Are Diamonds Forever?

Synthetic gems have been with us since the 1800s when the French chemist, Auguste Verneuil, manufactured the first synthetic, the ruby.  Then came the synthetic sapphire in the 1900’s with the ultimate of synthetics the colour change synthetic sapphire which so many call and believe to be an alexandrite.  Do you have one? In the 1930’s the synthetic emerald made its debut. 


And yes, the most admired of all gemstones, the diamond, has been synthesised since the 1950’s but only used for industrial applications. Mankind has not rested in developing and trying to fabricate the ultimate prize, colourless gem grade synthetic diamonds.  


At first the diamond industry including the biggest player in the industry, De Beers, cried foul and vowed that it would never sell synthetic diamonds.  But the vows and cries have been gagged with De Beers launching “Lightbox” Jewellery on May 29th2018. Per carat of synthetic diamond De Beers is undercutting every other synthetic diamond producer by around 75%.  


Why is this?  If, De Beers is going to continue as a major player in the “diamond” industry, then why wouldn’t they?  No other synthetic diamond producer could muster up the capital; resources and marketing know how to compete with De Beers. What is De Beers official line on synthetics….“They’re not to celebrate life’s greatest moments, but they’re for fun and fashion,” Bruce Cleaver, De Beers chief executive, said. “We have always said we are a natural diamonds business. We remain a natural diamonds business.”  Truth, dare or just plain B.S.?  Call me cynical, but after 130 years devoted to diamonds with firstly monopolising every aspect of the industry, and now with a 35-40% stakethe diamond industry, they are still a major player.  So would De Beers let this small yet significant hiccup disrupt their dominance?

De Beers "Lightbox" diamonds will sell for between US$200 for a 0.25 carat stone to US$800 for a 1.0 carat stone. Nimesh Patel, De Beers’s chief financial officer said, “We’re not pretending they’re unique or rare,” Patel said. “If you lose it, it’s not going to hurt as much as if you lost the real thing. It is not for those great moments in life you want something inherently precious.”  An interesting statement when you consider that gem grade synthetic diamonds are presently the more rare of diamonds currently available on the market. 

September this year I was updating my diamond grading skills, and as per usual the topic of synthetics came up. One of our small group, who works for one of the countries bespoke diamond jewellers had the night before collected a pendant that had been handcrafted.  All the diamonds in the pendant had been purchased through one of the worlds top diamond merchants.  All the 20 diamonds in the pendant came from the same parcel, out of the 20 diamonds, 5 tested as synthetic.  It is currently estimated that presently between 5-10% of every diamond parcel is peppered with synthetics.


So can the diamond merchant tell?  Can the jeweller tell? Can the consumer tell?  The answer is No, No and definitely NO.  


Without advanced testing using specialised gemmological equipment and/or a trained gemmologist, the stones cannot be differentiated. Like most synthetics, synthetic diamonds are chemically, optically and almost physically identical.


And finally lets hope that with De Beers involved they will no doubt attempt to ensure that the diamond trade, natural and synthetic, will have stricter guidelines and checks and balances to ensure the differentiation of the stones.