‘Cultured’ Clash

The debate between De Beers and the synthetic-diamond industry over the use of the term cultured is an exercise in the transparency of self-serving motives. Cultured is a clearly more marketable descriptor for the product than synthetic and its use, therefore, threatens the mined diamond industry just as it pleases the new diamond growers.

Not coincidentally, the same motives are in play over the decision of the Gemological Institute of America to grade synthetic diamonds. A GIA grading report legitimizes the product as a diamond, providing a powerful marketing tool for the growers and apples-to-apples competition for De Beers.

Ultimately, it will be consumers who will determine the success of the cultured diamond product. And consumers today, when they are in the market to buy a diamond—as is the case when they’re in the market to buy just about anything—insist on and get the information they need to make an educated buying decision. To deny the consumer this information is both deceptive and ultimately self-defeating. It is in this spirit that Ralph Destino, GIA chairman, explained the decision to grade synthetic diamonds: “GIA is a public benefit institution and, as such, has an official obligation to protect the public by providing the critical in- formation needed to make informed decisions. As a nonprofit entity serving the public trust, it is simply the right thing to do.”

The same argument can be made for the use of, or the prohibition against, the term cultured. The growers, often referring to comments made by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, contend that consumers often confuse the term synthetic with artificial or fake, misunderstanding a product that has the same physical, optical, and chemical properties as natural diamonds. De Beers, on the other hand, might not feel compelled to correct the consumer’s misunderstanding of the true definition of synthetic, posturing that only mined diamonds are real diamonds.

In the end, self-serving commercial motives must be set aside in the interest of consumer education and protection. A manipulated commercial message is no longer just unsavory; in the information age, it is really hard to get away with. It would seem that a reasonable solution to the rhetorical debate would be a professional study of consumer reaction to the terms synthetic and cultured to determine which term more accurately communicates the true qualities of the product. Both the growers and De Beers would have to agree on the company to conduct the survey, on the “true qualities” to be communicated, on the arbiter of the findings, and on the responsibilities of the parties based on the arbiter’s decision. If agreement is not possible, either party could authorize its own study, relinquishing control as much as possible to a neutral manager. It would not have the conclusive power of a joint effort, but it would at least test the courage of one’s convictions.

It would simply be the right thing to do.