Interview With a Director of the New Lab-Grown Diamond Association

“We won’t replace mined diamonds,” says Richard Garard, the group’s new secretary general

Richard S. Garard, CEO of equipment manufacturer Microwave Enterprises, was recently appointed secretary general of the International Grown Diamond Association, the just-formed umbrella organization for the lab-grown diamond industry. For now, the group will operate out of his company’s Morrisville, N.C.–based office. In this interview, Garard talks with JCK about why the group came about, the age-old controversies over nomenclature, and why he believes that the traditional industry should not fear man-made gems.

JCK: What are the goals of the new group?

Richard Garard: To properly represent and the grown diamond industry, to be clear about the properties, the material itself, and to help grow the industry.

JCK: Do you expect to hire professional staff?

Garard: Eventually, yes, but not in the near term.

JCK: What do you think the industry needs to know about the lab-grown diamond business?

Garard: This is add-on market for the industry. For the foreseeable future, we are a small portion of diamond output. I don’t think we are going to replaced mined diamonds, but consumers will have a choice over whether they want a mine-grown diamond or lab-grown diamond. For the industrial and scientific fields, they need the consistency that is available through producing diamonds in the lab.

JCK: Will this new group be focused on the gem or industrial markets?

Garard: Both. Most of our members are currently pursuing the gem business. But that is because there is a market there. Going forward [when natural supply declines], there will a void that needs to be filled. There is also significant potential in the industrial and scientific markets. We will do both, certainly. The initial market, the gem industry, is where most of our companies are.

JCK: Yet some of the bigger companies in the industrial sector—such as Element Six or U.S. Synthetic—are not currently members.

Garard: We welcome all grown-diamond brands. It is an open platform. All members must agree to our code of ethics and best-practice principles. Any grown diamond company that wishes to join is welcome to do so. No one is restricted. But we do look to them to have a like mind.

JCK: Those companies use the word synthetic. Yet, your code calls this term “incorrect and misleading.” Would that prevent them from joining?

Garard: One of our objectives is to have proper terminology. If you look at the website or talk to any of our members, you will note that the word synthetic is not a welcome word. It is tied to products like moissanite and cubic zirconia. Each applicant will have to take that into consideration. Having proper, accurate terminology is something that the founding members believe in.

JCK: Your organization uses the term grown. Yet, the Federal Trade Commission has not approved that term; it favors lab-grown. Will that be an issue?

Garard: I’ll have to look into that. You are probably correct that most people use lab-grown. Some people use cultured. Some people just use grown. Some people say lab-created or greenhouse-created.

We will do our best to work with the various agencies to clarify terminology issues. We’ll need to pursue that. There is no question that we all want to be clear on representing that these are lab grown-diamonds.

JCK: Some members have said this could represent your industry in communications with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which recently put out a nomenclature code that some of your members did not agree with. What, in particular, do you object to in that standard?

Garard: We are still in communication about how we deal with that. To my knowledge, the number of [our] members that reviewed their draft was zero. That’s a shame.

JCK: Is there anything you hope the Federal Trade Commission will change in its guides?

Garard: I personally have not interacted with the FTC. I would need to follow up with others on that.

JCK: The group’s three-person executive board consists of the CEO of IIa Technologies, Vishal Mehta; yourself (your company is a partner of IIA); and a principal of Golcondia, which also buys from IIA. I have heard concerns from members that one company is dominating the group.

Garard: Any association within any industry needs somebody committed to take the reins and drive it. You can’t get 20 people who are busy running their business to do it, particularly in the beginning. We are very pleased with the response we have received. The patron members have provided that impetus and will lead for a while, but this is going to be an international growing association.

JCK: Just to clarity something that has appeared in print elsewhere: Is your company owned by IIA or one of its related companies? A presentation from Germany indicated it is.

Garard: They have no ownership whatsoever. The gentleman [in Germany] assumed we were more than a distributor and made that statement incorrectly. We certainly sell to them and buy from IIA, and we are close to them as a result. But I try to be close to all my customers. We are also starting to buy CVD diamonds from other companies besides IIA.

JCK: Sometimes, there appears to be an adversarial relationship between the natural and mined industries. How do you attempt to bridge that?

Garard: I hope it’s not adversarial. I don’t think the lab-grown market will ever replace the mined diamond market. When the mined diamond supply goes down, we hope that lab-growns fill some of that void. We intend to coexist, but we want to do it on an equal playing field.

JCK News Director