Diamonds laboratory: more ethical, cheap … and impossible to distinguish with the naked eye

Transparent and bright, symbol of status and power since time immemorial, diamond is the hardest mineral on the planet and the best thermal conductor.

Beyond their physical qualities, few objects have the power of fascination exerted on the human being this precious stone generated millions of years ago in the interior of the Earth. But what turned the mother of all jewels into the symbol that it is now was a marketing campaign of 1947 with an unforgettable slogan: A diamond is forever, chosen the best of the 20th century by Ad Age magazine. With the priceless help from Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and other celluloid stars, DeBeers, the company that since the end of the 19th century had a global monopoly and artificially controlled the very high prices, managed to identify in the collective imagination the definitive gift of commitment: the diamond ring . Since then, the great challenge that the corporations of the sector had faced was to separate the origin of their stones from the countries in conflict, the so-called blood diamonds. After the storm, the ethical dilemmas and a huge investment in positive publicity, calm came. The diamond recovered its upward trend after the signing of the Kimberley Process in 2000, a certification system that aims to guarantee consumers that the diamonds they buy in their jewelry do not come from countries in conflict. DeBeers, Alrosa, Rio Tinto and the other companies that dominate the market promised themselves very happy. But now this business is facing an even greater challenge: the boom of lab-made diamonds. With the same optical, physical and chemical properties as the natural ones, its take-off puts at risk a business that moves 75,000 million euros a year. In such a scenario, DeBeers has just launched its own synthetic diamond company (Lightbox). For many analysts, it seems like an almost desperate measure: throwing prices up to $ 800 a carat to break the market.

Egor Gavrilenko, gemologist

The gemologist Egor Gavrilenko receives PAPEL in the Gem Analysis and Certification Laboratory of the IGE (Spanish Gemological Institute), which he directs, to discuss the keys to an issue that brings the sector to the top. “It has been such an important product for jewelers for so many decades that people are beginning to fear that the price of nature will sink,” affirms who receives every day individuals and jewelers concerned about the authenticity and origin of their stones. Gavrilenko and his team are responsible for analyzing the pieces that bring them, to graduate their quality and to certify their origin. For a few months, the work has intensified. “Both types are indistinguishable in view and with conventional methods that have been used for decades,” he says. “But there are more sophisticated devices that do differentiate and that should be introduced more and more into the jewelry sector.” Spectrometers, 3D scanners, pencils with diodes that emit fluorescent lights, liquid nitrogen … The gemologist shows the tools of his day to day (several of them manufactured by the DeBeers own) with the same precision with which he uses the tweezers to take out and store stones, some of them tiny. Although the alarm is more or less recent, the boom of synthetic diamond is not exactly new. “It’s something that has been done since 1954, but its use has been mostly industrial, since diamond dust is a perfect abrasive,” says Gavrilenko. “But the process has gotten better, faster and cheaper, in 2012 it started to compete in the price with the natural one, and from that irruption it has been something unstoppable, there are more and more and its prices have been falling sharply. ” Right now synthetic diamond represents less than 1% of the global market. However, a study by Morgan Stanley figures that percentage at 7.5% by 2020. According to DeBeers, the intention of its subsidiary Lightbox is to sell them loose or already set in very affordable jewelery to people who have never been able to afford such a caprice. For Gavrilenko, the strategy of the business conglomerate based in South Africa has another added objective: “Instead of a shot in the foot, as it might seem, it is a masterful move to differentiate the two products, for them this new business will represent a very small percentage, laugh compared to the natural one.If they, with all their power of marketing and production, sell the product at 800 dollars per carat, how are other companies going to place it for 8,000? ”

