One of the biggest deficiencies in our industry is the lack of authoritative stats. So I thought I would kick off a series of posts trying to find out the latest accurate information on our industry.
An ongoing hot topic in the trade — one that never seems to completely cool down—is what percentage of the overall market is composed of man-made gem-quality diamonds? And how many undisclosed synthetics are out there? These topics were the subject of much debate and anxiety a year ago, when there were numerous reports of undisclosed lab-grown stones. Since GIA and De Beers have introduced new machines and De Beers launched an Indian testing service, the fears have calmed a little.
As with the traditional diamond industry, most lab-grown diamond manufacturers are private (Scio excepted), and some are as secretive as, well, the traditional diamond industry. Furthermore, new entrants to the field pop up all the time, some crouching well under the radar. As Tom Chatham, CEO of Chatham Created Gems, told me: “There have always been a lot of people in Russia growing diamonds, and those presses are still around. They work on LinkedIn, they work on Facebook, they don’t have websites of their own. Some of their production is pretty good.” According to U.S. government statistics, at least 15 countries have the ability to produce synthetic diamonds, though, generally, they are not gem-quality.
But that, of course, raises the question of the definition of “gem quality.” “It’s a fuzzy line with plenty of room for interpretation and manipulation,” says Eric Franklin, president of D.Nea, which sells lab-grown gem diamonds. “A company in China making tons of brownish yellow (or even JKLM+I2) 2mm grit could count as jewelry quality. Just look up synthetic diamonds on Alibaba. That is a world of difference from a 1ct. G VS2 or even a 0.10 ct. I SI2.”
The talk about smaller diamonds brings up another issue: “It is almost impossible to determine the extent to which these synthetics are already in the jewelry supply chain and in the existing stock,” says a study by a Botswana NGO on how manufactured gems might affect that country’s mining-based economy. “The natural and synthetic products are often indistinguishable and many of the melee sized diamonds (”
Given all these issues, the available numbers tend to vary.