February 1998

Diamonds: Gemology


Synthetic diamonds costing $500 per carat could be available in the next two years

Tom Chatham likes to poke fun at himself, quoting a joke that's made the rounds in the trade. "What's the rarest gem in the world? The Chatham-created diamond!" He refers to his troubled attempts at synthetic diamond production in Russia. Chatham grew so frustrated by problems with the operation that he's switching production to the U.S., with the help of a Russian expert in diamond synthesis. It might be time for the jokes to stop.

Top: These 0.35-ct. and 0.28-ct. stones from Russia are typical of synthetic diamonds on the market today. These stones are courtesy of Russian Colored Stone, Golden, CO. Photo by Robert Weldon.

Bottom: Initially most synthetic diamonds were brownish or yellowish, but sophisticated technology has resulted in colorless or grayish blue stones such as these. Stones are courtesy of Chatham Created Gems, San Francisco, CA. Photo by Robert Weldon.


Created diamonds proponents predict greater production, larger sizes and finer colors and clarities from different sources. Some say there already are good-quality synthetics on the market. "Over the past three years, we are talking about several thousand - up to 10,000 stones," says synthetic diamond distributor Alex Grizenko of Russian Colored Stone Co., Golden, CO.

Chatham, of Chatham Created Gems in San Francisco, says world production of man-made diamonds surpasses 200 tons per year. It's inevitable some of this material will end up in jewelry. For now, however, most synthetic diamonds are used in high-tech heat-synch, laser, computer and medical industries (diamond's hardness makes it an ideal material tool for use in surgical scalpels).


Not so Fast

Alarm bells about man-made diamonds shouldn't ring yet, says James Shigley of the Gemological Institute of America. "You have to look at what we have seen so far," he says. "Every lab in the world is on the lookout for synthetic diamonds. And while I can't speak for other labs, my feeling is that very few synthetic diamonds are in the trade." He has seen small mostly yellow synthetic diamonds.

He adds a caution: "We always have to keep on guard."

Chatham, who plans to acquire diamond-making technology, says many of the world's synthetic diamond manufacturers have explored ways to enter the gem trade. He is now coordinating his own production schedule with a manufacturer in the U.S.

This synthetic diamond rough from Russia averages 1 carat. Tom Chatham hopes to produce and sell 10,000 carats of synthetics per month, averaging 1 carat and selling for about $500 per carat. The stones are courtesy of Chatham Created Gems, San Francisco, CA. Photo by Robert Weldon


Chatham hired a major Russian physicist - an expert in diamond synthesis - and moved him to the U.S. to head up the production team. Proper monitoring and manufacturing will ensure a constant competitive supply of material, Chatham says. "I feel conservatively that 10,000 stones per month would be no problem, selling in the range of $500 per carat in 1-ct. ranges," he says. Chatham wants to produce 1-ct. J SI stones.

For Grizenko, the big news is big size. "We used to think 4-to-5-ct. stones were a major deal; now we are aiming for 6," he says. "It gets us into sizes in the premium-value range."

Grizenko will concentrate on Ideal or Eight Star cutting, fancies and colored synthetics. His Russian suppliers produce some green diamonds, but the majority are yellow and tangerine. Irradiated pink and red diamonds will be available also.

Synthetics will have a major impact on the industry, says Grizenko, "because we are dealing in the part of the industry that provides the greatest revenue."

Chatham, a little more circumspect, says synthetics won't turn the jewelry industry on its ear, but will add to the product mix. He also says that for jewelers with price-conscious consumers, synthetics offer an alternative to lower quality naturals.

- Robert Weldon, G.G.

Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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