The ISO’s New Diamond Standard Is Stricter Than the FTC’s

This week, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) issued a new standard for describing synthetic and treated diamonds, which is notably stricter than the Federal Trade Commission’s Guides for the jewelry industry.

Like the FTC, the ISO standard says the unmodified term diamond can be used only in reference to natural diamonds. It defines a natural stone as “one formed completely by nature without human intervention during the formation.”

That makes sense, although the FTC and ISO part company in several ways. The ISO allows marketers to use only the terms laboratory-created, laboratory-grown, and synthetic to describe nonnatural diamonds. The FTC allows those terms as well as man-made and (company name)-created, says Cecilia Gardner, president and CEO of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee. 

In perhaps the pickiest—even pedantic—part of the new standard, it explicitly forbids any abbreviations of its approved terms, such as lab-grown and lab-created. Those abbreviations are common in the trade, so much so that the World Federation of Diamond Bourses, in its release hailing the new standard, used the term lab-grown.

Those abbreviations are also allowed by FTC, Gardner says.

“ISO is being tougher than the FTC,” she adds. “U.S. government agencies have a general instinct not to overregulate speech.”

The standard does not explicitly ban the terms man-made or (company name)-created, but it does not say they are allowed either. 

Harry Levy, the CIBJO and London Diamond Bourse veteran who chaired the committee that developed the standard, tells me he believes that man-made should be included. 

To me that is the best term,” he says. “It immediately tells the consumer what the product is. But the committee didn’t want to use it, because the term man-made in some languages translates to being made from man, rather than by man.”

The ISO wants “to aim for the strictest rules,” Levy says, “the highest common denominator.”

The ISO also bans the terms natural, real, genuine, precious, cultured, cultivated, and gem to describe a lab-grown diamond and calls simply using a manufacturer name “insufficient.” That roughly comports with the FTC rules, although the FTC allows the use of term cultured if immediately accompanied by any of the other approved terms. (I have argued that the term real should be handled in a similar way, allowable if accompanied by another modifier.)

Other notable points: 

– The ISO says that any treated diamond “shall be disclosed as a treated diamond and/or a specific reference to the particular treatment.” Saying and/or makes a difference here; many could comply with the or, but not the and.

– The standard defines a treated stone as one that has had “any human intervention other than cutting, polishing, cleaning, and setting, to permanently or non-permanently change its appearance.” One diamond dealer has emailed, arguing that description might apply to table and girdle inscriptions. The ISO provides the normal examples (coating, fracture filling, heating, irradiation, laser drilling, and HPHT), and companies generally disclose inscriptions regardless. They’re a selling point.

– The new standard does not address diamond grading, but a standard there might have a far greater impact than this one.    

There is one final difference between the FTC and ISO guidance, and it’s an important one. Complying with the ISO standards is voluntary. If you sell in the United States, complying with the FTC Guides is not.

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JCK News Director