Natural diamond miners are concerned synthetic diamonds may be falsely traded as precious organic gems, threatening consumer confidence in their product. Miners such as De Beers are taking steps to safeguard the sector, but what can be done?
“Looking at the two diamonds by the naked eye it’s impossible to distinguish the difference – it would take sophisticated equipment,” says Kathryn Edison Money, VP, strategy and merchandising at Brilliant Earth, a diamond retailer selling both lab-grown and mined diamonds.
Cultured diamonds, as they are also known, look the same as natural diamonds because gemologically they are identical. Both are made exclusively of carbon therefore are chemically, optically and physically equal. Only price and origin differ.
Brilliant Earth sells lab diamonds at prices ranging from $375 to $110,000, depending on size, cut and quality, and ethically mined diamonds starting at $500 to $2m.
The cheaper cost is what attracts both millennials seeking a bargain and fraudsters hoping to upsell synthetic diamonds as natural ones.
Unlike natural diamonds formed under tremendous heat and pressure deep within the earth billions of years ago then excavated, cultured diamonds are produced in a laboratory over several days or weeks.
Lab diamonds were first created in the 1950s, with production of larger crystals suitable for jewellery emerging in the mid-1990s. High-pressure, high-temperature (HPHT) and chemical vapour disposition (CVD) are the most popular techniques. As these processes have advanced the production cost of synthetic diamonds has fallen.
Some synthetic diamonds may display visual features such as inclusions, fluorescence reactions and growth features easily identified by a microscope, but many need testing with advanced scientific equipment making them harder to differentiate.
“Some synthetic manufacturers use treatments to obscure these distinctive characteristics, so sophisticated tests are required,” says Russell Shor, senior industry analyst at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).