Can New Synthetics Fool Detection Devices?

One positive effect of the recent uproar about misrepresented lab-grown diamonds is that there is an increased focus on developing an affordable detection device that can be used on all range of stones and be disseminated to the trade. We should be hearing some good news about this soon.

However, the much-sought-after “black box”—a simple device that can distinguish between synthetics and naturals, like we have for moissanite and cubic zirconia—may not be coming anytime soon, if ever. Since lab-grown and natural diamonds are the same product, just grown by different means, distinguishing one from the other is always likely to be more complicated than it is for CZ and moissanite. The good news is that the labs are confident that they can distinguish any lab-grown stone currently on the market. (Which isn’t true for HPHT-treated diamonds; a small minority are considered hard to distinguish.) 

This week, Hong Kong company Diamond Services announced that it has developed an affordable, easy, new device for detecting manmade diamonds. This machine has yet to be evaluated, or for that matter, introduced. It would be most welcome if it pans out. But the company’s release stirred up some consternation for this sentence:

Recently the industry was confronted with synthetic diamonds that belong to the Type IaAB category, which cannot be detected by means of fluorescence measurements. This, for all practical purposes, means that the instruments that currently serve gem labs and the industry at large have become, if not obsolete, at least less reliable.

This spurred a dismissive reaction from Lynette Gould, spokeswoman for De Beers, which developed the DiamondSure and DiamondView devices: 

Our capabilities to detect all synthetics, simulants, or treatments are 100 percent reliable and robust. On the specific reference to synthetic diamonds belonging to the type IaAB category, again our extensive research to date shows that this is not possible. It is also important to note that fluorescence measurements are not used in isolation to detect synthetic diamonds anyway—so the reference to fluorescence is misleading.

GIA spokesman Stephen Morisseau tells JCK that his organization has the ability to detect all synthetics.

But looking at the larger issue here, it is quite possible that we will see more-challenging-to-detect manmade stones down the road. We all hope that, as synthetic production technology improves, so will detection technology. But it is a race—and the dishonest people out there complicate things. At least the trade has now woken up and realizes what it’s up against.

UPDATE: In the spring Gems and Gemology, there was a report about a lab-grown diamond that was Type 1aA (not 1aAB). 

UPDATE TWO: It turns out the 1aAB was natural, the Hong Kong lab now says.

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JCK News Director