De Beers stakes its reputation on spotting the difference

Wed Aug 17, 2016 7:32am EDT
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By Barbara Lewis

MAIDENHEAD, England (Reuters) - In nature it takes billions of years to produce a diamond, or a laboratory can grow one in days and to the untrained eye, it looks the same.

For De Beers, telling the difference is fundamental to protecting its reputation as the world's leading diamond firm by value and holder of a roughly 30 percent share of the market for genuine rough diamonds.

It guarantees all its own mined diamonds are natural, authenticates diamonds for third parties and makes money from selling its detection equipment.

Increasingly sophisticated technology to produce synthetic diamonds drives industry-wide demand for the means to determine whether a stone was created in the earth's mantle or is man-made.

The difference is more than emotional. Synthetic diamonds sell for an estimated 30 percent less than the real thing and have no investment value. Any unscrupulous retailer passing off the man-made as natural would be committing fraud.

"For the diamond business, the one thing you don't want is for consumers to lose trust," Jonathan Kendall, president of De Beers' International Institute of Diamond Grading and Research, said.

Far from the diamond-rich kimberlite rock of South Africa, staff at a De Beers laboratory in leafy Maidenhead, west of London, say they can determine with 100 percent accuracy whether a diamond is natural or synthetic.

De Beers itself has a unit that makes synthetic diamonds, but only for industrial usages, such as drilling and cutting. All the rough diamonds De Beers sells for jewelery are real.   Continued...

A still image from video shows coloured synthetic diamonds on display at De Beers' International Institute of Diamond Grading and Research in Maidenhead August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Reuters TV