by Raul Sapora
From a scientific perspective, a synthetic diamond has the same chemical composition, the same crystal structure, the same optical and physical properties of a natural diamond. As synthetic diamonds are conceptually identical to natural diamonds, they need to be analyzed and spotted by a gemological laboratory. Synthetic diamond screening is nowadays a major concern of the Jewelry Industry.
Unexpectedly, as far as I am concerned, Ada Diamonds[i], a synthetic diamond distributor, after discovering a few natural diamonds mixed in a synthetic diamonds melee lot, has implemented enhanced screening procedures to further inspect all parcels of melee diamonds to ensure that all diamonds sold are in fact synthetic, not mined and therefore not illicit mined diamonds. Despite it is based on the same principle (synthetic vs natural diamond screening), a whole new and extremely dangerous variable has been imported into the Diamond Trade: protecting synthetic from natural. I believe most of you who read this will smile at this – I did too at a first glance – but it is also easy to realize that a new powerful weapon has been forged and consigned to marketing experts, and if the synthetic diamond industry will have consumers perceive that synthetic diamonds are a better alternative, people will buy them.
The situation is becoming more and more complex. Retailers are in a constant state of great distress: they are uncertain whether they should sell synthetic diamonds or not. On the other end, mining companies are addressing the problem with considerable delay and most probably caught inside the conceptual circle of the same marketing campaign which had decreed their triumph in the past. When Martin Rapaport in his world renowned educated reprimand[ii] to Leonardo di Caprio says that ‘false claims and misleading marketing surrounding the sale of synthetics is having an impact’, I am afraid he forgets to say that diamond itself owes its success to the unrivalled advertising slogan created by Mary Frances Gerety for De Beers in 1948 ‘a Diamond is Forever’, and that claim is disingenuous anyway. De Beers was successful in making diamonds appear rarer than they are, by aggressively restricting the supply of diamonds on the market, and moreover nothing is going to be forever, not even diamonds.
I am a gemologist and Responsible Sourcing Auditor, and those who know me quite well are prepared to hear me pronounce the sentence: “The ethical nature of a gemstone has today as much to do with its social context and its environmental provenance as it has with its optical and chemical properties.” In fact, in my opinion, gemology without Responsible Sourcing is merely a scientific understanding of gemstones, and the world needs much more than this. Gemology, as a matter of fact, is evolving through ethics. Therefore, as a gemologist I have to protect truth, even if truth sometimes can be multifaceted.
Diamond Foundry, a Synthetic Diamond producer who raised a capital of over $100 million from 12 billionaires[iii], including Twitter founder Evan Williams and actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio, was launched in late 2015, after two years of research and development.” A diamond is a diamond,” says Martin Roscheisen, Diamond Foundry’s founder. “Scientifically it is a tetrahedral carbon allotrope, and it is the same thing whether mined or man-made.”
“Proud to invest in Diamond Foundry, a Company reducing human & environmental toll by sustainably culturing diamonds,” Leonardo di Caprio tweeted.
Apparently, the arguments embraced by synthetic (or lab grown as they like to say) diamonds manufacturers are mainly ethical: to some consumers they seem to be conflict free and socially responsible. That is because synthetic diamond marketers are touting their product to be “conflict-free”, which misleadingly associates all real diamonds with conflict diamonds.
Accusations of exploitation and inhumane working conditions in mines cast a dark shadow over the diamond industry. Mining is also said to be devastating to the environment, due to the amount of energy it requires, the potential for chemical leaks, and the harmful effects that removing large amounts of earth has on local ecosystems[iv]. Some of those arguments are highly deceptive: the world of diamonds, gemstones and jewellery is changing. The legislative landscape, consumer awareness of the problems in the jewellery supply chain and broader civil society groups demanding transparency and disclosure have impacted dramatically on this scenario: nowadays, thanks to Kimberley Process, Responsible Jewelry Council and other initiatives, just a very small fraction of diamonds production is being used to finance wars. Also, it is extremely important to understand that the diamond industry employs an estimated 10 million people around the world directly and indirectly, and also has become the almost entire economy of some specific, otherwise isolated locations, like Botswana and Northern Canada[v]. Another commonly repeated misconception is that diamond mining harms local ecosystems and wildlife. However, diamond mining is perhaps one of the least environmentally destructive forms of mining there is today. Diamond mining uses very few, if any, chemicals, and diamond mines leave a small footprint on local environments compared to other forms of mineral extraction. Most people are unaware of the role diamonds play in bringing real benefits to people in the countries around the world where diamonds are sourced. Nowhere is this more evident than in Africa.
