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What’s in a Name? FTC Guidelines for Lab-Grown Diamonds
Like Lana Del Rey, lab-grown diamonds were once misunderstood and derided as “fake.” And also like Lana Del Rey, lab-grown diamonds have now been embraced by the public for the precious gems they are (though I’m not sure LDR and LGD are beloved for the same reasons, i.e. lower price per carat and environmental sustainability).
Far from being fake, synthetic, or a low-quality substitute for the real thing, lab-grown diamonds are chemically identical to mined diamonds. Changes to the Federal Trade Commission’s Jewelry Guide, which went into effect in 2018, now reflect those facts.
Sometimes marketing is education, and having these clearer and more accurate guidelines from the FTC can help both suppliers and retailers communicate facts about their product. Whether you are a supplier selling lab-grown diamonds or a retailer offering them to customers, these updated guidelines give you clarification about what you are legally allowed to call your product as well as recommendations for language to use when talking about lab-grown diamonds. These changes went into effect five years ago, but as we begin a new year, now is as good a time as any for a reminder of your legal obligations as a supplier or retailer of lab-grown diamonds.
What Is a Diamond?
The most important change, one that has likely helped to change the entire lab-grown diamond market, is the removal of the word “natural” from the FTC’s definition of diamond. Here is the FTC’s definition of a diamond as laid out in their Jewelry Guide: “A diamond is a mineral consisting essentially of pure carbon crystallized in the isometric system.” Previously, a diamond was defined as a “natural” mineral.
In addition to this refined definition, the FTC also updated their guidelines to no longer suggest the word “synthetic” as a recommended descriptor for lab-grown diamonds. This is due, in part, to the fact that “synthetic” is not an accurate descriptor. Lab-grown diamonds are not synthesized, as in the case of rubies that are created by combining corundum with chromium in the flame fusion process. Lab-grown diamonds are grown by combining carbon atoms in a crystal lattice, just as they are created in nature. The High Pressure, High Temperature (HPHT) method mimics their natural formation by crystalizing carbon around a diamond seed under intense heat and pressure, while the Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) method achieves the same end at lower temperatures by using microwaves to strip carbon atoms from a pressurized hydrocarbon gas and layer them onto a seed diamond.
What Can I Call a Diamond?
Marketers are still free to use the word “synthetic” to describe lab-grown diamonds if they want. What is not allowed is the use of the word “synthetic” to imply that lab-grown diamonds are not “real” diamonds. That is, if you want your customers to buy your mined diamonds and not a competitor’s lab-grown diamonds, you are not allowed to say, “Don’t settle for synthetic diamonds. Buy our real diamonds,” as that would imply that lab-grown diamonds are not “real” diamonds.
While these new guidelines seem to place lab-grown diamonds on equal footing with mined diamonds, the FTC still prohibits the use of the words “real,” “genuine,” “natural,” and “precious” when describing a lab-grown diamond, and lab-grown diamonds cannot be referred to simply as a diamond, unqualified. Regulations still require that however you refer to them, the name must, in the words of FTC attorney Robert Frisby, “clearly convey to consumers that the item is a simulated or laboratory-created diamond, rather than a mined diamond.” So just as sellers of mined diamonds cannot imply that lab-grown diamonds are “fake,” sellers of lab-grown diamonds cannot lead customers to believe, whether through omission or ambiguity, that their lab-grown diamonds were not lab-grown. Retailers and suppliers are free to develop their own language in this regard, as long as there is no ambiguity that the diamond is not mined.
Likewise, cubic zirconia, moissanite, and other diamond simulants or substitutes must also be appropriately labeled. These cannot be called “lab-grown diamonds,” as the FTC definition of a diamond is “a mineral consisting essentially of pure carbon.” Cubic zirconia consists of zirconium dioxide, and moissanite consists of silicon carbide, so they cannot be described as diamonds.
So what should you call your lab-grown diamonds? Well, lab-grown, and the initialism LGD, are becoming the industry-standard term. It works because it is both accurate and flattering: “grown” accurately describes the process by which the crystals were created, but “growth” is a term associated with nature. LGD is a useful shorthand for use within the industry, but for consumers, they should always be referred to as some type of diamond so it is clear that this thing called “LGD” is, in fact, a diamond. Qualify “diamond” or "cultured" with “lab-grown,” “man-made,” or “[brand name]-created.” “Synthetic” might be confusing to consumers, and “simulant” describes something that looks like a diamond but is, chemically speaking, not a diamond.