The New Synthetic Diamond Announcement: Some Thoughts

A new company, Washington Diamonds Co., announced this week it is growing colorless diamonds. What makes this is a little different from past plans is the company says it can consistently produce colorless diamonds larger than a carat. I have a few thoughts:

– We have seen more than a few announcements like this over the years, beginning in 1992—some 20 long years ago. While I have no reason to doubt this new company, some wariness is also called for. Company executives aren’t promising all that much—about 150 stones a month, which would add up to maybe 1,800 a year—but CVDs have proven difficult to produce in large sizes, because they tend to grow flat. Now, someday someone will figure out a way to mass-produce colorless lab-grown diamonds. But that’s someday. The proof will ultimately lie in the production. 

– Most of the CVD diamonds we have seen on the market are HPHT-treated as well as lab-grown. (Washington Diamonds Co. declined comment about their formula.) Now, if you sell an HPHT-treated natural stone, you must disclose the process. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with lab-grown diamonds.

This issue “is not addressed in the FTC Guides,” says Cecilia Gardner, president and CEO of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, explaining the treatment isn’t likely to impact the stone’s value. “The only disclosure requirement regarding synthetics is that they are synthetic.” (One possible exception to this would be something like a lead glass–filled synthetic ruby, since glass-filled stones require special care. HPHT, however, is a permanent and irreversible treatment.) 

As with Gemesis, the company is pricing the stones about 20 percent below the retail cost of comparable naturals, or about what diamonds cost wholesale. That seems to be becoming the market’s price level for lab-grown diamonds.   

– Again, like Gemesis, the company plans to tout the gems as “conflict-free.” Once upon a time, diamond growers vowed they would never bring up these topics; the trade group, the Cultured Diamond Foundation, even forbid it. Apparently that’s all gone by the wayside. I can’t say I’m crazy about this approach, but it is a selling point.

Now, as my readers already know, most natural diamonds are already conflict-free, and some diamonds bring real benefits to the economies of Third World countries. But the industry hasn’t gotten that message out, so you can’t blame consumers for not knowing it.

In any case, perhaps this could serve as a wake-up call for some diamond producing countries, to support Kimberley Process reform and similar efforts. Because now there is a real alternative out there, and diamond consumers have another place to go.

JCK News Director