Weeding Out Synthetics
GIA’s new synthetic diamond detector DiamondCheck will identify whether or not a stone is natural, synthetic or needs more testing.
By Brian Bossetta
Diamond merchants crowded into the Diamond Dealers Club (DDC) in New York City in late January to get an up-close view of a new machine that will enable them to weed out synthetic diamonds from natural stones. The event marked the launch of DiamondCheck,™ an infrared spectrometer developed by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) that instantly detects synthetic diamonds, whether they were created by Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD), High-Pressure-High Temperature (HPHT) or even from such material as cubic zirconia.
Installing DiamondCheck at the DDC was “a momentous occasion,” said DDC President Reuven Kaufman, and one that will help club members “assure both themselves and their clients that their goods are correctly classified as natural or synthetic.” The machine has also been installed in the major bourses in Tel Aviv, Johannesburg, Dubai, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Antwerp and Tokyo. User-friendly and about the size of a small tabletop printer, DiamondCheck connects to a computer through a USB cord. GIA-trained individuals will operate the machines in the various bourses.
Tom Moses, GIA senior vice-president of laboratory and research, said the device, which is able to examine diamonds from 1 point to 10 carats, is 100 percent accurate. It relies on 3-D imaging and GIA’s enormous database of synthetic diamonds, which is built upon decades of research and millions of stones. DiamondCheck’s GIA-developed software labels a sample as “natural,” “nondiamond” or a third option, “further lab testing for treatment or synthesis,” when the initial finding is inconclusive.
This recommendation for further lab testing does not mean that the sample is necessarily synthetic. It could very well be natural. While most lab-grown diamonds are type IIa, Moses said DiamondCheck can also detect type Ia synthetic stones, although he added that GIA has only come across one such sample in its prior research.
In addition to the machine installed at the DDC, the GIA is providing one DiamondCheck to each bourse free of charge on condition that the bourses return the data from their samplings to the GIA in order to augment the institute’s database. This additional data, according to scientist Rodney Ewing, Stanford University professor and GIA board member, will enhance GIA’s capacity to spot synthetics in the future. The additional stones being tested and the additional data from bourses will expand the database and “will give us more knowledge,” Ewing said. DiamondCheck is also available for purchase to members of the trade or bourses that wish to have an additional machine. The price is $23,900.
Though the machine can test only one stone at a time — and only a loose diamond — the results are immediate. There is a possibility that GIA researchers will develop an automatic feeder that would allow dealers to test multiple samples at once, including melee, but Moses did not speculate on when that might happen. In the meantime, the consensus among dealers seems to be that GIA’s latest innovation is a step in the right direction. “It’s very positive,” said Sam Goldstein, owner of Special Stones in New York City.
The presence of synthetics in the diamond supply stream has been of increasing concern to the industry recently. Nature’s process of using high pressure and high temperatures over billions of years to forge diamonds out of carbon has been key in positioning diamonds as a gift that not only lasts forever but also symbolizes an everlasting commitment. Synthetic, or man-made, diamonds entering the natural diamond pipeline undisclosed, or fraudulently passed off as natural, challenge the integrity of diamonds as a product of the earth — and also their perceived value. But they also undermine consumer confidence in the diamond industry itself when buyers are not sure of what they are getting.
According to Kaufman, trading in synthetics is “neither illegal nor unethical.” In DDC’s view, it’s all about full disclosure across the entire supply chain. Nevertheless, with synthetic technology constantly evolving, the problem of lab-grown diamonds is a potential threat to the industry if they should enter the pipeline as natural.
Mehul Shah, owner of Shivani Gems in New York City and president of the Indian Diamond & Colorstone Association (IDCA), said DiamondCheck could help nip the potential problem of synthetics in the bud. “It’s not a huge problem now,” Shah said of synthetics not being properly identified as such. “But this could help stop it before it becomes a bigger problem.”
With DiamondCheck now available at the bourses, Moses hopes to provide a measure of “added security and confidence” to traders. “We wanted to provide the industry with something reliable as soon as possible,” he said. And in Shah’s opinion, the machine will do just that. “We provide diamonds to retailers all over the country,” he said. “This helps us to bring a level of quality assurance to our customers.” Shah also said the machine is very practical and that he would be using it often. “It allows me to tell my customers that I’ve done my level best to make sure they know what they are purchasing.”
Goldstein echoed that sentiment, saying DiamondCheck was a “great service” to the industry “and with the technology of synthetics rapidly changing, that’s a big help.” The very presence of the machine at the bourses will help prevent any unscrupulous dealer from trying to pass off synthetics as natural. “It will act as a deterrent,” Shah concluded.
“This is great for the industry,” said Nick Jain, vice president of sales at Paramount Gems in New York City. “There’s no romance in synthetic diamonds.”
Article from the Rapaport Magazine - March 2014. To subscribe click here.