Should We Call Them “Synthetic”?

Udi Sheintal, president of the CIBJO Diamond Commission, wrote in with some comments on my recent article on Gemesis:

I read with concern some of the comments made by [Gemesis CEO and president] Stephen Lux in his conversation with Rob Bates, as published by Rob in his article.

“Lux says the industry should not fear his product and asked for trade leaders to stop labeling his stones ‘synthetic.’”

Here we go again….  The discussion on nomenclature for synthetic diamonds will in all probability not be resumed to accommodate a single company’s marketing campaign.

Lux knows very well that under (international) IDC and CIBJO rules, he can only use the term synthetic or use the alternative terms “laboratory created” or “laboratory grown” which the IDC and CIBJO allow for. The FTC allows for two additional, stand-alone  terms: “created” and “man made.”

Hopefully, Gemesis and the retailers selected to market these synthetic diamonds will not revert to using the term “cultured” as this really would create “tremendous confusion on the part of the consumer.”

Years ago the JVC already stated that “it is the view of the JVC that the use of the term ‘cultured’ as applied to diamonds without additional information about how the product was created is insufficient disclosure to describe the true nature of a synthetic or laboratory grown diamond.”

As a result of JVC’s request that FTC disallow the word “cultured” to describe synthetic diamonds, the FTC ruled that if “cultured” is used, it must be used in tandem with one of the previously allowed terms. In other words, it cannot be used as a stand-alone term.

A synthetic diamond is what it is: a precise copy, made by man. It requires skills and resources to synthesize a diamond, unlike for instance, a synthetic ruby, which with a bit of preparation, I can produce in my kitchen on a single afternoon. A synthetic diamond needs a bit more time, but can be grown within a few days. That does not compare to the millions of years it has taken for natural diamonds to form and ultimately come to the earth’s surface.

There is a great market out there for synthetic diamonds. But the marketers need to play by the rules, and foremost, they need to protect the consumer and protect the reputation of all those – including your readership – who make a living in this great industry.

Thank you, Udi, for your comments. Here are my thoughts …

Obviously, for some, this is a big issue. The comments on my story quickly devolved into a (pretty lengthy) debate over the “s” word. But fundamentally this is a marketing battle. The lab-grown people want to use the term “cultured” because it is the most benign term possible for these diamonds. The rest of the industry wants to use the term “synthetic,” because it is the ugliest. (Just as the non-created industry will likely call its stones “natural.” And the growers will call them “mined.”)

The term “synthetic” is, from what I understand, scientifically accurate (it refers to “synthesis”) and here to stay. Scientists will likely always use it. However, the confusion cited by Lux is real. Many consumers don’t know the difference between a “synthetic” (a diamond grown in a lab) and a “simulant” (something that looks like a diamond, but isn’t.) And some on the Internet have taken advantage of this.  (Just google “synthetic diamonds.” Quite a few CZ-sellers pop up.)  What we need here is for the FTC or some other law enforcement – not to mention the asleep-at-the-switch folks at google adwords – to crack down on the companies that are clearly misleading consumers. Because, I agree, they are a problem.

Personally I tend not to use “synthetic” (or “cultured”), because I feel “man-made” and “lab-grown” are better descriptors. And I feel the industry should as well. If the only way the “mined” industry  plans to fight this new competitor is by hanging an ugly name on it, it is in trouble. There have been plenty of pro-lab-grown consumer articles that use the “synthetic” term unabashedly and it hasn’t cooled their enthusiasm one bit. (See here and here.) The people who want these diamonds aren’t going to let a word like “synthetic” turn them away. 

Synthetic diamonds will one day, maybe soon, become an important part of our industry. Instead of arguing over what we call them, we need to think about how we can start co-existing. 

JCK News Director