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Supply of synthetic diamonds growing albeit blighted by cheating manufactures

13 december 2012

Research carried out two years ago showed that 52 percent of women wanted natural diamonds in their jewellery compared to 96 percent of women who fancied the same stones 10 years earlier.

The shift, some analysts argued, was due to the fact that consumers did not want to promote the selling of the so-called blood diamonds.

However, it is dangerous if not sheer stupidity to assume that all or the majority of natural diamonds were mined in conflict areas.

Besides, the Kimberley Process, which is charged with overseeing the trading of conflict free diamonds, has recorded a 99.9 percent success rate (although some dispute the figure).

So, with that success rate borne in mind, it is quite axiomatic that the growing demand for synthetics is not driven by fear of “blood diamonds”.

It has to do with the depth of one’s pocket, in my humble opinion. Put simple they are a cheaper version of natural diamonds.

Although the World Federation of Diamond Bourses president Ernie Blom acknowledged that the supply of synthetic diamonds is growing, he pointed out that they remain a small percentage of the overall gem market.

This drills a huge hole on claims of a dramatic shift in demand for synthetics from natural gems.

Cheating manufactures

Putting aside the debate on demand for synthetics and natural diamonds, it should be pointed out that the advent of these lab-based stones brought some problems with it.

Some unscrupulous manufacturers of synthetics have made several attempts to mingle their stones with natural gems in a bid to dupe unsuspecting buyers.

The International Gemological Institute said last May that 600 synthetic colorless diamonds were submitted to the International Gemological Institute without disclosure.

One report traced the stones to a New York company.

The stones were comparable in quality to naturals, the Institute said, noting they were round brilliants, ranging from 0.30 to 0.35 ct., with F–H color grades, and clarity grades ranging from VVS1 to VVS2, though one sample received a VS1. 

There were also reports that undisclosed lab-grown diamonds had shown up at the GIA lab in Hong Kong last June.

God knows how many people cheated and went unnoticed.

Blom said laboratories around the world should ensure that these stones are clearly marked as synthetics and the diamond industry should have a zero tolerance for any tampering or abuse of the process.

“As I recently said at the World Diamond Congress in India, synthetic stones have a place in the market but certification and sales must be very strict in order to protect consumers against possible misrepresentation,” he said.

Blom said laboratories were also asked to recognise overtones on diamonds and to make this part of the certification process as it has a marked impact on price.

Taking action

The Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) recently convened a seminar to promote industry awareness of synthetic diamonds, highlight the importance of transparency and responsible trading.

Dubai Diamond Exchange chairman Peter Meeus said consumers were becoming more and more aware and educated about diamonds, hence it was important that they are given full disclosure on the nature of the diamonds offered for sale.

“The specialised seminars that IGI and other international labs are organising for the trade are essential tools to allow retailers to become more acquainted with the latest information on synthetic and treated diamonds,” he said.

“Supporting one of the largest diamond centres in the world, DDE is committed to continuing to add value to the global diamond trade by providing regional participants a platform from which they can discuss, deliberate and learn of the latest industry issues and trends.”

Whether the future of synthetics is bright as diamond mines dwindle everyday in the absence of new significant finds, the reality is that for now lab-based diamonds will continue trading side by side with natural gems, with the latter still dwarfing the gem market share.

Analysts also believe that the reselling of natural diamonds by consumers constituted a market worth billions of dollars, hence it will be unwise to write off natural gems market or worse still see synthetics completely eclipsing them in future.

The industry, while it acknowledges the burgeoning of synthetics, it should work hard to stop cheating manufacturers before consumers lose faith in diamonds.

If serious attention is paid on “blood diamonds” there is certainly no reason why the same can be done on lab-based diamond producers that push their stones as the “real thing”.

Mathew Nyaungwa, Editor in Chief of the African Bureau, Rough&Polished