Debate Over ‘Synthetic’ Is Real

The Gemological Institute of America’s Fourth International Gemological Symposium hosted dozens of seminars and panels, some of which took place in rooms labeled “The Jungle,” “The Pit,” and “The Ring,” names that reflected the sometimes controversial nature of the discussions. In “The Ring,” a contentious discussion on synthetics was held against the backdrop of GIA’s recent announcement that, after years of saying no, it will now accept synthetic diamonds for quality grading. The big debate over these reports is over what to call the diamonds: synthetic or something else.

Gemologically, synthetic diamonds are not fakes or “simulants.” Optically, chemically, and physically, they’re the same as the natural gem, except that they were created—grown—in a laboratory. But the word synthetic can mean “artificial,” and artificial can mean “simulated.” Thus, the manufacturers of synthetic diamonds argue that the term synthetic is misunderstood by most of the public and inappropriate for use on the newly proposed diamond-grading report.

The argument can get heated. During the Symposium panel discussion, panelist Shmuel Schnitzer, honorary life president of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses, noted that he was pleased when a storekeeper told him that some furniture he had bought was “made with synthetic leather.” He commented that he’d be upset if he were not told.

Tom Chatham, president and chief executive officer of Chatham Created Gems & Diamonds in San Francisco, responded, “What the hell is synthetic leather? That’s the problem. Even you don’t know what you’re talking about. And you wonder why we don’t like the word?”

Schnitzer noted that the diamond bourses had made concessions by allowing the word “diamond” to be used with “synthetics.”

Said Chatham: “Again, he doesn’t get the fact that it is diamond! How could there be any concession?”

The debate goes on. Meanwhile, after announcing that it would inscribe these diamonds as synthetic, GIA is re-evaluating that decision.