Looking Again at the “Real” Diamond Question

Via Paul Zimnisky on Twitter, I can certainly see why Diamond Foundry would want The New York Times to correct this quote:

An earlier version of this article misquoted Jeremy Scholz, the chief technology officer at Diamond Foundry. He said that, in terms of the ecological and social costs, lab-grown diamonds can be “even better than mined diamonds”—not “even better than real diamonds.”

Whether lab diamonds are “real” is the subject of much discussion in the trade. And to some people, it’s the key question regarding lab-grown diamonds.

If they are looked on as the same product, why wouldn’t consumers go for the cheaper alternative? That’s one reason diamond growers hate the word synthetic. Despite the scientific basis for the term, they fear it means fake.

Now, chemically, there is no question. Man-made diamonds may legally require a qualifier, but they are diamonds.

Yet the people who represent the natural industry, like the Diamond Producers Association, argue that, to the consumer, diamonds stand for more than just a compressed lump of carbon.

“More than just chemicals, diamonds involve preciousness, authenticity, and heritage,” wrote DPA CEO Jean-Marc Lieberherr. recently to The New York Times. “Just as one cannot compare an original painting to a reproduction, one cannot compare a diamond to a manufactured replica.”

Claiming the mantle of “real” is the backbone of DPA’s advertising campaign, which bears the slogan: “Real is rare. Real is a diamond.” There is an unmistakable message there.

Personally, I don’t want the trade to get bogged down in debates over whose diamonds are real and whose aren’t. The Times reporter misquoted that Diamond Foundry statement in a generally pro-lab-grown article. It’s likely the reporter didn’t think of that quote as a telling slip, as some in the industry might, but just a way of spelling out the differences between the two products.

The trade may debate this question, but I think even among fans of lab-grown diamonds there is the acknowledgment that they are something a little different—that they are not exactly the same as mined stones. To some, that’s a problem. But plenty of others don’t care, or don’t think much of the difference. This issue may consume the trade, but I’m not sure it means that much at the selling counter.

Mined diamonds have many qualities consumers desire—they are natural, they have history, they have traditionally stood for certain things, they will likely hold their value, they (sometimes) do good for their local communities. Perhaps the industry needs to focus on those positives instead of casting aspersions at this new interloper.


UPDATE: A reader sent me this video where the Diamond Foundry’s CEO uses the term “real diamonds” to  describe the diamond that acts as a seed.


JCK News Director

  • Jim Adair

    Never do synthetic stones of any type ever hold their value……..somebody just makes a pile more at a cheaper price and it’s just a race to the bottom. Synthetic diamonds will not be any different

  • Martin Roscheisen

    DPA … should do better than spreading fake news in The New York Times.

    America’s largest diamond producer, Diamond Foundry, does not use “large amounts of fossil-fuel generated power” — our foundry has a zero carbon footprint and uses an entire factor less energy than mining takes. There’s truth in facts. (There’s also no question the DPA is great at making up stuff, aka “marketing”.)

    The jewelry industry is full of diamond simulants like cubic zirconia, and in this market there is no question that aboveground diamonds are the real thing, not simulants. Unlike simulants, aboveground diamonds are costly and difficult to produce and thus necessarily rare and expensive relative to simulants. Sure, aboveground diamonds are probably not collector items like an authentic Picasso but they are also not competing in that market. That Graff stone will always be a Graff stone.

    The diamond jewelry industry should stop lying to consumers. Only an honest approach can be a sustainable one. The notion that a diamond purchased at a jewelry brand holds value is just not true; we all know that. The moment you walk out of the store, you leave 50-90% on the table. No consumer expects a LVMH bag to hold value, so people will continue to buy diamonds but once people are misled in one way, they start questioning everything else.

    As the purveyor of the rarest diamonds on Earth — batches of fewer than 100,000 carats per year and 100% eco-friendly — retail partners nationwide enjoy working with us because we share profits in ways that make everyone’s business healthy. JCK’s agenda is truly very different than that DPA’s!

    (This comment has been edited by the moderator.)

    • Patrick Slavenburg

      Exactly. Excellent points. ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) KPI’s are rapidly becoming a part of any investor metrics. As well as important to consumers. The jewelry industry is fighting rear-guard fights about “lab grown” or “real” etc etc. When it should focus on certifying and cleaning up its supply chain and becoming more professional in its business practices.

  • Shiv C

    Mined diamonds are losing value slowly. Agreed the Chinese lab grown diamond producers are waiting for American & Indian lab grown diamond producers to invest and create a good market for lab grown diamonds and once done Chinese will flood the market with millions of carats of lab grown diamonds, cheap.

    The fact is the Chinese have the know how to make lab grown diamonds & they have no respect for the market itself.

    The biggest problem is with such industry fights, the industry is losing consumers in huge numbers.

    Consumers are now even more confused and hence less & less interested in diamonds & our industry. The pie is getting smaller every passing day. Less and Less demand. Still more retailers struggling and closing. less professionals like goldsmiths, gemologists entering our industry.

    When it comes to the diamond industry I feel the worst is yet to come.

    • Patrick Slavenburg

      Such a paternalistic point of view it’s disgusting. First off: the consumer isn’t SO quickly confused. It HAS BEEN confused however by the decades of obfuscation, misrepresentation, lying and cheating of so many in the industry. Second: “respect for the market”: excuse me? Since when do players in the market demand “respect”? That’s not a free market, that’s called a *cartel*. And the last thing in the world we need is “respect” for them.

  • JT Curtiss

    Wow Mr. Roscheisen, now who’s casting the aspersions…methinks he protest too much. When the DPA announced their slogan a while back I commented here that it was a little clunky. Since it’s the truth that the manmade industry wants, what the DPA should have said was “Real is Natural” or the more cheeky “Real is a Diamond…Naturally”.

    More than a “telling” slip, that reporters error was more Freudian; in his mind the manmade product is not real, and that’s what came out. It is and will forever be exactly the same in the minds of suppliers, retailers, and consumers…naturally.

  • Patrick Slavenburg

    There is another element: Environment, Social, Governance data. Increasingly a concern for investors. Increasingly a standard for consumers as well. While the diamond industry loves to say they feed millions of miners… it remains to be seen if that is true. I’ve seen enough videos of little kids mining rather than going to school. How about climate change and environmental standards? It’s time the jewelry industry cleans up and certifies its ENTIRE supply chain.