Diamond Disruption

BREAKING NEWS: things that were once found only in nature can now be synthesized by humans!

RUN… DON’T WALK… to your nearest web browser in frantic search of “the truth” about mining vs. lab-creating!


—> Music cue: dramatic up-tempo tuneless 8-bar vamp <—

Okay, enough of that. The emergence and apparent popularity of lab-created diamonds is definitely cause for industry-wide conversation, if not some of the more hyperbolic commentary I’ve read in recent comment sections.

We now know that lab-created diamond companies aren’t kidding around. We know that some companies want to harness this force for evil, some for good, and many for profit.

We also should have predicted that the development, production, expansion, and marketing of this product would happen very quickly (which it did) and that it would reverberate through the industry like a Tibetan mountain gong (felt, rather than heard).

I actually received a handful of messages today from non-industry folks, asking for my opinion on the matter and offering up their own (one notable quotable: “now that Leo won gold, will he bedazzle the trophy in his fake glitter?”). After carefully explaining the differences between “synthetic” and “simulant,” I asked for honest opinions about giving or receiving lab-created diamonds. I also asked if they held the same thoughts about their own jewelry as they would that of friends, colleagues, or family members.

Here are their summarized answers, paraphrased and used with permission:

Friend A: I don’t even like synthetic fabrics, so why would I want synthetic diamonds when I can afford the real thing? None of my friends are engaged or close to it, but I hope they insist on the real deal.

Friend B: Well, I guess if they’re basically the same thing, then what’s the difference? It’s not like it’s an inferior diamond, it just didn’t kill children and the environment to get here. It probably end up like the drug industry though, won’t it, where generics are just as good and cost less, but some doctors are paid by the name brand and won’t write prescriptions for anything else?

Friend C: Ew. I don’t like diamonds at all anyway, and I would never want one for my ring.

Friend D: My center stone is a moissanite, but that’s because I didn’t want a blood diamond and didn’t trust any of the stores around here not to have them. If I’d known about lab diamonds, I might have asked for one.

Friend E: Maybe for earrings or something, if it’s cheaper, sure why not. But for something more important/meaningful like an engagement ring, no way. Test tube babies are still humans, but isn’t trying the natural way first better?

Well, aside from learning a lot more about these their real feelings on things other than diamonds, it was a pretty illuminating set of discussions. The most interesting part? All 5 of these responses are from women between the ages of 25-35. Yes, even evil genius friend B over there, drawing functionally accurate parallels between big pharma and big D. Smart cookie, huh?

As for my own opinions, I prefer to dig a little deeper. The jewelry industry as a whole reacts poorly to change, and adding lab-grown diamonds to the mix of lab-grown colored gems might feel like a step too far for some. The mined diamond industry is certainly feeling the pinch these days, so from their perspective, timing couldn’t be worse.

As you might have guessed by now, I’m not really a flag-waving traditionalist. I think that lab-created anything, sold and marketed with total transparency and accurate information, is perfectly good and healthy and legal. I myself have educated my clients about lab-created colored gems, and they have purchased from me in full knowledge of precisely what they bought.

The romantic in me shudders at the thought of a master gemcutter plying his or her trade with rough that did not come from the earth, passing through the hands of expert dealers and feeding the economies of local governments. The cultural connection I so cherish disappears, and for that reason, I am not personally inclined to seek out non-mined gemstones or diamonds.

Like any ethical jeweler, I abhor the use of marketing or sales tactics that attempt to cloud the truth and shade the facts in order to generate buzz (and therefore, sales). I successfully sold cultured pearls, heat-treated sapphires, and SI2 diamonds for exactly what they are, and never once did I need to resort to used-car-salesman tactics to do so. I see absolutely no reason why the emergence of yet another technological advancement should be met with anything less than our highest standards, as we do what we do best: serve the client.

Now I’m throwing the doors of discussion wide open: what do you think?


Follow Up: Good. vs. Goods, The Other Guy’s Perspective

Well, this is convenient. Hard on the heels of my recent editorial on the current state of marketing in the jewelry industry, a features writer over at Racked (a fashion/lifestyle headline-style site) took on the issue from Signet Jewelers’ perspective — you know, the largest monopoly conglomerate covering such household names as Kay, Zales, and Jared.

The article is worth a read, especially if such figures as “$5.7 billion in annual sales” and “3600 stores” pique your interest. But free advertising and product placement aside, what does Signet try to say about their products and their massive share of the industry? They’re all about the (straight, middle class) man.

