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Tech Talk: Innovations Shaping the Industry

How technology has shaped the diamond industry.

By Shuan Sim

Technology as it develops has always shaped the diamond and jewelry industry. “The effects range from the ability to do bespoke jewelry using computer-aided design (CAD) software to how you market jewelry over social media,” says Lindsay Reinsmith, founder and chief operating officer (COO) of Ada Diamonds, a Silicon Valley jewelry retailer specializing in using only laboratory-grown diamonds.
   Overt technological developments — advancements in cutting, mapping, diamond growing and treatments, to name a few — have improved the quality of diamonds in modern history. However, it is the subtler innovations — social media, smartphones and the internet — that have profoundly changed how consumers buy, sell, discuss and even perceive diamond jewelry.

Better Science, Better Diamonds
   Scientific and technological breakthroughs have vastly enhanced all aspects of diamond manufacturing and growing. “If we look at the technology from Sarine and the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), we are able to achieve grading and detecting of lab-grown diamonds at accuracies not possible before,” says David Weinstein, executive director of the International Gemological Institute (IGI). “It’s a whole new world. We’re now able to map every inclusion and flaw of rough diamonds even before we cut them,” he elaborates, referring to Sarine’s Galaxy line of mapping systems.
   Lasers have improved the precision of diamond cutting and reduced material loss, compared with traditional sawing, as well as allowing for laser inscribing, enhancements and spectroscopy. “In fact,” Weinstein points out, “lasers were originally used for clarity enhancements in diamonds.” He explains that lasers were used to drill into a diamond to erase inclusions within the stone. “At some point, someone realized, ‘If we could drill all the way into a diamond with a laser, why not just drill on the surface to leave a mark?’” Weinstein says, describing the birth of laser inscription. Lasers have also allowed for Raman spectroscopy, where the diamond is exposed to laser light and the scattering of the light is recorded, revealing a diamond’s type and authenticity.
   Faster computers and improved hydraulics technology have resulted in better creation of gem materials, including lab-grown diamonds. “Everything’s become smaller,” Weinstein notes. “A diamond press that used to take up half a room can now sit on my desk.” He adds that advancements in diamond-growing technology not only resulted in better-quality stones, but also at a quantity that’s commercially viable. “If you can only make ten stones a year, you’re not going to have a market for lab-grown diamonds,” Weinstein says. Jason Payne, founder and CEO of Ada Diamonds, points out that the technology aspect of the stones is a big draw for their customers. “Lab-grown diamonds are a fascinating paragon of human achievement,” he comments. Reinsmith notes that often they are asked additional questions about the growth process of the diamond, as well as where the diamonds were created.

GIA report number inscription on the girdle of a diamond. Photo © GIA.

Disrupting the Industry
   The narrative of diamonds has drastically changed, led by advancements in communications technology. The introduction of smartphones, social media and the internet transformed what young consumers care about and how they consume information. Advancements in payment technology including contactless payment systems have also resulted in a tech-savvy consumer base accustomed to instant results.
   Consumers have become more aware of the environmental and ethical impact of mining as information is spread freely and quickly. “Overall, consumers are more educated about diamonds than they’ve ever been,” Reinsmith points out, adding that technology goes hand-in-hand with ensuring sustainable diamonds with known origins. Jewelers have to not only know their consumers well but also their product. “Someone who can’t explain electric cars can’t sell electric cars,” says Payne. Reinsmith agrees, adding, “Knowledge is power in this industry.”
   Traditional mediums of reaching consumers have fallen out of favor. “The introduction of the modern smartphone is probably one of the biggest disrupters in marketing in generations,” observes Shane O’Neill, vice president of Fruchtman Marketing, a marketing agency for the jewelry industry. He notes that most jewelers are still relying on TV, radio, newspaper and magazines for advertising, with many just having an ineffectual online presence. “In the past, people came home from work, and they might surf the internet or watch TV. For most of the day, they weren’t connected. Now, with smartphones, people are browsing more frequently,” O’Neill explains. “Now they’re plugged in all the time.”
   Technology has also benefited retailers by improving their reach. Paid search, analytics, geotargeting and responsive web design are some tools available to jewelers to keep up with the demands of young consumers. Currently, O’Neill feels that the jewelry industry is inadequately engaging with consumers digitally. “The jewelry industry is about five years behind other industries that have adopted digital marketing,” O’Neill says. “I suspect it’s because all these new technologies came about rather quickly and people in the jewelry industry have a hard time diverting their marketing dollars to these new forms. There is still a lot of hesitation to get involved.” The jewelry industry must keep up or risk being left in the dust, O’Neill notes.
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Sci-fi or Distant Reality?
   For diamond growing and manufacturing, many believe the technology is not going to get much better. Weinstein feels that diamond gemstone growers don’t need to make stones any larger than they already are as the market for large lab-grown diamonds is limited. The growth process could be made faster and more efficient but making them cheaper might be counterproductive, he thinks. Payne believes that the future of lab-grown diamonds is not to displace the natural-mined diamond jewelry industry. “It is to improve the size and purity of grown diamonds for computational and scientific purposes,” Payne notes. “I believe that in my lifetime you will need to rename Silicon Valley to ‘Diamond Valley’ because computer chips will transition to being fabricated on lab-grown diamond wafers instead of silicon wafers.”
   Instead, it is likely that technology that affects the diamond narrative and how retailers and wholesalers operate will continue to evolve. Developments on the horizon include augmented reality (AR) — giving consumers the ability to project jewelry onto their hands — or diamond education available through smartphone apps. Weinstein is also working on integrating artificial intelligence and machine learning with diamond detection and grading, hoping to boost consumer confidence in diamonds. These innovations will come to shape how jewelers do business and the consumer’s experience.
   While currently the diamond industry is slow to adapt to the rapid technological changes, O’Neill is optimistic about the future. “You see sons and daughters in their late 20s and early 30s starting to take over their parents’ businesses. They’re extremely aggressive online, they’re very well informed and they’re not conservative at all,” O’Neill says. “The next generation of jewelers is coming up,” he concludes.

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