The colored diamond market is beset by treatments and synthetics. People aren’t worried, but some think they should be.
By Rob Bates, Senior Editor
For a low-key business, the colored diamond market has seen a lot of action lately—though not necessarily the kind of action it would wish.
In the last year, two companies—NovaDiamond in Provo, Utah, and Bellataire Diamonds Inc. of New York (formerly Pegasus Overseas Ltd.)—have unveiled plans to sell treated green diamonds. And other companies hope to sell fancy-colored synthetics—mostly yellows, though other colors are said to be on the way. (Synthetics typically are treated to deepen their colors.) All the innovators use high-pressure/high-temperature technology and have a connection to either Russian diamond technologists or synthetic diamond pioneer General Electric. There is also talk of synthetics coming from Sweden and elsewhere. “This technology has been around for a while, and people have finally realized it can be commercialized,” says Carter Clarke, president of Gemesis in Sarasota, Fla., one of the companies producing synthetics.
But the colored diamond market isn’t reacting the way the colorless market did last year when the Pegasus decoloring treatment became known. It isn’t panicking. For while the Pegasus treatment of brownish diamonds is undetectable, gemologists can identify treated and synthetic fancy colored diamonds. (A synthetic diamond is easier to detect than a treated stone.) “As long as the new stones can be differentiated, I don’t feel threatened at all,” says veteran colored gemstone dealer Alan Bronstein of New York’s Aurora Gems. Dr. James Shigley, the Gemological Institute of America’s director of research, notes that even though these new processes use the same technology as the Pegasus “whitening” treatment, the stones’ color gives scientists an added gemological property to look at.
The colored diamond market has always had to deal with treatments, mostly involving irradiation. Since many fancy colored stones are rare, they’re usually sent to gem labs anyway, sometimes even in rough form. But these new developments may make lab reports even more common. “If someone claims they have a natural colored diamond, they better have a certificate to back it up,” says Alex Grizenko of Golden, Colo.-based Ultimate Created Diamonds, recently renamed Lucent Diamonds.
The new technology raises another thorny issue. Although most synthetic diamond manufacturers and treaters inscribe their stones to ensure disclosure, it’s not economical to inscribe or certify melee; for stones .15 ct. and under, GIA won’t even provide origin-of-color reports. “The smaller the diamonds are, the harder it is to find the telltale signs they’re treated,” says GIA researcher Dr. Ilene Reinitz. Dealer Bruce Smith says he’s already seen synthetic yellow melee that wasn’t disclosed in the market. “This isn’t a big problem now, as this material isn’t tremendously popular,” Reinitz says. However, she adds, “If someone comes up with something pretty, it could be a big headache.”
Treaters and synthetic manufacturers take a more upbeat view of their products, noting that the increased interest may help the market for natural fancy stones. But they’re also creating a market from scratch. “It’s slow right now,” concedes David Hall of NovaDiamond, which sells treated greens (JCK, March 2000, p. 48). “After an initial rush of interest, things have slowed down,” he says. “This is a traditional industry that doesn’t lend itself to change.” He says people confuse his treatment with past colored diamond treatments. He hopes demand will heat up when Bellataire begins selling its treated green stones, which will have a brand name different from that of its colorless diamonds, now marketed as Bellataire.
The synthetic side has problems with both demand and supply. “People don’t have the consistent production,” says Clarke, who claims his Florida company can regularly manufacture yellows, which he will market this summer. Uriah Pritchard of Morion, a Brighton, Mass., manufacturer of synthetics, says, “Nobody wants to invest the money to produce big quantities, because there’s no market for these stones.”
Will there ever be? Public television’s Nova series recently aired “The Diamond Deception,” which dealt with synthetics and garnered some of Nova’s highest ratings this year. Grizenko hopes it gave the fledging category more exposure. “This is a market that has to be developed,” he says. “It will be. There’s a lot going on.”
The few retailers who sell synthetic diamond jewelry say they’ve received a more positive response lately—though no one has sold more than a handful of pieces. “It’s something different,” says Brenda Reichel of Carats and Karats in Honolulu. “People are excited about it. It’s a product that truly no one else has.” Dallas jewelry designer Matt Golub says synthetics are a good deal for those who like colored diamonds but not their high prices. “The price of naturals is so expensive these days,” he says. “These are much more reasonable.”
“A lot of people want diamonds but can’t afford them,” adds Clarke. “They’re buying CZ and moissanite. Those are the people we’re shooting for.” But Grizenko thinks there might be a long education process. “Even in the trade, there is misunderstanding in the market between what a synthetic is and what a simulant is,” he says. “People think it’s CZ or moissanite. Once the light goes on and people realize these are actually diamonds, they say, ‘Oh, wow.’ ”
Three Groups To Share Diamond Research Data
The Diamond High Council (HRD), the Gemological Institute of America, and De Beers have agreed to share research information about diamond treatments and synthetics, according to Peter Meeus, HRD general manager. The cooperative effort is designed to “meet the increasing threat to the trade from diamond synthetics and treated diamonds,” he says.
“We are the three most important gemological research organizations in the world,” says Meeus. “Our knowledge is important to the market, so why not share this information? We can do a lot more together in research.”
The joint effort will begin at the Antwerp World Diamond Congress, where representatives of each organization are expected to deliver papers updating their research on new treatments and synthetics, according to a GIA official. Says Meeus: “A lot of people will pay attention to what we have found on treatments.”
—William George Shuster
Companies Selling Synthetic and Treated Colored Diamonds
Treated – NovaDiamond, Provo, Utah, A wholly owned subsidiary of Novatek Inc.; produces treated greens
Bellataire Diamonds Inc., New York Produces treated greens and colorless.
Gemesis, Sarasota, Fla. Produces yellow synthetics; others to come.
Morion, Brighton, Mass. Produces yellow synthetic diamonds and some white synthetic rough.
Ultimate Created Diamonds/Lucent Diamonds Produces yellow, red, and blue synthetics.
This article appeared in the June 2000 issue of JCK