Retailers Liable for Undisclosed Synthetics They Sell, JVC Says

If a retailer sells a lab-grown diamond without disclosing its origin, it bears legal responsibility for that, even if that fact was not disclosed to the retailer, Jewelers Vigilance Committee president and CEO Cecilia Gardner said at a JA New York panel on synthetic diamonds on July 28, sponsored by the Natural Color Diamond Association (NCDIA).

“A retailer can take the position that they didn’t know, but that won’t help” in court, Gardner maintained. “The retailer is fully liable for the representations that they make.”

She recommended jewelers institute a quality-assurance program, where every year they pull apart a certain amount of product given them by suppliers and have it tested. This could also involve testing gold. 

“Pull apart enough product to show that you are dutifully testing the representations suppliers are giving,” she said. “I wouldn’t pull apart every piece, but I would check vendors on an annual basis.” 

“If you show that you have taken steps to protect yourself by implementing a quality-control program, you can show you have made your best efforts,” she continued. “Retailers are exposing themselves to an elevated level of risk if they do not.”

Pure Grown Diamonds president and CEO Lisa Bissell, a man-made diamond distributor, said she hopes that detection devices will eventually become inexpensive enough that every jeweler has access to them. She noted that all her stones bear inscriptions noting their origin.

While all the panelists agreed on the need for disclosure, they clashed on what the stones should be called and what appeal they have: 

– Bissell said her diamonds should not be called synthetic, saying the word involves two elements combining to make a third element, which does not happen with lab-grown diamonds.

Gemological Institute of America director of research and development Dr. Wuyi Wang responded that the word is “a well-accepted term in the scientific community.”

And Forevermark US CEO Charles Stanley was adamant the term cultured should not be used to describe the stones. “It simply does not describe the process,” he said. “There is nothing natural about the growth process of those stones.”

Gardner said that when JVC surveyed consumers about the word cultured, it confused consumers, with most thinking the word referred to organic pearls. 

– Stanley said that De Beers’ research indicates that consumers favor natural diamonds. “The desire for natural product is very strong,” he said.

Bissell countered that most consumers still don’t know what lab-grown diamonds are. 

“I don’t think any education has been done so far,” she said, adding that man-made stones are “a choice” that are “another part of the diamond industry.”

NCDIA director of education Thomas Gelb said that he feels that the diamonds will find their place in the market. 

But he added: “I think growth will be slow. Lab-grown diamonds are expensive to make. Synthetic rubies can be made for nothing.” 

– Stanley said he thought some of the environmental claims on behalf of the stones were “unfair,” and hoped they are investigated more than in the past.

“If you call something environmentally friendly or green, you have to be able to substantiate that claim,” said Gardner. “As I understand it, the green claims for lab-grown diamonds are very hard to substantiate because of the carbon footprint.”

– In response to an audience question, Gardner said that her group had looked into investigating claims that ashes of dead bodies could be turned into synthetic diamonds, but didn’t because it couldn’t find ashes to use. But scientists have told her that it “could be done.”

Wang agreed it was possible, though hard to trace, because of the science involved. “We can say the diamond came from a cat,” he said. “But we can’t say it came from [a specific] cat.”

 

JCK News Director