In a 30-page legal petition to the Federal Trade Commission, the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, along with the nine trade associations have asked that the use of the word “cultured” not be allowed in connection with laboratory-created diamonds.
“Given the widespread confusion and misconception found among consumers when asked about the meaning of ‘cultured’ when applied to products other than pearl, we felt it was important to ask the FTC to amend the Guides,” said Cecilia Gardner, JVC president, chief executive officer, and general counsel. “The Guides should address the important issue of full disclosure of the true nature of laboratory created jewelry products.”
The other organizations involved in the petition are: American Gem Society, American Gem Trade Association, The World Jewellery Confederation, the Cultured Pearl Association, Diamond Council of America, the Diamond Manufacturers and Importers Association of America, International Diamond Manufacturers Association, Jewelers of America, Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America, and the World Federation of Diamond Bourses.
The petition covers a great deal of history and general science with the use of the word ‘cultured’ and brings up the fact that the FTC has already once denied its use with Chatham Created Emeralds (1964). As the petition notes, “recent surveys show that consumers understand cultured to be a natural growth process with some human intervention, and that they value cultured products more than synthetic ones.”
The petition itself is detailed by explanations of the important differences among natural, synthetic, and cultured products. It also discusses current production and marketing of synthetic diamond, describes how the FTC currently explains the term ‘cultured,’ and offers opinion as to why the Guides need to be amended. Included in the petition is how this proposed amendment would be “consistent with the regulatory approach taken in other countries,” since Europe has already banned the use of the term “cultured diamond.”
Consumer surveys from 2002, 2005, and 2006 are incorporated into the petition to show how little the consumer understands exactly what a cultured diamond is. According to the 2006 survey, “41 percent of the respondents believed that ‘cultured diamond’ is a natural product.”
Ruth Batson, president of the AGS, told JCK the reason for joining the petition. “The American Gem Society’s mission is to build ‘deserved public trust’ in our industry. In support of our mission, this amendment is needed to protect consumers from erroneously associating ‘cultured diamond’ with a natural product.”
Stephen Lux, president and CEO of Gemesis, in Sarasota, Fla., along with Clark McEwen, Gemesis chief operating officer, told JCK that they have been actively marketing their synthetic diamonds as cultured for the past six years, and there has been no misunderstanding. “I think it’s safe to say that we feel that cultured adequately describes what we do, and it’s not misleading to the consumer in any way. The question begging to be asked is who are these industry organizations trying to protect? The consumer or the industry’s own commercial interests?” Lux and McEwen said they are disappointed that the JVC finds time for this petition when they feel that the JVC should be actively trying to enforce the Guides with respect to websites that promote man-made or synthetic diamonds when in actuality are selling CZ or Moissanite. “These are truly blatant and illegal,” says Lux. “JVC seems to be focusing on your recent success instead.”
“We have to see what the FTC accepts and then we would respond accordingly,” says McEwen.
“This certainly has no bearing on our aggressive business plan going forward,” says Lux. “We have the utmost in integrity in how our product is presented in the marketplace and in its continued acceptance by the outside grading labs. We will continue to be very successful. We will monitor the petition. And we will take appropriate action when it becomes a matter of public record.”
According to the JVC press release, “the staff of the Consumer Enforcement Division of the FTC will now consider the contents of the petition with its accompanying consumer survey data and determine if there are sufficient grounds to issue a Federal Register notice which could solicit comments from the trade on whether the Guides should be amended.”