Natural vs. Synthetic Diamonds

What was once considered impossible is now a reality; Synthetic gem quality diamonds are here! They are affordable, and they are creating quite a stir in the market.

By Gary Roskin

In Rapaport’s News Briefs this morning, March 29, 2023, De Beers CEO Bruce Cleaver, speaking yesterday at the IDMA 40th annual Congress, is quoted as saying that synthetic diamonds make up “a distinct and separate category, and one that has a totally different value proposition from natural diamonds.”

So, no worries?

Like Synthetic Colored Stones

Many in the gem world have compared synthetic diamond to synthetic colored gems, such as synthetic emeralds, rubies, sapphires, opals, etc… The technological advances needed to grow gem crystals were, and still are, applauded. When first created, all of these synthetic gem materials, including diamond, were valued not only for their beauty, but also for their technological breakthroughs. They were all expensive to make.

However, once the technological miracle became a reliable commercial production (generally speaking), their costs decreased (for most, costs dropped dramatically), their affordability increased, and they found their own product lines. It has also been noted that they have made little impact on their natural gemstone counterparts.

But will that same scenario happen between natural and synthetic diamond? Read on …

Mikimoto vs. Natural Pearls

On the other side of the planet, just outside of San Francisco, California, there’s a synthetic gem quality diamond manufacturer called the Diamond Foundry. In a recent interview in (subscription), Martin Roscheisen, CEO and cofounder of the Diamond Foundry, is quoted as saying synthetic diamond is the next cultured pearl. “It’s like how Mikimoto popularized cultured pearls. It started with Jackie Kennedy not wanting to pay up for ‘natural’ pearls in favor of those that are cultured. You can still find all-natural pearls at outlandish prices, but they’re only 1% of the market.”

Okay, so the Jackie Kennedy comment may not have been the best reference (see Jackie Kennedy’s triple strand of faux pearls auction Bonhams). However, it is true that many women in the 1950s had a strand of cultured pearls. And most women, and men, who have pearls today have purchased cultured pearls, all thanks to Mikimoto.

As a quick reminder, in the early 1900s, Koichi Mikimoto developed a way to implant mother-of-pearl beads into mollusks, which then grew nacre over the beads to create perfectly spherical white pearls (cultured as opposed to natural). While it took several years and harvests to create a commercially available product, and then more years to create a welcoming market, the Mikimoto cultured pearl eventually overtook the natural pearl market.

Remember This from Last Week?

Their World was the Oyster: Oldest Pearl Town Found in UAE

… with a serious prediction! You should read this.

The serious prediction was this:
The story of pearling, which rapidly collapsed after World War I with the introduction of artificial pearls [gr – not artificial – they were Mikimoto Cultured Pearls] and the Great Depression, holds particular importance in the history of the UAE — particularly as it faces a looming reckoning with another extractive industry. While crude oil sales built the country after its formation in 1971, the Emirates will have to confront its fossil fuel legacy and potentially plan for a carbon-neutral future as it hosts the United Nations COP28 climate talks later this year.

Will the Crude Oil Industry become the next Natural Pearl Industry for the UAE?

Natural vs. Synthetic Diamonds

Wait and See?

One could certainly make the cultured pearl / natural pearl comparison to synthetic diamonds / natural diamonds, that cultured pearls make up a distinct and separate category, with different value from natural pearls. But you should also know that cultured pearls almost eliminated the natural pearl market (as noted in the UAE story above).

So, should the natural diamond market simply cast off the synthetic diamond category as just another product category, or should it prepare for an industry life threatening battle?

While the debate rages on, the production of synthetic gem quality diamond increases exponentially. – gr

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