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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Synthetic Diamonds

What is a synthetic diamond (or any synthetic gem material)? A synthetic diamond is a diamond created by man that has all the same physical and chemical properties of the natural version. This is different than a diamond simulant (something like cubic zirconia) which mimic the look of a diamond, can be man made, but are not actually diamond material.

In the last ten years there has been a lot of talk about synthetic diamonds. It has been possible for quite awhile now to manufacture fancy colored synthetic diamonds in a wide range of sizes. However the quest to manufacture white diamonds has been a lot slower in coming. Creating white diamonds is significantly harder than creating colored diamonds, for a variety of reasons, which usually require a degree in the sciences somewhat beyond mine to explain and understand in detail but I am sure if you are interested in it, a quick online search should yield some results.

Unfortunately a great deal of the talk generated about the availability and the manufacturability of white diamonds was generated by the two companies who seem to be currently in the forefront of production. Both of these companies have made some of the most wildly exaggerated claims about their capabilities and their experiences (one of the owners claimed that agents from deBeers were following him around and had threatened to kill him). They have been saying for years that in just a little while (usually within the upcoming year after whichever conversation they were having) they would be flooding the market with white diamonds of all sizes, especially stones over 1 ct (which is kind of their end goal). Well so far none of that has come true. Are they currently able to produce white diamonds? Well yes but they haven't been able to come anywhere near their claims of the size range they can produce nor of the quantities they can produce.

However I had a customer come in recently who is a scientist and she had decided that she wanted a synthetic white diamond. I won't sell synthetic diamonds (of any color) but I told her I would be happy to make up a ring for her if she was able to procure a stone from one of the two manufacturers. So she went to them and after a little period of time she was able to buy one of the largest stones they had been able to make to date. It was a .65 ct. stone. Not exactly a 1.00 ct. diamond. Not completely white either in my book since it was an "H" color and I only sell "D", "E" and "F" (completely colorless) diamonds. It also, despite the fact that they claimed it was an excellent cut, did not fall into the ideal cut range that I sell.

But here is the most interesting fact. I went to check the pricing against other normal retail prices for like natural goods and it was only about 15% less expensive than a natural stone. Now this is somewhat understandable because it does take a huge amount of heat and pressure (read: energy) to produce these stones. So it isn't exactly a bargain, nor are they exactly dramatically undercutting the pricing of equivalent natural goods.

It also is not, for those of you concerned with environmental damage from diamond mining, a whole lot better for the earth because of the energy used to produce it.

As a gemologist, it is an interesting stone to see and work with. I'm sure that sometime in the future, the companies may actually be able to produce truly top color, larger stones. But for now, I don't think the natural diamond producers have much to worry about.

You should also note that it is possible with the right equipment to identify these stones as synthetics as well. However there have already been numerous incidents of small synthetic fancy colored diamonds being sprinkled into pieces that have some natural fancy colored material. It is becoming ever more important that you buy your jewelry from someone you trust and who has reliable sources.

My next posting will be about pearls. I can't remember if I ever wrote an article about the different varieties but I think it's an important topic so I'll be writing it up in the next week for your reading, and educational, pleasure!

The 18k gold ring picture above has one of my ALL NATURAL diamonds in it.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Back from Vacation and Ready to Roll

I am back from one of the longest breaks I've ever taken in my life from the bench. I have taken two weeks off in the past but because of the way the holidays and our flight times ran I actually had about 2 1/2 weeks off. The last time I had that much time off was when I was 15! My wife and I once again went back to our favorite spot in the country, Big Sur. We like to stay at an inn called Ventana that is quite wonderful and I strongly recommend it to anyone heading out to that part of the country. The two pictures above were taken from the deck at the restaurant at Ventana. We also spent a few (cold) days in San Francisco to visit with friends and relatives and some of our favorite stores! So I am well rested and ready to get back to work although so far I've mostly been slogging through end of year things like inventory.

This year I may be revisiting some topics I have discussed earlier simply because the blog has gotten so long that newbies might find it hard to dig out some of the high points and the specific topics they would like to read about although you can get to my blog directory here. But to start with here I want to talk a little bit about metal prices today.

Gold, as many of you know, has reached somewhat stratospheric heights in price in the past two years. For quite awhile I believed that it was a temporary situation and that prices would drop, possibly quite rapidly, at some point. Well this hasn't proven to be the case. While I believe prices peaked at about the $1900 mark and, barring some world disaster, won't go over that point, I am no longer of the opinion that prices will make any significant drops in the near future. Please note that I am not a financial expert, and also that if I really knew what gold was going to do I would be rich and retired by now, but there just doesn't seem to be any reason for gold to go back down as long as the current market forces continue, which it looks like they will.

So why is this important to you? First of all it means it is highly unlikely that jewelry costs will go down so if you have a big occasion coming up and you think you can wait until prices go back down, I simply wouldn't count on it. Secondly, it means that it is going to continue to be a good time to scrap some of that old jewelry you don't wear anymore for something new and fun. While I don't buy gold for scrap outright, I will take it in towards work being done, pieces in my cases or even to put towards repair work. I have had a number of customers who have cleaned out their jewelry boxes and ended up with some beautiful new pieces to wear. There really hasn't ever been a time in the past when you could take some of the (mostly commercial) jewelry you had bought years ago and turn it in for more than you paid for it. The third thing that is important about this is that it means that everything you own currently has far more value than it did if you bought it more than 3 years ago, which means it might be time to update any old appraisals you have. You should check with your insurance companies about whether they require this (some of them do) or if they have clauses allowing for increases in value automatically.

So it's a new year. Why don't you go clean out your closets and see what you come up with. Bring it by and let me see if we can't get you into a nice, new, more beautiful bauble for the upcoming year!

My next posting will be on synthetic diamonds as I just took in an order using a stone a customer purchased recently from one of the synthetic diamond manufacturers.