A few facts:
· An estimated 5 million people have access to appropriate healthcare globally thanks to revenues from diamonds.
· Diamond revenues enable every child in Botswana to receive free education up to the age of 13.
· An estimated 10 million people globally are directly or indirectly supported by the diamond industry.
· The diamond mining industry generates over 40% of Namibia’s annual export earnings.
· Approximately one million people are employed by the diamond industry in India.
· The revenue from diamonds is instrumental in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
· An estimated 65% of the world’s diamonds come from African countries.
It is quite evident that synthetic diamonds pose a firm and serious threat to this huge network, while so much has been done and is being done to eradicate unethical implications from the complex jewelry world. As I said already, reactions have been slightly late and perhaps, at least in the early stage, not commensurate to the actual danger.
After almost one century and a half after diamond discovery in South Africa – happened in 1867, when fifteen year old Erasmus Stephanus Jacobs found the Eureka diamond on his father’s farm, on the south bank of the Orange River – and after the end of the De Beers monopoly, seven of the world’s leading diamond companies (De Beers, Alrosa, Dominion Diamond Corporation, Petra Diamonds, Gem Diamonds, Lucara Diamond Corporation, Rio Tinto Diamonds), founded in May 2015, the Diamond Producers Association (DPA): its mission is ‘to protect and promote the integrity and reputation of diamonds, thereby ensuring the sustainability of the diamond industry’[vi].
DPA launched an advertising campaign called “Real is Rare,” that adopts a new verbiage on diamond marketing, in which the abracadabra claim “A Diamond is Forever” has been replaced by a narrative that is totally different from the past. The Diamond Producers Association (DPA) announced at the JCK, Las Vegas a few days ago that their 2017 marketing budget will total US$ 57 million. DPA’s Chairman Stephen Lussier commented: “The Board’s decision is a major turning point for the Diamond Producers Association and the diamond industry. All Board Members are aligned behind the goals and plans of the DPA, which is now fully equipped to fulfil its mission of communicating to next generation consumers about the timeless beauty and emotional value of diamonds. We look forward to working closely with the diamond and jewellery trade and with other industry organisations to build a stronger future for our sector” [vii].
The words pronounced from Lussier sound so far away from the place and time in which De Beers was the guardian of the trade and could steadily increase the price of diamonds, thus ensuring that diamonds were a good investment over time.
Is such a potentially huge advertising campaign enough to react to synthetic diamonds? In my opinion the necessary game changer in this dangerous situation are ethics and Responsible Sourcing practices. The only way is ethics, quoting Stacey Hailes’s speech at Birmingham a few weeks ago. It is of paramount importance for consumers to consider what the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme for Rough Diamonds, the Responsible Jewelry Council, the Signet Responsible Sourcing Program are among others doing. Although we are all working towards the full enforcement of these practices, they already had a significant impact on illicit trade in rough diamonds.
[i] As reported in ‘Is This Lab-Grown Diamond Company Trolling the Trade?’ by Rob Bates, on JCKonline (June 1, 2017)
[ii] Rapaport, ‘Synthetic Diamond Scam’ April 2016
[iii] ‘Why Leonardo DiCaprio is backing man-made diamonds’ by Sophie Morlin-Yron, CNN money ( August 30, 2016)
[iv] ‘A Lab-Grown Diamond Is Forever’, by Chavie Lieber (June 14, 2016)
[v] ‘The History of Lab Grown Diamonds: Value Proposition’, by Ehud Arye Laniado (June 14, 2017)
[vii] DPA ups its Marketing Budget for 2017 – Allocates US$ 57 Million for the Purpose, TJM (June 6, 2017)