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Next week, the Indian diamond industry will play host to an international symposium focused on distinguishing between diamonds produced by nature and those produced by machines. This first-of-its-kind B2B event underlines its commitment to ensuring transparency
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The first diamonds were produced by Nature many billions of years ago deep under the Earth's crust. It has been at least a few centuries since these precious gemstones were discovered and then mined, gradually spawning a huge multi-billion dollar industry worldwide.
Comparatively, it has been just a few decades since researchers discovered the means to create similar gemstones in a lab, using different types of technology. And it is just about two decades since such 'manmade' diamonds began to be commercially produced in different parts of the world.
The two products have many similar charateristics, notably in their chemical composition and their physical properties that produce the unique diamond sparkle and fire. But, there are also certain physical differences by which the two can be clearly differentiated.
If research and technological advancement made the production of synthetic diamonds possible, they have also given rise to the information, technology and tools to distinguish one from the other.
About a decade ago, such detection was a complex and costly affair that could only be carried out with expensive machines and in controlled laboratory environments. However, it is now feasible to use small handheld devices to screen packets of diamonds and segregate the natural and synthetic stones among them, as well as identify a few that may need to be sent for more advanced testing.
As a result, today, in many parts of the world, the two products are sold side-by-side, clearly demarcated as two separate product categories. However, there are also instances where such ethical practices have been ignored by some, who have indulged in what is today commonly known in trade circles as mixing.
Why does the trade frown on this practice and seek to eradicate it? The issue is not just an abstract one of transparency and disclosure - as with many other product caetgories, natural diamonds are rarer, more difficult to produce and hence costlier compared to their synthetic counterparts. Mixing can lead to windfall profits for a few, and, more importantly, seriously undermine consumer confidence in natural diamonds when such cases come to light.
India, which manufactures the vast majority of the world's natural diamonds, has been an active participant in the effort to ensure that the two product categories are clearly distinguished. Two years ago leading trade bodies in the country, including The Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) and Bharat Diamond Bourse (BDB), formed the Natural Diamond Monitoring Committee, and subsequently they have also enabled the setting up of labs in both Surat and Mumbai that carry out detection testing in a cost-effective manner.
Now GJEPC and BDB will be organising the Diamond Detection Expo & Symposium (DDES 2015) on Dec 15-16, 2015 at the BDB in Mumbai. Described as a first of its kind initiative focused solely on the issue of distinguishhing between natural and synthetic diamonds, the two day event offers a platform for interaction between members of the trade and manufacturers of detection technology. The event combines an expo of the latest machines with panel discussions and seminars on the topic. The aim is to ensure that information and knowledge is widely available to all those in the industry.
Earlier this year, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) released ISO International Standard 18323: 2015 Jewellery - Consumer Confidence in the Diamond Industry providing a series of definitions related to diamonds. The crux of the new standard was that the nomenclature diamond could only be used for a natural resource; all other products with similar chemical composition would have to be clearly differentiated in terms of their names itself.
Events like the DDES will help make this legal differentiation more meaningful and provide companies and individuals with the tools to make it a reality at both the wholesale and retail levels. It is not a solution to the issue of mixing, but certainly an important step in that direction.