“Diamonds are only coal that stuck to their jobs, you see,” said the late American billionaire Malcolm Forbes. Considered one of the hardest materials in the world, the job of a diamond begins millions of years before it is born, formed under extreme geological pressure. This naturally occurring brilliant stone can be found buried deep in the ground all over the world including Russia, Canada, and Africa, where one of the world’s largest diamond producers, South Africa is located.
This country is also the birthplace of Brian Gavin, a fifth-generation, family-trained, diamond cutter. Now a Houston resident, his understanding, of the diamond industry, coupled with his expertise is renowned and unmatched. Gavin knows how the labor-intensive process of mining diamonds, combined with strict industry regulation continues to increase the value and prestige associated with these stones. Yet, there is an alternative to owning a naturally occurring diamond. No, it’s not cubic zirconia, nor rhinestone, it’s a synthetic diamond and according to Gavin choosing this type of man-made stone is definitely a personal one.
What are synthetic diamonds?
Today’s laboratories use two distinct methods to create synthetic diamonds. As Gavin says “it’s a process of crystallizing carbon”. The first technique is called the high-pressure high-temperature approach or HPHT. It recreates the crushing force of the earth by applying extreme temperatures and pressure.
The second technique is called Carbon Vapor Deposit or CVD. It is similar to a three-dimensional printing approach where pieces of carbon are layered onto a seed in a vacuum chamber. Regardless of which man-made approach is used the result is a diamond that has the same properties as a natural one but different crystal patterns.
Can you tell the difference?
According to Gavin the answer is no, you can’t tell the difference between synthetic diamonds and natural with the naked eye. He adds,
“Even with man-made diamonds, you may have inclusions (i.e. flaws or imperfections) which look just as much or are equal to natural inclusions. So it’s very complicated.”
Will synthetic diamonds affect the market?
Gavin refers to the example of Auguste Vernuil a French chemist who developed man-made rubies and sapphires in the late 1800s. At the time, there was fear throughout the precious-stone industry that this development would negatively affect the natural market for them. Though they did take a portion of the sales from the natural ruby and sapphire industry, they did not destroy it.
Gavin says the same can be said for the synthetic versus the natural diamond markets. The man-made version has taken some market share. But he adds:
“I think that most people prefer something that is natural; especially when it’s expressing a term of endearment or your love for someone else……99% of the time people tell me they would prefer to have a natural diamond if they’re going to get married. I think it does have greater symbolism”.
What is the future of synthetic diamonds?
Gavin says he doesn’t see it as a market that will grow as rapidly and as big as the natural diamond industry. He believes the advent of synthetic diamonds is a good thing because there is currently a shortage of naturally mined stones. Therefore, there is a place at the table for synthetic diamonds.
However, Gavin says his company has no plans to invest in synthetic diamonds. As a purveyor of natural diamonds only, he goes to extreme lengths to ensure the stones he sells are synthetic free.
“All of our diamonds are pre-screened from the smallest stones to the larger ones. They go to the lab for grading….so you as a consumer, are well protected as far as our diamonds are concerned.”
Why continue to mine diamonds?
When asked why the diamond mining industry continues to thrive despite the fact that they can now be grown in a lab, Gavin pauses to answer. He uses the African country of Botswana whose primary natural resource is diamond, as an example:
“If you stop the mining of diamonds, think of how many people would lose their jobs or suffer in that country. What would those people do? What opportunity do they have? It is a very complicated situation.”
Gavin goes on to explain that the mining houses have a responsibility not only to their workers but to the environment as well. Their exploration and excavation of this precious stone benefits the people who work for them and their families. But in the same vein, these large companies must mine responsibly minimizing their impact on Mother Nature.
Natural vs. Synthetic
Despite what Malcolm Forbes said about diamonds only being coal who stuck to their jobs, the reality is that fewer pieces of coal are doing their jobs today. Consequently, the demand for synthetic diamonds will remain. Yet, for those that choose natural over man-made stones for their own reasons, they have an ally in Brian Gavin.
“I’ve had numerous synthetic houses approach us to sell their diamonds. I’m a traditionalist. I believe in real diamonds. I believe in Mother Nature or the creation by Mother Nature.”
He continues to believe that coal can do its job!