What Should We Call, Um, THOSE Diamonds?

Harry Levy, president of the London Diamond Bourse and numerous other groups, writes in with the following comments on my post from last week on whether lab-grown diamonds are real diamonds: 

As you know over the years I have given support to the growers of synthetic diamonds. I have done this, not to act as a promoter of synthetic stones, but rather to give them a voice at meetings when we work out rules and nomenclature for their stones. They are never given a voice at to what is legislated—this is wrong. Further they have a product which is an alternative to natural stones, cheaper and in many cases better looking.

The important thing is to have a nomenclature and marketing that clearly differentiates between natural diamonds and man made diamonds.

I saw a quote that natural diamonds are those that are made below the ground, whereas synthetic diamonds are those made above the ground. I fully agree that man-made diamonds are diamonds, but the consumer understands the meaning of words such as natural, real, and genuine as referring to the mined variety and not the man-made ones.…

Part of the argument about man-made stones is that the term synthetic is too broad as far as the consumer is concerned. The trade has given a specific meaning to the term synthetic. These are stones that have all the physical and chemical properties as the natural element they are imitating. In the trade synthetic diamonds means that it is a stone that is in general indistinguishable from a natural diamond. Synthetic diamond does not refer to cubic zirconia, moissanite, YAG, white glass, or any other clear white stone. Unfortunately the consumer is unaware of this narrow definition of synthetic. 

I do not like the terms laboratory grown and laboratory created. Such synthetic stones are not made in a laboratory. To put it in one way synthetic diamonds are made by men dressed in brown coats and not white ones. I prefer to use the term man-made rather than synthetic. It is unambiguous, and immediately conveys the message to the consumer and not gender-oriented in this case.

Regarding company-created and created, some wit once said only God creates. Company-created should have the brand name of the company. Plain created leaves ambiguity as to who does the creating.

I think all producers of synthetic diamonds are happy to sell their stones as man-made. It is only in the secondary market, the cutters, dealers and retailers that are tempted to try and confuse the buyer that he is buying some type of natural stone. 

Thank you, Harry. While I feel there has been too much talk over what to call these diamonds, here are my thoughts on the available options. 

First off, cultured. It’s not clear to consumers, it doesn’t describe the process, and even the FTC’s recommendations on its usage confuse people. Despite plenty of debate, hardly anyone uses it. The continued arguments over this term are a waste of everyone’s time and money.

Second, synthetic. This term seems to generate the most—and angriest—debates on JCKonline for whatever reason. (All right, I know the reason.)  So as reluctant as I am to wade into this one more time, perhaps I can find a middle ground here.

Any fair-minded person would have to admit the word synthetic is confusing to consumers. Given that most people understand the word to mean fake, and synthetic hair and synthetic leather bear little relation to the real thing, it’s understandable why growers would object so strongly to its usage.

And yet the word is commonly used by 1) scientists; 2) companies that produce industrial (non-gem quality) diamonds; 3) the trade; and 4) those who want to disparage lab-grown products. I’m not crazy about category 4, and that group has some overlap with category 3, but once the trade adopts a word, it’s hard to budge; see how it persists in using the word certs for reports, in spite of all the admonitions not to.

But is the word accurate? For the last year or so, Pure Grown (the former Gemesis) has argued that it isn’t, as synthetic typically refers to synthesis—meaning a mixture of elements—and diamonds contain only one element: carbon. Yet the dictionary defines synthesis as: “The production of a substance by combining simpler substances through a chemical process.” And according to GIA, CVD diamonds are grown by “a heated mixture of a hydrocarbon gas (typically methane) and hydrogen.” So I will defer to the scientists here. In a way, we are at the same place with synthetic as we are with the word real: It may be accurate scientifically, but it does not work as a clear descriptor for consumers. (Those who disagree feel free to do so—politely, please—in the comments.) 

Let’s get to the other terms: Lab-grown and man-made both work fine for me. Man-made tells exactly what the product is; it’s the same item but made by humans, not by nature. Lab-grown is pretty clear but a little off-base—as Levy says, they are mostly grown in factories. But it doesn’t sound eco-friendly to say factory-grown. Even lab-grown has kind of off-putting overtones, as Michelle Graff found when she polled her friends.  

Pure Grown (and its sister—or brother—company, IIa Technologies) now uses the word grown, without the lab modifier. The primary benefit is that it lets people know these diamonds are grown, which sets them apart from simulants. Still, it’s not a clear descriptor at all, and shouldn’t be allowed. Diamonds grow in the ground as well. 

The FTC has also said it is okay to use the term [company]-created. For my money, created is the best currently approved word to use, and, unlike Levy, I think it conveys the information adequately even without the company name. And Tom Chatham has already used it, pretty extensively, for his colored stones.

The problem with the terms created, man-made, lab-grown, etc., is they all can be—and are—used by sellers of simulants in a way that confuses the public. Diamond Nexus calls its simulants lab-created diamond simulants. It says its products were created in a lab (or lab/factory), so why not. The Jewelers Vigilance Committee, on the other hand, feels that companies that sell simulants shouldn’t be using the word diamond at all in their descriptions. But until we get chapter and verse on this from the FTC, this will be a potential problem area. 

Perhaps there is no perfect descriptor out there, but the current FTC-approved terms seem to work pretty well as far as educating the consumer. (Has anyone ever tried to use the term non-mined diamonds? Gets both the info, and the selling point, across.) Maybe the most important point is, whatever we call these diamonds, they are here to stay. 

JCK News Director