With regard to the recent developments in the diamond industry including ISO 18323, it is important to understand what the Lab-grown diamond industry thinks about it and other practices, considering the fact that the new ISO standard was developed in coalition with CIBJO (The World Jewellery Confederation) and mined diamond industry players, without any representation or consultation from any stakeholder of Lab-grown diamond industry.
We reached out to 19 players in the Lab-grown diamond sector – producers, manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and suppliers, and received detailed comments and insights from many of them including House of Eleonore/ Royal Asscher Diamond Company, Washington Diamonds Corporation, IIa Technologies, Chatham Created Gems & Diamonds, Pure Grown Diamonds, MiaDonna, Golcondia Cultured Diamonds, Soni CVD Diamonds et al.
1) On ‘comments on the recently published ISO 18323: Jewellery?’
Almost all the respondents were shocked and aghast on ISO 18323, expressing that the new ISO standard is biased, unfair, poorly informed and against consumer interests. Some of the respondents fear that this is just a beginning of even more unlevelled playing-field in the diamond industry.
Anna-Mieke Anderson – CEO, MiaDonna says “… the one truly consistent theme has been a bias push towards the best interests of the diamond mining industry, not the diamond consumer.”
Vishal Mehta – CEO, IIa Technologies believes “… vested interests of the leading diamond miners, complete exclusion of grown diamond companies and erroneous opinions shared in the media have probably played a major role during ISO 18323’s conception… We strongly believe that a reputed body like ISO has unknowingly been used as a tool to damage the prospects [of] the Grown Diamond industry.”
Tomy Florencio – CEO, Golcondia Cultured Diamonds and Owner, TFlorencio Jewelry comments “It is very alarming because the body that was present in discussions was purely from the mined side. I believe this is only the start of something that is brewing.”
Tom Chatham – CEO, Chatham Created Gems & Diamonds, while terming the new ISO standard as ‘anti trust violation‘, agrees “I could see that CIBJO was at it again, sticking their nose into other peoples business to better their position, all under the banner of ‘protecting public confidence’. I see this as nothing more than restraint of trade in the form of creating regulations, which only effect their competition.”
Mike Asscher – VP, Royal Asscher Diamond Company on behalf of Bernd Damme – Founder & MD, House of Eleonore, which is associated with Royal Asscher, says “ The final question is how this will reach the actual consumer… What I can not see if they have included the consumers perspective in their research.”
Malay Hirani – CEO, Soni CVD Diamonds says “The ISO guideline is biased towards natural diamond producers and does not take into account rough diamonds obtained by many companies from countries with conflict and civil unrest. Guidelines does not give any burden of ‘source disclosure’ on the natural diamond companies.”
While Clive Hille – President, Washington Diamonds Corporation emphasizes and supports the original FTC ruling on the use of the word ‘cultured’ than the incorrect term of ‘synthetic’ and goes on to say “The word ‘real’ is proscribed altogether by the standard, and it is easy to see how ‘real’ could be misused. However, if we are asked if our diamonds are real or a simulant like CZ the correct answer is clearly that they are real diamonds, the context showing that the questioner is aware that these are Lab-grown.”
Lisa Bissell – President and CEO, Pure Grown Diamonds says “… ISO 18323… was constructed without participation from the Grown Diamond Industry. That in itself speaks volumes about the fairness of the standard drafted… We believe the fact that it is ultimately the customer who is being misled on the various ‘genuine’ choices they have, and this is hurting the Diamond Industry.”
2) On ‘the nomenclature of Synthetic or Artificial to describe Lab-grown diamonds’
As Clive rightly mentions “The traditional mined trade likes these words because they confuse the consumer into believing Lab-grown diamonds are made of something other than diamond, and are pejorative… It is odd that a business that relies so heavily on trust and confidence conducts itself as if it were on a par with the most untrustworthy used car dealer. These terms should be put in the bin and the people who currently use them should think about how to deliver real value to their customers.”
Vishal says “There is enough research evidence to drive home the point that ‘synthetic’ is an erroneous term – technically and commercially.. Yet the ISO Standard 18323 fails to recognize the technical similarities between grown and mined diamonds, which we believe are critical to communicate to the consumer because it is for them that this standard has been designed.”
While getting troubled by the terms ‘Synthetic’ and ‘Artificial’, Anna-Mieke finds sub-section 2.14 of ISO 18323 ‘very misleading’ – “In fact, I’ll go as far as to say it creates even more confusion for the consumer. If the diamond industry wants to improve consumer confidence through product integrity and transparency, the terms set forth in 2.14 need to be re-evaluated.”
Lisa also carries a similar viewpoint “The terms synthetic and artificial are both incorrect, misleading, and designed to create false perception.”
Tomy, Malay and Tom also believe that ‘Synthetic’, ‘Artificial’ or other similar nomenclatures are incorrect and misleading.
3) On ‘the terms that should be used to correctly describe Lab-grown diamonds?’
Various terms were suggested by the respondents to describe Lab-grown diamonds. The ones with most frequency are:
While, Clive likes the term “Lab-grown diamonds“, Malay finds “Lab grown and cultured diamond is the most suitable word.” Lisa also believe that “Lab Grown Diamonds, Grown Diamonds, or Cultured Diamonds appropriately represent the Lab Grown Diamond Industry.” Whereas Vishal is of the opinion that “… the words ‘Grown‘ and ‘Cultured‘ both accurately describe our diamonds…”
Most of the respondents believe that the terms ‘Lab-grown diamonds’ or ‘Cultured diamonds’ are fair representation of Lab-grown diamonds.
