Lab-grown diamonds represent a growing challenge for the industry, said panelists at an Accredited Gemologists Association conference on man-made diamonds, held May 29 at the Platinum Hotel in Las Vegas.
“What percentage this material populates the market isn’t clear right now,” said moderator Stuart Robertson, president of the AGA. “But it’s clear that percentage will grow.”
Tom Chatham, president of Chatham Created Gems & Diamonds, a producer of lab-grown gems, said some of the resistance to his product is that people fear change.
“We don’t want to hurt the natural diamond market,” he said. “If they lower the price, we get killed. An example of that is amethyst. When the price of amethyst fell, that killed the market for lab-grown product.” He thinks lab-grown diamonds are being sold for too much and hopes the price will fall eventually.
While Chatham didn’t have any estimates of worldwide production of synthetics, he dismissed reports of massive amounts of undisclosed lab-growns on the market. “There just aren’t that many producers out there that are that good,” he said, and warned that buying off the street now poses certain risks. “There is too much of this stuff out there. People should legally tighten up their take-in wording.”
As for inscribing lab-grown stones, -Chatham thinks inscriptions are too easy to polish off. “I keep waiting for people to find CZ with our name on it, or Gemesis,” he said.
Ronald VanderLinden, president of the Diamond Manufacturers and Importers Association, who also sells lab-growns, said he had “less than zero” regrets about getting involved in that market. “I have 18 guys sitting on the polishing bench,” he said. “They all have families. We try to keep them busy.”
He believes the market has great possibility. “Embrace it—it will be part of our future,” VanderLinden said. “We have been told the life expectancy for most mines is 20 to 25 years, and then what do we do? Those who have the product on their body love the product. It’s 100 percent diamond.”
He called for a dialogue with lab-grown diamond producers, and said the Diamond Source Warranty Protocol is being tweaked so
retailers can ask not to be sold lab-grown gems.
Dr. James Shigley, distinguished research fellow from the GIA, assured the crowd that all man-made stones are detectable. “Growth conditions in the earth are different from the laboratory, and for that reason they can be identified,” he said. Qualities to look at include magnetic attraction, UV transparency, and the stone’s growth structure. He noted that there are new devices on the market that detect synthetics, including one that detects melee and GIA’s new DiamondCheck device.
Dusan Simic, president of Analytical Gemology and Jewelry lab, agreed that most man-made stones are identifiable. “You see some borderline cases,” he said. “But in most cases, it’s no problem.” The only possible danger could be when a diamond is “too perfect” and it has no flaws, he said. Simic added that he has seen a rise in production of lab-grown diamond factories in China, which means “a lot more of these stones” on the market.