Rapaport Magazine

Talking it out

A blueprint for trading synthetic diamonds and a challenge to the term ‘cultured pearls’ were among the issues that occupied the World Jewellery Confederation (CIBJO) Congress, which took place in November at the Four Seasons hotel in Bahrain. Here are some of the key takeaways from the conference.

By David Brough

1 Dialogue on lab-grown

The CIBJO gathering was a milestone for the natural and synthetic diamond industries, as the dialogue there triggered a thaw in their fractious relationship.

A discussion document by a CIBJO working group made recommendations for lab-grown diamond nomenclature and grading, as well as an appeal for a constructive relationship between suppliers of natural and synthetic stones. The primary goal, the group said, was to keep consumer confidence intact by ensuring shoppers could receive complete and unambiguous information about what they were buying.

These informational efforts “should be carried out with mutual consideration by all sides, so as not to harm the natural or laboratory-grown diamond sectors in marketing their respective products,” the document stated.

On the grading front, it outlined two options for laboratory-grown diamonds: using the 4Cs system like the trade does for natural stones, or establishing a parallel and separate standard with different terminology.

Of course, natural diamonds may not be the only segment in competition with lab-grown. Jonathan Kendall, who heads De Beers Group Industry Services and is global vice president of CIBJO, said he believed an increased supply of lab-created diamonds would weigh on prices in the future and potentially lead synthetics to displace simulants like cubic zirconia as a diamond alternative.

“You are going to see the natural business reviving, and the costume jewelry category becoming synthetic rather than [featuring] the range of cheap alternatives [to natural products] that lower-end jewelry manufacturers use today,” he told Rapaport Magazine.

The Bahrain congress marked the first time there had been an open discussion between leaders of the natural and synthetic communities in such a forum. Suppliers of laboratory-grown diamonds have long accused diamond miners of unsustainable practices, which miners in turn have rejected, challenging synthetic producers’ sustainability claims. The CIBJO event helped soften the strained relationship between the two segments, paving the way for a continuing dialogue to set a framework for trade.

The discussion document will next proceed to the CIBJO board of directors, which will discuss whether to adopt it.

2 Use of ‘Farmed pearls’

The congress also heard calls for “cultured” pearls to be called “farmed” pearls instead, amid concern that widespread usage of the term “cultured” to refer to laboratory-grown diamonds could lead to a misunderstanding of such pearls’ origins.

“‘Cultured’ diamonds are grown in laboratories; cultured pearls are grown on pearl farms in some of the most pristine, beautiful places on the planet, [but] the consumer perception [of them] is rapidly starting to shift,” said Jeremy Shepherd, a pearl entrepreneur representing the Cultured Pearl Association of America. “We’d like to start using the term ‘farmed.’ We just want to go back to the original meaning of the word ‘aquaculture,’ which is [that the product is] farmed in water.”

Pearl farmers who use sustainable practices should be able to refer to their product as “sustainably farmed pearls,” Shepherd added, suggesting that their standards could encourage other farmers to employ sustainable methods.

The pearl industry in the United States plans to consider this proposed nomenclature, and CIBJO will mull the issue in the coming months.

3 Tracking new technologies

With technological advances disrupting the way the trade has done business in recent years, CIBJO’s board voted to establish a committee focusing on the long-term impact of these innovations.

Among the advancements the Technology Committee will examine is artificial intelligence (AI), which could be transformative for the sector. AI can create systems to analyze consumer demand and optimize the production of raw materials, including the types, qualities and quantities of gemstones being cut and the range of jewelry being produced.

Yet there are also more sinister aspects. AI often takes over decision-making functions that to date have been performed by people — such as grading — resulting in reduced human intervention and control. Invasion of privacy is also a concern for both industry members and consumers: AI allows for tracking, monitoring and profiling people, as well as predicting behaviors, and so can be used to cast a wide network of surveillance.

“It is imperative that we develop an understanding of where things are headed, rather than having to react to situations brought about by technological developments,” said CIBJO president Gaetano Cavalieri. “For a long while, our industry continued to operate according to rules and systems that seldom changed, but that is no longer the case.”

UK-based retailer John Henn — a CIBJO delegate representing the National Association of Jewellers (NAJ) — advised against fearing the unknown. “AI would normally scare a traditional industry like ours to death, where people and relationships are so important,” he said, but the forces at work “need to be brought out of the shadows.”

4 Introducing ‘Fei Cui’

The material known as jadeite jade in the West was another topic of conversation at the CIBJO Congress, which considered adopting the Chinese term “Fei Cui” to refer to this green polycrystalline aggregate primarily consisting of jadeite, omphacite and kosmochlor.

Recent research has proven that omphacite and kosmochlor may be present in varying quantities, sometimes as the dominant component, according to a presentation by Chow Tai Fook managing director Kent Wong and Dr. Edward Liu of the Gemmological Association of Hong Kong. The term “jadeite” or “jadeite jade” is therefore incorrect, since it is using the name of a single mineral to designate a substance of varying composition.

Fei Cui is an example of a product that has not been transported or translated well outside its primary market of China, Cavalieri observed. He added that “after diamonds, Fei Cui products make up the most valuable sector in our worldwide industry.”

CIBJO will consider creating a Fei Cui Blue Book to set guidelines for its trade.

Image: Shutterstock

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