Professional Jeweler Archive: Color Made to Order

September 2003

Diamonds/Gemology


Color Made to Order

Choices in laboratory-grown and treated fancy-color diamonds expand to meet demand


Demand for fancy colors has spurred the heating and irradiation of diamonds and the creation of synthetic stones to produce a veritable rainbow. All these products are entering the trade in increasing numbers because they’re more accepted and available. Here are three companies in this growing arena.

Chatham’s Lab-Grown Diamonds

“The trade has seen the highlights of my efforts with regard to lab-grown diamonds over the years,” says Tom Chatham, president of Chatham Created Gems, San Francisco, CA. “It hasn’t always worked to plan, but I have been working behind the scenes for a while. I’ve been in contact with synthetic diamond producers all around the world for a decade. Thousands of diamond presses are being used around the world.” In fact, he estimates world production of man-made diamonds for industrial use hovers around 900 million carats a year.

Quality has increased tremendously. “In the old days, quality could not be achieved easily,” says Chatham. “Now diamond crystals can be grown to suit everyone through technical advances in crystal morphology.”

Chatham disagrees with those who say synthetic diamonds are destined mainly for industrial use. “I have seen 10-ct. to 20-ct. clean diamonds produced experimentally,” he says. “That’s an incentive for the jewelry industry.”

Chatham says synthetic whites still cost too much to produce compared with natural white diamonds. He also learned he couldn’t count on sustainable production from Russian presses. “I have since teamed up with a Japanese producer,” he says.

Chatham says he’s now ready to present the jewelry world with sustainable production. He offers a variety of colors, generally near 1 carat. He says the colors are true as they emerge from the presses and don’t require treatment. However, consistency is difficult to maintain. “If two or more diamonds are equal in color, of course, we cut, sort and match them together. But it’s still not a calibrated market.”

As acceptance of the product grows, Chatham expects to offer the industry some 40,000 carats per year.

Chatham mounts the diamonds in jewelry, hoping to make a splash with independent retailers. “Finished jewelry makes for a shorter path to the consumer,” he says. “For independent jewelers, this product is one more tool. Man-made diamonds should not be ignored.”

Nu Age Technologies’ Irradiated Color Service

“We’ve been perfecting the development of different permanent colors in natural diamonds for the past 30 years,” says Danny Ratsaby of Nu Age Technologies Inc., New York City. His father, Aaron, has spent three decades in research and development in enhancing diamond color with irradiation. Today, the company treats diamond stock for a number of clients. Colors include pink, purple, yellow, gold, green-blue, blue-green and black. Ratsaby says his company treats a preponderance of the colored diamonds in the market today.

Customers vary from individual stores with excess diamond stock treated for a new look to larger manufacturers. Nu Age doesn’t sell colored diamonds itself; it keeps a sample stock only to show available colors. “We do not want to compete with our customers,” he says.

Nu Age boasts an international clientele. “People trust us because our irradiation treatments take place inside the United States and are subject to rigorous regulations,” says Ratsaby. “All of the diamonds are fully safe to wear, and the diamonds go to labs such as the International Gemological Institute or EGL USA for certification and testing.” Ratsaby says jewelers should know where diamonds are irradiated because some countries with the technology have less rigorous standards.

Nu Age treats diamonds from melee to over 5 carats.

Ratsaby says the popularity of colored diamonds on television shopping channels is pushing traditional retailers to also carry them. “These colors are a form of affordable luxury,” he says. “They also help develop appreciation for much more expensive natural fancy colors.”

Sundance Diamonds: HPHT Services

A company focusing on the gas and oil industry somehow ended up in the diamond business. It’s not as curious a journey as it may seem.

Sundance Diamonds is a subsidiary of U.S. Synthetic, Orem, UT, which makes polycrystalline synthetic diamonds that are fused into drill bits used by the petroleum industry. During down times for drill-bit-making, the company uses the diamond presses to treat diamonds.

“We kept being asked about high-pressure/high-temperature services from members of the diamond industry,” says Rob Galloway, Sundance’s general manager. “Demand for HPHT treatments for diamonds went from zero to high after General Electric and Lazare Kaplan announced a few years ago they were developing and marketing diamonds treated with a HPHT process to improve color.”

Sundance was impressed by the self-regulation of the diamond industry, says Galloway. “We feel disclosure and ethics are critical for this to work well.”

While Sundance Diamonds offers HPHT services to members of the trade, it scrutinizes each client’s business plan and disclosure policies. “We want trusted members of the industry as our clients,” says Galloway. Sundance Diamonds is a member of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee and has consulted with international diamond groups to understand the industry’s concerns.

The business isn’t big yet – just a few dozen stones a month, says Galloway. To be viable, it will need to become 10% of the overall business, he says. Part of the problem is the lack of available raw material. The types of diamonds used in HPHT treatments are in demand, particularly scarce Type IIa stones (Type IIa diamonds make up only 2% of all diamonds). Type IIa diamonds, typically brownish in nature, become colorless after treatment. Type Ia stones are more plentiful; treated, they typically turn green, bright yellow or orange.

Sundance says it’s open for consultation. Interested parties must submit stones for type identification and suitability for HPHT treatment. Customers also must sign a disclosure agreement stipulating diamonds will be sold with full disclosure.

  • Chatham Created Gems, San Francisco, CA; (800) 222-2202.
  • Nu Age Technologies Inc., New York City; (212) 997-9144.
  • Sundance Diamonds, Orem, UT; (801) 235-9001.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

Chatham Created Gems offers lab-grown fancy colored diamonds set in jewelry.
Nu Age Technologies irradiates clients’ diamonds. Diamonds courtesy of Nu Age Technologies. Photo by Robert Weldon.
Sundance Diamonds offers HPHT treatments in Type Ia and Type IIa diamonds.

Copyright © 2003 by Bond Communications