Synthetic Diamonds

Jessica   •   February 21, 2017

High quality synthetic diamonds, the emergence of which most jewelers have been dreading, are now available on a large scale to the retail jewelry industry.  These stones are virtually indistinguishable from natural diamonds and will fool pretty much every conventional diamond testing method.  While a few retailers have embraced this change and are marketing these stones to a new generation of diamond buyers, other retailers are snubbing this newcomer, asserting that the only real diamonds are the ones formed deep below the earth’s surface. Regardless, synthetic diamonds are here to stay and will only become more prevalent.

It is necessary to understand exactly what a synthetic gemstone is to truly appreciate the significance of the mainstream arrival of synthetic diamonds. A synthetic is not an imitation. A synthetic diamond is not a substance that just looks like a diamond or shares some properties of natural diamonds. A synthetic gemstone is made up of the same materials, with the same physical properties and crystal structure, as the natural. A synthetic gemstone has the same hardness, the same refractive index, and many of the same visible features.  A synthetic diamond is a diamond, just born inside of a laboratory in modern times instead of deep in the earth millions of years ago.

The Right Tools

One of the most powerful tools for gemologists looking to determine whether a gemstone is natural or synthetic is through an examination of its microscopic inclusions. While the material may be the same, the evidence left by the natural growth process is usually sufficient to identify a natural ruby, sapphire, or emerald. Most practicing gemologists can identify a natural emerald, ruby, or sapphire using a microscope to examine the inclusions. This technique is not an option for diamond material, since high quality material is virtually inclusion free and the inclusions don’t reliably indicate natural or synthetic.

High quality diamonds are often virtually inclusion free, and the synthetic growth process does not reliably produce identifiable inclusions. Further testing is required to identify diamond synthetics, and these testing methods currently cannot be performed on mounted stones. This casts a shadow of doubt over every mounted non-certified diamond, from the larger center stone to the tiny 1.0 mm pave set accent stone.

This will undoubtedly rock the diamond industry to its core, but like most agents of change, there are both positive and negative angles. It may be cliché, but it is true that the only reliable constant in life is change. The diamond industry has enjoyed a very long period without much change, so it was certainly long overdue. It is very possible that a whole synthetic diamond sub-market will emerge and flourish independently. The progress of the synthetic diamond sub-market will depend on the development of tools for gemologists to use to separate them from natural material.

Almost Too Perfect

Synthetic diamonds are undoubtedly beautiful.  The colorless, high clarity material being produced now is identical to the highest quality natural diamonds and is currently going for about half the cost. While the synthetic growth process may occasionally leave some microscopic indications that the stone is man-made, gemologists can’t reliably identify it as synthetic without dismounting the stone.

So, where do we go from here?  The purpose of this article is not to debate the merits of synthetic versus natural diamonds. Synthetic diamonds are here to stay, and they have caught many in the jewelry industry flat footed. This great influx of high quality synthetic material is going to irrevocably change the industry, and the industry will have to adjust to the limitations of the identification tools available.

What should the consumer know so they can make informed decisions in the current market? Synthetic diamonds are essentially a technology product.  Do not expect them to hold value the same way natural diamonds do. They will only get better and cheaper as technology improves, so the savvy consumer should make sure that the jeweler they purchase a synthetic diamond from has a good buy back or upgrade policy to protect their investment. As technology improves, you will find that the same amount of money will buy you more diamond, but those same market changes will apply to any stone you already own.

Without a doubt, the natural diamond market will be affected also. The price of non certified diamonds will surely suffer due to the fact that they can’t be screened while mounted. Without a certificate to assure that the diamond was screened while loose, that shadow of doubt will impact its value. The natural market will also be affected by the influx of synthetic diamonds too small to be cost effective to certify or dismount and screen. The future of the natural diamond market is in larger, certified stones.