Synthetics pose a conundrum for world diamond industry – by Ari Rabinovitch (Reuters U.K. – July 31, 2014)

TEL AVIV – (Reuters) – Diamonds are a girl’s best friend – but only if they are natural.

That is the message mining companies and luxury jewellers are keen to instil in consumers as the diamond trade faces a growing challenge from the production of synthetic diamonds.

Global diamond jewellery sales are worth more than $72 billion (42.6 billion pounds) a year, according to the World Diamond Council, and jewellers like Tiffany (TIF.N) and diamond miners led by De Beers stress that a jewel mined at great expense, and often with great risk, is infinitely more valuable than one made by man.

But it can be hard to tell the difference.

Synthetic diamonds can be manufactured in a laboratory to the extent that they have the same properties as natural ones, raising the risk that a synthetic product could one day inadvertently end up in a luxury jeweller’s showroom.

“God help the major diamond jeweller, be it Cartier, Tiffany, Van Cleef, anybody, who puts a piece of jewellery out there and it’s later found to be having synthetic diamonds in it without disclosure. That fear is what’s driving the industry,” said Martin Rapaport, chairman of the Rapaport Group, which is the primary source of diamond price information around the world.

Synthetic diamond production is still small: annual output of gem-quality rough synthetic diamonds is less than 350,000 carats, a fraction of the 125 million carats of natural gem-quality rough, according to India’s Natural Diamond Monitoring Committee.

Synthetic diamonds are legitimate and are increasingly used for industrial purposes, and higher quality lab-produced diamonds are used in jewellery. What worries the industry is their use in natural diamond jewellery without disclosure.

Tiffany says it is confident it is not at risk of inadvertently selling synthetic diamonds.

“We do not and will not sell non-mined diamonds. Tiffany’s insistence on only the highest standards produces diamonds that are of the utmost beauty,” the company told Reuters in a statement.

But the diamond industry is stepping up action and technology to ward against the mixing of synthetics and natural diamonds in the market.

In a corner of the trading floor on the Israel Diamond Exchange, one of the world’s largest diamond markets, in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv, a worker operates a new machine developed by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), offering to test any diamond if a buyer is unsure of its origin.

“We have to be very cautious. Very, very cautious, and check. Not go according to our expertise only. We have to use this machinery,” said Shmuel Schnitzer, president of the exchange.

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