Egor Gavrilenko, gemologist

It is also striking that they use the same price or by carat for small and large stones. They also do not grade the quality of synthetic diamonds. This is a very different strategy from the one followed by natural diamond, where prices per carat are increasing exponentially for larger and cleaner gems. By combining synthetic jewelry, they aim to sink prices to leave intact the luxury niche from the natural “You can imagine very easily that, in a few years, the synthetic is worth the same as the zirconia, the most widespread imitation of the diamond,” says Egor. “And the natural, as it is a scarce and finite product, will follow its usual price train, something that has already happened with rubies, sapphires and emeralds, which have their synthetic analogues”. The final maneuver to end the competition? It is not so clear. Behind the wars of Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Zimbabwe are diamonds, so brilliant and perfect. Behind the child soldiers, the conditions of semi-slavery, mutilation and rape have involved companies, corrupt governments and rebel groups that directly exchanged raw gems for weapons. “The horror, the horror …” that Marlow would say in The Heart of Darkness. After the entry into force of the Kimberley Process, signed by 49 countries under the auspices of the United Nations and the NGO Global Witness, less than 1% of the diamonds that reach the final consumer can be classified as blood. But reality is stubborn and greed, unlimited. Are there sufficient controls so that the sale is not made in third countries and, after going through the Indian carving workshops, arrives at the Antwerp stock exchange with the corresponding certificate? The own Global Witness retired of the treaty in 2012, accusing of complicity to the companies in the washing of gems and its use to finance authoritarian regimes like the one of Botsuana, the country with greater deposits. And here, in this moral and economic hornets, is where other companies like Diamond Foundry, a company incubated in Silicon Valley that aims to stand up to giants like DeBeers betting on the clean origin of synthetic diamond, come into play. And it does so in a double sense: they come from the laboratory and its cultivation, through a patented plasma reactor technology, like a gigantic 3D printer, which superimposes layer by layer the carbon atoms from a sheet of diamond or seed . And only renewable energies are used. Like the Jordan Belfort he played in The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio also has an eye for business, always with a sustainable alibi. Hence his investments in companies of ecological fashion, synthetic meat … and laboratory diamonds. He is one of the main shareholders of a company that confirms the growth of demand in the last year: “Our production and sales have almost doubled in each quarter.” The competition is fierce and the company’s public relations, Ye-Hui Goldenson, does not go around the bush. “DeBeers is positioning Lightbox to compete in the lower-valued market segment, since small stones are easier to create, they are trying to distinguish them from their natural diamonds so as not to disturb their current suppliers. from mining is obsolete. ” Other companies such as Swarovski bet on the coexistence of natural and synthetic, with well differentiated lines but under the same brand. Imaginary interviews aside, Penélope Cruz was in charge of designing a collection for Atelier Swarovski “of conscious luxury” that allowed her to create “products that generate a positive impact”, as she stated in the press release of its launch last July. It is a background race of uncertain outcome, which seeks to increase the size of the gems and cheapen the process, and which also appears on the horizon its use in the processors of computers as a substitute for silicon. While Chinese companies launch to compete with ridiculous prices (50 dollars the rough carat), the sector contains the respiration. Because what really is at stake is the almost magical aura that surrounds a stone once only within the reach of royalty. and the high bourgeoisie. Rings, necklaces and diamond earrings will continue to shine the same on the red carpet and at the jet set parties. But there will always be the question: is it natural or synthetic? The Spanish case: the biodiamanteThe only Spanish company that manufactures synthetic diamonds is IrisGem, which will resume its activity in a few months after a change of ownership. From his headquarters in Carmona (Seville), Pablo Reyes, the diamond expert of the firm, ensures by telephone that, in his case, the recipient of the jewel “not only chooses the color, size and size of the gem, but also the carbon source that ends up crystallizing, which can be the hair, the umbilical cordany organic matter We add that sentimental value. “The possibilities are almost endless and some seem to be taken from an episode of Black mirror.” We had orders like a woman who wanted diamond earrings from the hair of a dead dog. In 2009 we made more than a thousand diamonds with Pelé’s hair, one for each goal he scored during his career.

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