Where do real diamonds come from?
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Today's diamonds come from two sources — the earth and gem-growing labs. (Some meteorites are moissonite.) In October the GIA announced that next year it would begin grading synthetic, or lab-grown, diamonds. The announcement came after a stirring summer, during which the lab heard from interested parties on all sides of the issue. The resulting GIA Lab Report is a major plus for consumers and insurers.
More and more diamond growers are turning out synthetic diamonds. Each year quality improves, prices go down, and more jewelry is decked out partially or completely with man-made gems.
Man-made diamonds have been in a sort of limbo as to their status. For years the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), the premier diamond grading authority, refused to consider lab-grown diamonds. Thus, only natural (mined) diamond could gain a GIA Diamond Report.
Manufacturers have argued that it would benefit consumers to have a disinterested authority like the GIA grade man-made diamonds, as well as natural ones. Lab-grown diamonds are real diamonds, with the same composition and physical properties as mined diamonds. They deserve GIA reports and the legitimacy that these reports confer.
That Old "Synthetic" Problem
Diamond growers welcomed the promise of a GIA report but objected to calling lab-grown diamonds synthetic. The average consumer equates synthetic with fake, they said. Why not use terms more readily understood by the public, such as created, lab-grown, cultured, or even man-made?
Man-made diamonds have been around since the 1950s, when General Electric gained patents for industrial-quality diamonds. Only in the last ten years have growers been able to produce gem-quality diamonds economically enough to compete in the jewelry market.
While gem-quality synthetic diamonds are a fairly recent development, the issue of nomenclature has been playing itself out in the marketplace with other lab-made gems for decades. Mikimoto's cultured pearls are now the norm for fine quality, and Chatham created emeralds are highly regarded gems. Their success is perhaps partly due to not being burdened by the word synthetic.
Initially the GIA announced that it would inscribe the word "synthetic"on every synthetic diamond it graded. This was an additional affront. The more prestigious manufacturers, such as Gemesis and Chatham, already inscribe the girdle of their gems with "created" or "lab-grown," along with the company name. Tom Chatham called the GIA's proposed inscription "a thinly veiled attempt to suppress the public's understanding of what these products truly are: diamonds."
Meanwhile, suppliers of natural (mined) diamonds supported using the word synthetic on the reports, rather than a term like lab-grown or cultured. Since synthetic diamonds generally sell for less than 10 per cent the price of natural diamonds, maintaining a strong distinction between natural and synthetic is important to their business.
After hearing from all interested parties, GIA announced that it would begin issuing diamond reports for synthetic diamonds in 2007. The reports — still being designed in October — will look different from reports for naturals and will bear a distinctive yellow stripe. But they will provide a description of color, clarity, carat weight and cut information, as for natural diamonds.
Further, GIA will inscribe "laboratory grown" on lab-made diamonds that do not already have an inscription with Federal Trade Commission-approved language. (Such language includes terms like man-made, laboratory grown, and brand names such as Chatham created.)
GIA Chairman Ralph Destina said that ensuring consumer confidence and avoiding consumer confusion were the GIA's overriding concerns in designing the new report.
FOR AGENTS & UNDERWRITERS
A diamond report, whether for a natural or a synthetic gem, is not a substitute for an appraisal.
Because the price difference between natural and synthetic diamonds is immense, insist on an appraisal that states whether the stone is natural or synthetic.
Never assume a diamond is natural just because the appraisal does not mention synthetic.
Synthetic diamonds are difficult to detect. Laser inscriptions on the girdle may be concealed when the stone is in a setting. Improperly trained (or dishonest) retailers and appraisers may pass on synthetic diamonds as naturals.
It is important to have a JISO 78/79 (formerly ACORD 78/79) appraisal from a competent and experienced jeweler who is a Graduate Gemologist (GG) and a Certified Insurance Appraiser™ (CIA).
Not all diamond certificates come from respected authorities in diamond grading (see Spotting a Bogus Appraisal).
Certificates given by the seller are basically sales tools, not documents for insuring jewelry. Their valuations may be grossly exaggerated (see Big Box Retailers).
The price difference between natural and synthetic diamond is immense. An overpayment could run to tens of thousands of dollars or more.
If the appraisal does not explicitly state the diamond is natural, use every means possible to determine whether it is natural or synthetic. Be sure to scrutinize the appraisal and sales receipt. If the sale price is too good to be true, the gem is probably a synthetic or a simulant (such as cubic zirconium).
On a damage claim for a high-priced diamond, always have the piece examined by a qualified gemologist, such as a Certified Insurance Appraiser™, to determine whether the diamond is natural or synthetic (and to be sure its qualities are as stated in the appraisal).
Inspect the appraisal for terms that mean synthetic, such as grown, created, lab-made, and cultured.
Makers of synthetic diamonds use their names to market their products. Recognizing these names, or working with a jewelry insurance expert who does, could save you tens of thousands of dollars on a claim.
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