Barneys and Diamond Foundry Are Making a Big Mistake With Their Lab-Grown Diamond Line

Their use of a non-FTC-approved descriptor is irresponsible

While it’s hardly the most pressing issue in the world right now, I am disappointed with Diamond Foundry and Barneys New York’s decision to use the word cultivated for their new line of lab-grown diamonds.

The controversy boils down to this:

The Barneys release calls the stones cultivated—which is not, at press time, one of the terms the Federal Trade Commission has okayed for lab-grown diamonds.

Diamond Foundry said in response, “Our diamonds being man-made is the whole point of our marketing, which we are very clear about. This is consistent with FTC principles of making sure that consumers get what they think they get.”

However, when asked her view if the term was sufficient under the FTC Guides, Jewelers Vigilance Committee president and CEO Cecilia Gardner replied, “Nope.”

In a submission to the FTC concerning the ongoing revision of the Guides, Diamond Foundry vice president of jewelry Khristina Horn makes the standard pitch to disqualify the word synthetic—and while that is not likely to happen, there is at least some logic there. But she also calls for allowing the terms foundry diamonds, cultured diamonds (with no modifier), and grown diamonds.

The FTC will eventually make the call here, but from where I sit, the terms foundry diamond, cultivated diamond, grown diamond, and cultured diamond communicate absolutely nothing. They do not describe the product; they just attach a vague modifier to it. The terms lab-grown, man-made, [company]-created, and non-mined do a far better job of explaining how these diamonds differ from traditional earth-mined rocks. (Non-mined has not been approved by the FTC. But I like it.)

A company that uses the term cultivated diamonds does not seem like one that’s proud of the origin of its diamonds, but one that is deliberately trying to obscure it.

More importantly, cultivated has not been approved by the FTC. In her submission, Horn does not even make a case for it. But Diamond Foundry and Barneys are using it anyway.

Let’s compare their behavior here to that of Spence Diamonds, which also sells man-made diamonds. The people there found consumers didn’t care for the term lab-grown. So they labeled their diamonds “Spence Artisan Created diamonds.” It’s not the most descriptive title in the world, but it conforms to the FTC Guides, and consumers apparently like it. No one will object.

The reason the Guides exist is to referee the industry’s endless disputes over nomenclature. You may not agree with all its calls, but we can submit comments regarding them, and the lawyers there publicly explain their reasoning. And, in the end, the rules are the rules.

For years, sellers of simulants have called their products “lab-grown diamonds.” The people who make real lab-grown diamonds hate that, as well they should. It’s clearly misleading. The only way we have to stop them is to cite the FTC Guides. So these rules protect everyone. When a notable retailer and well-funded up-and-comer disregards them, that sets a dangerous precedent.

Despite my occasional disagreements with Diamond Foundry, the people there have always been pleasant and open with me. At least one I consider a friend. But one prominent player in the lab-grown industry told me they are increasingly looked at as a “renegade” company—which is striking, considering the lab-grown industry contains some pretty interesting characters.

Created diamonds are a promising product. But they will never take off unless the industry is on board with them. Diamond Foundry seems to be going out of its way to alienate the traditional trade. It’s a nice coup for the company to sell product at a great retailer like Barneys. Now it’s up to Barneys to sell them the right way.

 

UPDATE: Diamond Foundry responds here.

 

JCK News Director