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MEI Online: Commodities: Non-Metallic Ores: Diamond: Latest News: February 11th 2004

:: De Beers Ready To Face Synthetic-Gem Threat  

Diamond giant De Beers is adamant that it has the necessary technology to finger synthetic diamonds posing as natural gems, but is also working on an offensive strategy that includes highlighting the mystique of natural stones and ‘hallmarking’ its gems, in a bid to stave off any possible threat.

MD Gary Ralfe claims that De Beers technologists, working out of the UK, have been aware of the synthetic-gem threat for many years and have developed simple instruments for discriminating between what is natural as opposed to what is synthetic.

He says the company is aware of two main techniques for producing gem-like synthetic stones, and that De Beers has machines that can detect both.

"I can state categorically that we have the necessary instruments of discrimination, whereby the tell-tale signs, that are left behind by synthesis, can be discerned," Ralfe avers. He adds that many of those signs are discernable through the use of simple instruments, which could reside in a jeweller's shop.

"We have also shared those machines of discrimination with the world’s major diamond-grading laboratories," Ralfe says, admitting that, at in difficult cases, there will have to be referrals to laboratories.

Beyond this defensive plan, though, De Beers is also preparing a range of offensive strategies for dealing with this perceived threat.

One of these strategies involves the use of laser-etching, through which a microscopic brand, known as the forevermark, can be etched on to the table of a gem.

"We have, through the forevermark, a system of hallmarking, which we will be testing more extensively later this year in Hong Kong. We want to see whether customers value this mark and attempt to assess whether or not they are prepared to pay a premium for the guarantee that they are receiving natural stones," Ralfe explains.

Its other strategies are more psychological in nature and involve the propagation of a message that natural diamonds are particularly suitable gifts for important 'moments of passage', such as births, engagements and marriages.

"Synthetic diamonds may have the same chemical and physical elements as a natural diamond, but clearly not in terms of their emotional appeal. What gives diamonds a significant value, and has done so for centuries, is that vast mystique that these are nature’s scarcest treasures ­ that most diamonds have been around on the earth for three-billion years, that they have been washed down ancient rivers and all sorts of things have happened to them, and that they are extremely difficult to find." However, Ralfe acknowledges that synthetic diamonds may have a place at the lower end of the market.

"It is also intriguing to know that while there are some 25-million carats of polished diamond consumed every year, we are told . . . that some 900-million carats of diamond-simulants are consumed throughout the world every year. The message that comes from that is that there is already a segregated market. And we know very well from our research that the people that buy simulants want to buy the real thing, but on the way they are making do with something else."



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