Yesterday’s meeting on synthetics was a valuable exercise in figuring out where the trade goes from here, but it turned out to be off the record, so I don’t have much to report from it. I would, however, like to relay the piece of advice I gave at the meeting.
But before I do, let me go back to when the industry first began hearing about lab-grown diamonds. When Gemesis and Apollo Diamond first burst on the scene, the principals from those organizations made sure they were very visible and high profile. Carter Clarke and Bryant Linares attended countless industry conferences. Industry people began to understand the product. Some began to sell it.
All that has changed. Today’s breed of companies are non-transparent and often mysterious. The lab-grown companies seem increasingly to view themselves as apart from the traditional industry.
Take the recent uproar over non-disclosed synthetics. Almost every group has spoken up about it, including De Beers. But whose voice has been missing in all this uproar? The lab-grown diamond manufacturers. They have barely said a word with regard to a topic they have more than a vested interest in. While the old companies bent over backward to say they are committed to disclosure, today when you talk to some executives—not all, but some—they say they believe in disclosure, but fundamentally, it’s not their problem.
Actually, it is, and that kind of attitude is extremely shortsighted. Nondisclosure, in addition to being illegal, helps fuel negative perceptions of lab-grown diamonds. Consider the diamond trade’s biggest nightmare, a TV exposé where a consumer complains he was sold lab-grown diamonds when he expected naturals. That wouldn’t just be damaging to the natural diamond industry, it would give a black eye to the lab-grown business as well. Manmade manufacturers often say they object to the word “synthetic” because they don’t want their product associated with the word “fake.” Is it better to have your product associated with the words “fraud,” “misrepresentation,” and “illegal activity”? What’s a better message for consumers to see on the news—‘“I got a lab-grown diamond. They are better than naturals. I’m pumped” or “I got a lab-grown diamond. I expected a natural. I’m pissed”? It seems to me if you don’t want your product to be perceived as fake, you wouldn’t want anyone to fake people out with it.
And really, the more consumers get turned off to diamonds, the more they turn to colored stones for their engagement rings. That hurts everyone who sells any kind of diamonds.
One way out of the current crisis is for the natural and lab-grown industries to enter into a dialogue. Sure, there will be organizations such as De Beers that will be inherently hostile to synthetics, because it’s possibly a threat to their business model. And there will be areas of disagreement, particularly over nomenclature (“synthetic,” “cultured,” as well as “conflict-free”). That’s okay. Not everyone has to agree on everything. In the end, most of the nomenclature questions will be settled by the Federal Trade Commission here in the United States, and it’s possible its ruling will set the standard worldwide.
The lab-grown and natural industries have a lot more in common than it appears. They are both in the same business and sell the same product—just produced in a different way. Whether that production method is perceived as good, bad, or indifferent is ultimately up to the consumer.
Someday, the lab-grown and mined diamond trades will have to coexist. In a way, that’s already begun to happen. Smart minds need to figure out a way to make this coexistence a little more peaceful, so that this promising new product can be sold in a way that protects consumers and the industries’ reputations. Because in the end, if the two industries don’t start communicating and working together, the blowback could seriously damage them both.