60 Minutes II Tackles Synthetics

Synthetic diamonds scored their biggest public relations coup yet in May with a story on CBS TV’s 60 Minutes II.

Considering that 60 Minutes has done several negative reports on the diamond industry—one scathingly so—some felt relieved that the show largely pulled its punches. But like other media coverage, the 60 Minutes II story played up the threat synthetics pose to natural gems.

“Mother Nature may be losing her patent on diamonds,” said reporter Vicki Mabrey. “What used to take thousands of years to create can now happen in a matter of days, and at a fraction of the price.”

General Carter Clarke, founder of synthetics producer Gemesis, told Mabrey there is no difference between his stones and natural diamonds.

“[Our diamonds] have all the same characteristics, all the same features, all the same chemical composition as naturals, so it’s a diamond,” he said. “A diamond is a diamond.”

The show also spoke to Robert C. Linares, chairman of Boston-based Apollo Diamond, the other synthetics manufacturer that has gotten a lot of press lately. “We can program the computer to make these more perfect,” said Linares. “In a batch of diamonds, every one will be identical.”

Some industry spokespeople defended natural gems. Jerry Ehrenwald, president of the International Gemological Institute, said a synthetic is a “copy, a clone, it’s not the real thing.

“When one considers a diamond, there are two points,” he said. “There’s the scientific end of it, and then there’s the emotional end of it. … Will a person be as happy with something that’s made in a laboratory as opposed to something that took so long to come to us as a gift of nature?”

Jeweler Phillip Weisner agreed that a synthetic “can sound like the real thing. It can look like the real thing, but there ain’t nothing like the real thing.”

The show also noted that “lab-grown stones are virtually indistinguishable from those mined from the earth” and that most jewelers could not tell the difference. “Consumers have no way to tell,” Mabrey said. She did add that De Beers was investing millions to develop equipment to detect the stones and that Clarke was selling his stones with laser inscriptions.

In the end, Clarke got the last word, when Mabrey asked him: “If you give a woman a choice between a two-carat Gemesis stone and a half- or one-carat natural diamond, which do you think she’ll go for?”

“That’s a pretty simple answer,” Clarke replied. “I don’t think there’s any such thing as a diamond too big.”