One of the most unsettling things about man-made diamonds to the traditional industry is that they are diamonds, just grown in a laboratory, not found in a mine. That is what makes them a different kind of competitor than, say, cubic zirconia or moissanite.
But, of course, some in the natural industry want to dub them as something very different than mined diamonds—as fake. The Israeli Diamond Exchange recently adopted a slogan: “Natural Is Real.” And at De Beers’ presentation in Las Vegas, executives repeatedly called their stones “real diamonds.” You can guess what they were trying to imply there.
But, as GIA’s Mumbai lab director put it at a 2012 Rapaport conference: “Synthetic diamonds are real diamonds. They have the same optical, chemical, thermal, and physical features.” Of course, some may debate what the term real means. Online sources can be a little confusing on this topic, but one defines the term as “being actually such.” Lab-grown diamonds are actually diamonds. They fall into the diamond category. That, to me, makes them the real thing.
There is one difference, and it’s an important one: How they were produced. Traditionally, diamonds have been found in mines. Grown diamonds are produced in a factory. Now, people have different opinions about that origin difference, and that is okay. According to the FTC, if you use the word diamond unadorned in sales or marketing materials, you must be referring to a natural gem. Furthermore, you can’t call a lab-created stone a diamond without using one of the FTC-approved qualifiers (lab-grown, man-made, synthetic, and company-created). All that makes sense. Consumers should know what they are buying, especially since there is a value difference between the naturals and the nonnaturals. But that doesn’t mean that synthetic diamonds aren’t diamonds. They are just a specific type of diamond.
What brings this up? In December, the Jewelers Vigilance Committee wrote to one of its members that sells lab-grown diamonds and said the following:
…we found that you are using the words “Real” and “Genuine” to describe a laboratory created/synthetic diamond in your website advertising.
The FTC Guides for the jewelry industry §23.24 – Misuse of the words “real,” “genuine,” “natural,” “precious,” etc. state that: “It is unfair or deceptive to use the word “real,” “genuine,” “natural,” “precious”, “semi-precious,” or similar terms to describe any industry product that is manufactured or produced artificially.”
Now, the JVC is just relaying the FTC’s rules—here’s the relevant guideline—and that’s its job. But unlike the issue over of the term eco-friendly, where the FTC regulations made a certain arguable sense, I can’t get behind this at all.
First of all, natural, I agree, shouldn’t be used to describe a man-made stone. Precious is arguable, but since grown diamonds are the same product as a natural precious stone, I don’t see why not. Finally, for a grower not to be able to call its stones either real or genuine strikes me as wrong-headed and downright misleading.
When I talked to JVC mediation specialist Jo-Ann Sperano about this, she made a compelling point: If growers are allowed to call its stones real, that could confuse the consumer. “There is no way a reasonable consumer could see the word real and understand that’s a man-made stone,” she says.
True enough. However, when the FTC gave a limited okay to the word cultured, it said that term could be used only in conjunction with another one of the already FTC-approved terms. If a grower simply labels its product Real Diamonds, that would undoubtedly be confusing. But to call the stones real in an ad’s body copy, or in an FAQ, or in response to a consumer question—once the stone’s origin has already been disclosed and made completely clear—seems to me a perfectly reasonable thing to allow, if for no other reason that it’s true. You could say it even reflects—to use a loaded term—reality.
Diamond growers have spent much energy fighting the word synthetic or trying to get the FTC to approve the word cultured. But this rule seems far more important, as it strikes at the heart of their sales pitch. Given that the FTC is reconsidering its Guides this year, it shouldn’t be too hard to modify this rule in a way that both informs the consumer and describes the true nature of the product.
The trade is still getting its head around lab-grown diamonds. It will take some time before we figure out how they compete with the naturals and what their place in the industry is. But we have to be clear-eyed and honest about what they are and what we are dealing with. Frankly, the industry and the FTC both need to get real.