A debate over man-made diamonds is creating a bit of turbulence in the industry.
On one side are the purists, diamond industry executives and jewelers who disapprove of tinkering with Mother Nature. They believe the romance of stones formed eons ago has potent appeal for consumers, especially when they are making emotional purchases such as an engagement or wedding ring.
On the other side are advocates for stones produced in a laboratory rather than mined from the ground, as they have been for centuries. They argue that the diamonds are just as real, cheaper and don't have the negative connotations that are attached to mined diamonds.
Almost two decades ago, chemical engineers figured out how to create a diamond by taking a piece of coal and putting it into a high-heat "pressure cooker"; in time — from one week to less than a a year — a rough diamond emerges. It is then cut and polished just like a mined diamond. The stones cost about one-third less than their mined counterparts and aren't to be confused with synthetic diamonds, such as cubic zirconium or Moissanite, a diamond-like, man-made gem.
Paul Blum, chief executive officer of David Yurman, said the company would never consider using laboratory-made diamonds.
"David has no interest in any stone that doesn't naturally occur," Blum said.
The man-made stones are getting more attention partly because of political attitudes. Last year's Leonardo DiCaprio movie "Blood Diamond" sparked discussion about so-called conflict diamonds — stones that are mined and traded to finance illegal activities and war — and the Kimberley Process, a certification plan intended to halt those practices.
Another ripple was made by Joan Parker, a well-known industry publicist who advocated the allure of mined diamonds for 30 years at De Beers, the diamond mining company. Parker is now a brand ambassador for Gemesis, a Sarasota, Fla., company that produces man-made diamonds.
Gemesis isn't the only game in town. Chatham Created Diamonds & Gems and Apollo Diamond also create diamonds in the lab. Gemesis specializes in yellow diamonds; Chatham creates anything from yellow to pink and blue, and Apollo specializes in white diamonds.
Gemesis is run by a former chemical engineer, Stephen Lux, who once created pigment for color cosmetics. Lux joined as ceo in November 2006 and the company has since tapped Parker to debunk the myth that laboratory diamonds aren't genuine."There's a misconception that they come out cookie-cutter," Lux said. "We have the capability to grow a five-carat rough. We are a rough diamond producer, just like De Beers mines rough stones."
Gemesis sells its rough diamonds to a few companies that aren't well known to consumers, including Solaura and Pintura. Later this month, footwear and accessories designer Taryn Rose will launch her first jewelry collection using Gemesis diamonds.
Gemesis diamonds have been certified by the Gemological Institute of America, a 76-year-old nonprofit organization that describes, identifies and grades stones — mined, artificially treated, man-made and synthetic.
"We thought it was important to identify [man-made diamonds]," said Ralph Destino, chairman of GIA. "The industry today needs responsible, third-party review of man-made stones just as it needed a review of mined stones in the first place. Before GIA, it was a Wild West environment out there. Every jeweler had their own language.
"GIA created a system of metrics and nomenclature for diamonds,'' Destino said. "What [companies such as Gemesis] synthesized under heat and pressure is a diamond…[except it's] made by man rather than made by nature. A consumer needs to know what they're looking at in the market. Full disclosure is an imperative."
Rosalind Kainyah, director of public affairs USA of the De Beers Group, shrugged off the idea that man-made diamonds would be a threat to the diamond-mining community.
"I think it will find its place in the market," Kainyah said.
Some diamond industry members have said that even though the lab-made stones are diamonds chemically, they lack the fire and brilliance of their mined counterparts.
Diamond in the Rough is a brand that creates jewelry from natural, rough diamonds.
"We are inspired by the beauty and unique characteristics of each individual piece of rough," said president Anjanette Clisura. "To us, the unearthing of the rough, finding it exactly how it was given to us by nature, formed over billions of years in the making, is what is magical, mystical and beautiful. So, for our brand, man-made diamonds aren't a match….You don't see luxury consumers with knockoffs of designer bags; you see them with the original and most exclusive design, skins, etc. It will be the same with diamonds. The luxury consumer will want the natural diamond, not the synthetic."
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