Tomy however gives other options “… the best term to explain is ‘cultivated’, and ‘cultured’ is derived from this term.. I have been finding that the term requires so much explanation though so I am leaning on using ‘Non-mined’ now.”
Whilst Anna-Mieke’s customers commonly ask for ‘Man-made’ or ‘lab-created diamonds’, Mike personally believes “… ‘Non-mined’, ‘not-mined diamonds’ or ‘man-made diamonds’ would do justice to the product.”
4) On ‘Why the Earth-mined diamond producers insist on using the term Synthetic to describe Lab-grown diamonds?’
Anna-Mieke opines “I have seen the earth-mined diamond industry ignore, ridicule and underestimate the lab-created diamond industry. However, now that millennials are not buying into the ‘Diamond is Forever’ campaign, this old minded industry is concerned about the loss in sales. I personally believe these terms are set forth in an attempt to devalue lab-created diamonds and slow down consumer demand.”
Tomy says “Of course it is all business.. they want to hold on to what they have been doing for so long..”
Malay agrees “… lab grown diamonds are not similar but they are as real as the diamond can get. Earth mined diamond traders obviously want to take advantage of uninformed consumer to divert their attentions.”
While, Clive simplifies the reason “They are protecting their own grubby commercial interests as they see them.”
Clarifying all the unfounded fears, Vishal however says “It’s important to note that we are disruptive only to the producers, but are complementary to everyone the entire supply chain that follows them… Grown diamonds provide rough diamonds for cutting and polishing and the only source of origin guaranteed, eco-friendly and conflict free diamonds for the retailer to offer to the customer.”
5) On ‘what should be done to change the scenario and correctly educate the customers?’
Clive thinks that “… time and exposure will help. ISO 18323 should be changed.” but worries that “Ultimately people will feel cheated by the mined guys, which may hurt all of us. Most people worry that they will be ripped off when they enter a jewellery shop.”
Anna-Mieke understands and respects “the need to set standards and guidelines for everyone to follow.” But, at the same time she emphasizes that “… these standards need to be fair and unbiased. Emotions need to be replaced with facts.”
She also highlights another issue of distinguishing Lab-grown diamonds and Simulants as “…the earth-mined diamond industry is putting both these products in the same category.”
While Tomy says “Also, I have suggested that everyone selling them has to market and educate as we do. The problem is a lot of people are selling simply based on the strength of their existing networks but are not really promoting it.”
Lisa mentions “… have to invest a lot of resources in informing and educating the consumer.. we all have to ensure that impartial information in the quality and origin of the diamond is provided to him [consumer] thus allowing buyers to make a fair choice between diamond origin they prefer and price they are comfortable with.”
Mike suggests “Education is the most important part and responsibility of the entire industry. The laboratory created diamond industry and the natural diamond industry. They will have to work closely together. I believe they can go perfectly side by side. It can create great opportunities for both. Learn from each other and grow with each other.”
6) On ‘What are the key challenges/ issues for retailers and customers adopting Lab-grown diamonds?’
While Clive believes that “For retailers it is fear of change.”, Mike is of the opinion “…It is very important to create consumer confidence in such a beautiful product.. The retailers will have a great challenge explaining the product. With the right training, education and focus this can be accomplished.”
Lisa believes “Lack of trade’s awareness, misleading definitions and insufficient consumer awareness regarding Lab Grown Diamonds..” are the important challenges.
Most of the respondents though emphasize that consumer education and awareness in general are the key challenges that need to be addressed.
Though, Vishal says “As we expand our distribution network, consumers are becoming aware of grown diamonds and how we are akin to cultured pearls.”
7) On ‘kind of marketing initiatives planned to increase adoption of Lab-grown diamonds?’
For most of the respondents, the marketing initiatives being currently run or planned range from ads in magazines and newspapers, printed press coverage, digital marketing, large social media plan, advertorials in posts, TV coverage, to personally advocating in events, local jewelry shows, talks with the jewelry industry and launch with online retailers.
While Pure Grown Diamonds have “… managed to expand its distribution network over the last two years” and “… also continued to open new retailers on a weekly basis.”, Lisa mentions “In the last year, we have seen huge excitement among consumers about our product.”
Dangers that ISO 18323 poses in its current form
Tom Chatham however, gives an example of one of his customer in Germany who used the term ‘cultured’ while clearly disclosing that the diamonds were ‘man-made’ but “The courts took the word of the ‘experts’ in the field, CIBJO, and found him guilty of fraud.” The customer ultimately went bankrupt because of the legal costs.
Fearing similar scenario, he sketches the danger that ISO 18323 poses and how it can be misused in its current form “If this ISO ruling is allowed to stand and CIBJO, (or anyone else like the JVC) decides that one of us is getting too successful, or too aggressive, they will go to that countries’ protective board, in my case the FTC and say, ‘this company is in violation of ISO 18323 and should be stopped and/or punished because they are breaking the rules the ‘industry’ agreed to. So the court takes the word of CIBJO or JVC as ‘experts’ in nomenclature for gemstones and goes after the dealer.”
This raises another question – Are CIBJO or JVC really ‘experts’ when it comes to Lab-grown diamonds?
However, as a silver lining in the dark clouds, a respondent said “… but I see things changing with suppliers down the pipeline, my old suppliers that have no more margins left, I feel, are starting to consider [adopting Lab-grown diamonds].”
Vishal concurs “The business continues to multiply even though we remain capped by our diamond production. We are committed to focus on ensuring that IIa Grown Diamonds are a value addition to both, consumers and trade. We believe that Grown Diamonds have that unique combination of life (purity in origin) and brilliance (quality par excellence) – a USP that remains unmatched by our competition.”