Diamond labs in technology race to protect industry reputation23 Jan 2019
The reputation of the global diamond jewellery industry will hinge on the capability of laboratory groups to detect undisclosed synthetics in the tiniest diamonds, industry leaders say.
By David Brough
Diamond laboratory groups are competing fiercely in a technology race to improve detection of lab grown diamonds amid fears for the reputation of the industry.
The concern over lab-grown or synthetic diamonds, surrounds an unscrupulous practice of mixing undisclosed synthetic diamonds in packages of natural small diamonds called melee.
There is no accurate data to show how often this activity takes place in the supply chain, but the practice has put the global diamond and jewellery industry on its guard. The presence of undisclosed synthetics in diamond jewellery challenges the ethics of the industry and threatens to undermine its reputation.
“If the identity of any class of natural diamond is brought into question, we run the risk of undermining the reputation of the entire category,” said Gaetano Cavalieri, President of the World Jewellery Confederation (CIBJO). “I have no issue with a consumer making a choice between an inexpensive item of jewellery set with smaller, lower-cost natural stones and a piece featuring an attractive larger synthetic diamond, as long as he or she knows exactly what is on the table. But we must not dismiss the urgency of proper disclosure in the lower-price ranges.”
Cavalieri added, “We cannot fall into a trap whereby we equate the value of melee and synthetic diamonds, and therefore discount the importance of clearly distinguishing between the two.
“In doing so, we ultimately would risk the reputation of all diamonds, and weaken the position of a product category that currently represents about half of all jewellery sales.”
A key focus of the technology race now under way between laboratory groups is their capability to detect undisclosed synthetics in the smallest of diamonds.
De Beers’ IIDGR (International Institute of Diamond Grading & Research) has been at the forefront of the race to detect synthetics in minuscule diamonds. SYNTHdetect, the latest addition to its screening and detection instruments, can trace synthetics in diamond and jewellery samples to a small fraction of a point, IIDGR executives say. The machinery sends suspected synthetics for referral.
IIDGR, which has a state-of-the-art laboratory facility in Maidenhead, has invested heavily in upgrading its detection technologies. “De Beers is a world leader in synthesis and as such our research is years ahead of the industry,” said Jonathan Kendall, president of IIDGR. “This benefit means that our IIDGR synthetic detection equipment delivers on future risks surrounding any lab-grown diamond material and is really cutting-edge,” he added.
“Detection equipment is here to support the industry. It is not profitable but for a business like De Beers we develop it to maintain integrity and consumer confidence in diamonds.”
Jonathan Kendall, President of IIDGR
Kendall spoke of his concerns for the reputation of the diamond industry if undisclosed synthetics are detected in melee. “That is why De Beers continues to invest in detection equipment and services. We have to all maintain vigilance and we must not accept a non-disclosed synthetic sale at any point in the pipeline.”
Delegates attending the 2018 CIBJO Congress in Bogota in October said they doubted the world’s biggest jewellery brands were at risk of reputational damage as they already took thorough steps to detect the smallest diamonds used in their jewellery.
“Sometimes the top brands will make a number of checks with a lab group in order to be absolutely, 100 percent certain there are no undisclosed synthetics in their jewellery,” one senior diamantaire said. The reputational risks were more for the middle and lower end of the market, industry leaders said.
GIA’s grading laboratories use advanced instrumentation to screen every submitted diamond to determine if the stone is natural, synthetic or treated.
“Our ability to definitively identify lab-created diamonds is based on decades of research – starting with Robert Crowningshield’s 1971 article based on observations of the earliest synthetic diamonds,” said Tom Moses, GIA executive vice president and chief laboratory and research officer. “That same research is built into two GIA-developed instruments available to the trade – the GIA DiamondCheck and the GIA iD100, both of which accurately separate natural diamonds from potentially synthetic stones.” Moses added, “It is essential that anyone in the trade and especially consumers purchasing diamonds or other gems – no matter the size – have confidence in the correct identification of their purchases.”
Lab group HRD Antwerp prides itself on its cutting-edge machinery, such as its D-Tect, which detects tiny undisclosed synthetics. All referred stones that require further testing after being screened by the M-Screen+, or any other screening device, can be examined using the D-Tect.
International Gemological Institute (IGI) checks thousands of jewellery pieces daily at centres across the world. “IGI has all the necessary equipment to analyze any type of stone and treatment,” said IGI’s CEO Roland Lorie.