A Fiancé’s Best Friend?
Attention June brides: Is that rock you've been flaunting really a diamond?
Ever since the DeBeers Group managed to convince a significant part of the English-speaking world that "A Diamond is Forever" -- and that a diamond solitaire ring all but guarantees a successful proposal of marriage -- would-be grooms have been searching for ways to get more bling for their buck. With the arrival of gem-quality synthetic diamonds, they may have found it.
Tiny diamond crystals have been produced for industrial purposes for decades, but the past few years have seen companies like Gemesis and Apollo Diamond develop multiple methods for growing large, near-flawless diamonds. These "cultured" diamonds are physically and chemically "real" diamonds, not cubic zirconia or some other substance, and are for most jewelers indistinguishable from mined diamonds. Except, of course, for the price.
At present, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission requires that synthetic diamonds be identified as such, and both Gemesis and Apollo inscribe diamonds over .25 carats with unique serial numbers. In addition, DeBeers has spearheaded the development and distribution of sophisticated technologies that can distinguish some sythetic diamonds from their natural counterparts, albeit without 100% accuracy. But the myriad small diamonds used in making jewelry are unlabeled and too numerous to be profitably analyzed or documented -- and at least some small synthetic diamonds have been sold without disclosure of their laboratory origins.
DeBeers' greatest fear, however, is not that the public will be tricked into buying "fake" gems. Instead, its concern is that consumers will embrace synthetic diamonds as equal or even superior to natural ones, and the prices that the cartel has managed to keep high through artificial scarcity will plummet. Will socially conscious consumers choose synthetic diamonds as an alternative to the "conflict diamonds" that support bloody civil wars in Africa? Will the world's newest luxury goods customers (e.g. in China) care about a stone's origins? Will brides-to-be prefer natural diamonds or more carats as a symbol of true love?
DeBeers is well aware of the history of natural v. cultured pearls, and it has no intention of allowing the lucrative mined diamond market to fizzle without a fight. Still, at some point the high price of ice may melt away, and we'll all be able to dress like Liberace.
P.S. Hat tip to my fashionable and insightful Georgetown student Sabrina Nguyen for suggesting this topic some months ago. (Natural gems take time to form....)