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Diamonds are forever. Apparently, so are some lobbying campaigns. For years, trade groups for the jewelry industry have been fighting to ban the use of the word “cultured” to describe laboratory-made gemstones. The groups say the word is misleading and could lead consumers to think the stones were somehow created through a natural process. Instead, DeBeers and others refer to the laboratory diamonds as “synthetic.” To date, the Federal Trade Commission has declined to outlaw the term “cultured,” saying there isn’t enough evidence to demonstrate how its use harms consumers. But now, as laboratory-created gemstones reach unprecedented quality and gain prominence in the market, the jewelry industry is ramping up its fight. The man-made stones are poised to take a growing slice of what the Jewelers Vigilance Committee says is a $33 billion a year diamond jewelry market, and “cultured diamonds” has become a common term in their advertising. The New York-based JVC submitted a new petition to the FTC in December requesting a ruling. The FTC hasn’t yet indicated how, when, or whether it will rule. Last month, the group hired Patton Boggs to lobby on the issue, marking the most serious bid so far to spur action on the dormant petition. The petition, which is supported by 10 other jewelry industry trade groups, asserts that calling laboratory-grown diamonds “cultured” represents “a clearly purposeful attempt to associate these products with cultured pearls, despite the vast differences in their origin and production, and to transfer high consumer regard for cultured pearls to lab-grown diamonds.” The petition also notes that the market for what it calls natural diamonds is growing. Laboratory-grown diamonds are a relatively new player in the tightly controlled diamond industry, and the lobbying over how they can be marketed shows how seemingly small regulatory decisions in Washington have a potentially profound impact on business. NO, IT’S NOT CUBIC ZIRCONIA Laboratory-grown diamonds have been around since the 1950s, but until recently were lower-quality stones used primarily for industrial purposes. That has changed. At least three companies have begun to produce high-quality diamonds for the jewelry market, though only one, Massachusetts-based Apollo Diamond, is offering completely colorless stones. Except through sophisticated analysis, the gems are virtually indistinguishable from natural stones of comparable size and quality. There’s one important difference, though: they’re cheaper, usually costing at least 15 percent less than comparable mined stones. The companies that produce the stones use mechanical equipment to replicate the natural process that forms diamonds. The gems are made in weeks or days instead of millennia. The new technology � and the prospect of less expensive diamonds with far fewer limits on supply � raises basic questions about the nature of diamonds and why they are so valued. Is it their scarcity? The natural process by which they are traditionally produced? Good marketing? The petition says surveys sponsored by the industry show consumers “erroneously associate the phrase �cultured diamond’ as meaning a natural product or gemstone grown naturally with human intervention,” something it says doesn’t accurately describe the laboratory process that produces the diamonds. Steve Lux, the CEO and president of Gemesis Inc., a Florida-based company that produces laboratory-grown colored diamonds, said he believes the industry is responding to a business threat by trying to force the companies to use marketing language that is less desirable. For instance, the petition suggests that the laboratory-grown diamonds be described as synthetic, a word that Lux says wrongly implies that the diamonds are fake or are imitations akin to cubic zirconia and costume jewelry. In fact, he and others say, the lab diamonds are the same as mined ones in almost every respect, and it takes sophisticated machinery to spot the small differences in qualities such as fluorescence and the presence of trace minerals. “We’re basically, in essence, an above-ground diamond mine,” says Lux. “If you think of us as another supplier of diamonds . . . entering the supply chain at that same point, we are a seller of rough diamonds to our customers, who will cut and polish and put them into jewelry.” Lux says Gemesis has no plans to flood the market with inexpensive, laboratory-created diamonds. The company uses the term “cultured,” but every page of its Web site has a note at the bottom: “A Gemesis Cultured Diamond� is a laboratory-grown diamond.” Massachusetts-based Apollo Diamond uses a different slogan: “Nature, perfected.” It describes the “cultured growing process” as beginning with a “seed” of pure diamond, which the company uses to grow a diamond from carbon. Other companies inscribe their diamonds with laser serial numbers to clearly signify their laboratory origins. And some say laboratory diamonds actually enjoy a marketing advantage for buyers concerned about the possibility of buying, for instance, conflict diamonds from troubled regions in Africa. Apollo, for one, is targeting these “ethical” buyers. “Apollo Diamond supports full disclosure of the origin of all diamonds sold, whether they are grown or mined. We also believe that diamond purchasers, when appropriate, should insist on �verification of origin’ information at the time of purchase,” Apollo Diamond President and CEO Bryant Linares said in a statement. Linares was unavailable for an interview, and declined to comment on the FTC petition. SO, WHAT NEXT? David Farber, the Patton Boggs lobbyist representing the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, also declined to comment, referring questions to the group’s president, Cecilia Gardner. Gardner provided a copy of the petition but declined to discuss it. “We’re in a position where we’ve asked the FTC something, and we don’t want it influenced at this stage by press reporting,” she notes. A spokesman for DeBeers, the biggest player in the diamond industry, didn’t respond directly to a question about whether the company is supporting the lobbying effort, but DeBeers does support the committee’s position that the use of the word “cultured” is misleading. “The manufacturing of synthetics is not a natural process,” David Prager, the London-based director of communication for DeBeers Group, writes in an e-mail. “Research has shown that consumers love the real thing, as they represent a powerful gift of love and commitment.” Prager confirms that the company does distribute equipment to help distinguish the mined gemstones from the laboratory-grown ones. The company has also stressed the origins of diamonds in its marketing. The committee, a nonprofit trade association, says it represents 10,000 member retailers and manufacturers. This is the first time since 2001 it has filed a lobbying registration form. Because the registration was filed last month, it’s still unclear how much money the group is pouring into the lobbying effort. The FTC declined to comment for this story, and it isn’t clear what action, if any, it will take on the use of “cultured.” The commission has long ruled that laboratory-created gemstones couldn’t be labeled “diamonds” without some sort of clarifying adjective to alert consumers to their origins. The question could be critical for players on both sides of the issue. After all, although diamonds may be indestructible, the diamond industry apparently is not.
Carrie Levine can be contacted at [email protected].

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