt for the information alone and find out wh ere any of the diagnostic devices could be found – the respective information should be in those centres. It was my main proposal because I see the problem lies in the lack of the information and in separate – but not combined - efforts to protect natural diamonds against the inflow of cut and polished synthetic diamonds. These efforts should also be combined. When a big team would do it, the cut and polished synthetic diamonds would have a bright future. These are very beautiful. I saw the CVD-diamonds and I should say they are beautiful. That is why, one should not be afraid of them: they will make a separate sector, a separate market of cut and polished synthetic diamonds – and it should be clear.

Was everyone of the same mind about it?

Exactly so, and I consider it as the main achievement of the conference, in which such serious and competent participants took part: it will be a separate sector and a separate market. And the consumers will be able to choose what they prefer. Here, the pricing policy issues arise – but these are for a separate discussion. At first, it is necessary to separate the materials as for their quality and producers (natural/synthetic), and then start discussing the pricing policy relating to them. 

So, that was the congress and everyone was very satisfied.

I was very glad that such a congress was hosted in Moscow, especially in such a difficult time for discussions. It was a good sign showing that the life goes its due way and the professionals tackle their industry challenges. But these challenges relate to the quality of living, consumer rights protection, creating such a comfortable situation and such elegant niche as precious gems and precious metals. These are fine art pieces, this is beauty, and the more beauty around, the better all the rest will be – this is quite apparent. That is why I regard it as a big success that people tackle these issues, it is the success of our country as well.

It is also worth noting the forward-looking standpoint and policy of CIBJO. In spite of everything, a successful congress was run at a very good level and much interest was shown to it. I talked a lot to the representatives of many countries, we shared the opinions and I liked that we were of the same opinion about the congress, the challenges and the future. It was a good and well coordinated job.

Galina Semyonova, Rough&Polished