Women react to their marketing — all 10+ channels of it — with opinions ranging from “cheesy” and “gimmicky” all the way to feeling downright offended by the way the ads portray women and their relationships with men. The fairytale gifting scenarios and mass-appeal life event celebrations ring hollow for most, as is clearly removes any sense of responsibility on the part of the gifter to make an effort and understand a woman’s unique style. The emphasis is all on a come-hither ease of use, rather than any real meaning, romance, or sentiment.

The idea is to make the experience so comfortable, so ridiculously easy for the (straight, middle class) male shopper that he loses all ability to reason and simply buys what he sees the girl on the TV screen loving and crying about, with no consideration for his (ahem, or her) giftee’s desires and needs.

And this is how those poorly-chosen gifts end up here with us. They need broken delicate chains replaced with something sturdier to stand up to a tugging toddler. A watch strap that actually fits him. Three diamonds replaced in the micropave shank because she’s a hairdresser and they keep falling out. A setting lowered or swapped because the latex gloves she wears to the hospital every day are getting shredded by the prongs.

I appreciate the need for mass-market appeal, as I mentioned in my earlier post, because I believe it helps romance the whole idea of jewelry and not just that particular piece from that particular store. But this… is not what I mean. Offending an entire gender with patronization and general lack of nuance is not helpful. Convincing men to enter a store at holiday time and stand in line, zombie-like, to receive this year’s version of last year’s hit, is not the kind of experience this industry stands for.

My soapbox is starting to bend under the weight of my heavy disdain for these tactics, so I’ll leave you with this thought (from the article) for now: “Every time I see [one of their ads] on TV, I want to throw something at the screen… [t]hey are infuriating because they are an insult to my intelligence and emotions! I am not that easy to buy and gift-giving just isn’t that magical.”

A Professional Opinion

Doctors. Law enforcement officers. Judges. Manicurists. These professions require a range of qualifications, but to practice them ethically (and legally, minus the manicures) the chief requirement is the ability to tell the truth. Always. Regardless of a person’s feelings, other wants and needs, or how that truth may impact the lives of others.

But for many other professions, telling the (whole) truth can be a risky business practice indeed. I’m not talking basic factual information here — yes it’s cashmere, no it isn’t leather, yes, it comes in green, etc. — but the part of a business transaction that involves an opinion.

From your hair stylist to your jeweler (hi there!) to the people who run those fun little wine-and-painting parties, they’re all still in business now because they’re able to walk a fine line between truth and a bit of stretched, um, fiction. The proverbial little white lie can be incredibly useful, when deployed with tact, diplomacy, and integrity.

Wait — integrity, you ask? Isn’t a lie of any kind, by definition, totally devoid of such a thing? Allow me to use an example straight from a day in my life.

Customer: What do you think of this bracelet? I’d like something to wear on special occasions.

Me: I think that piece can certainly be dressed up. The gold accents and high polish finish already give it a more formal look.

Customer: Yes, I think so too. And I really love it. But… (she turns to face me straight on) I really want to know what you think about it. Does it look right? Isn’t it gorgeous?

You all know what I said here. You know I told her that she loves it, it fits her description of what she wanted, and it’s a versatile piece she’ll wear often. You also know that I uttered not one peep about whether I personally think it’s gorgeous, but that it’s gorgeous on her. And of course she purchased the item, because everything I said was true.

What I didn’t say was that I think the bracelet is gaudy and clunky, and that I’m so glad she loves it because it’s been in the store for what feels like forever and I’m sick of looking at it. That’s a personal opinion that is totally irrelevant to both my customers in general and that sale in particular, and it has no business getting in the way of… business.

The fine jewelry industry has long been plagued with what I’ll call the bad apples. There are still places and people who are only out for the buck, and would happily sell a professional rockclimber an emerald eternity band to wear as an “everyday ring” just because they could. This kind of practice has no place in this business because it only comes back to harm the integrity of the industry as a whole, and I categorically condemn any business that allows or encourages used-car-salesman tactics. Those bad apples are telling lies — harmful untruths that stem from laziness, a total lack of integrity or ethics, and that ultimately serve to undermine the trusting relationship the good apples work so hard to build.

Our job is to educate consumers and help them navigate a highly emotional, mostly blind purchase. My professional opinion gets time in the spotlight when asked if a ring is too big, a setting is loose, or a chain is too light. It stays tightly locked behind my teeth in most other situations.

Yes, those earrings are very pretty. No m’am, I don’t think those galoshes make your calves look too big. That will be an interesting 10-page-paper topic, Jimmy. Your engagement ring is beautiful. Honey, this chicken tastes great!