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Global Diamond Certification Business in Exciting Growth Phase
Cut, Clarity, Color and Carat. Interestingly, there is a fifth C and certainly the biggest C in current times that mandates the other four Cs - CERTIFICATION...
By: Daisy Tanwani
Nov 13 2007 12:00AM
Reference: 2233  


Have you ever tried to gauge the psychology of customers while they buy diamonds? If you have, you must be well aware of the tide and ebb in the consumer’s mind while shelling out big bucks for a small but claimed to be precious diamond. Well, consumers do not necessarily always spend a fortune on diamonds for their sheer beauty. Factors like rarity, quality and appreciating value add to the fascination for these costly sparklers. Attributes that define these propelling factors are the much flaunted four Cs i.e. Cut, Clarity, Color and Carat. Interestingly, there is a fifth C and certainly the biggest C in current times that mandates the other four Cs - CERTIFICATION, a significant process that adds value to the end - product but is overlooked many times. Kimberley Process (international certification process) is a superb example of certification that was brought into practice to fight ‘Conflict Diamonds’ and ensures that no diamonds fuel conflict anymore rather promote development. The report below reviews the current scenario in the certification business and states candid opinions and views of some of the known names in the diamond certification business.

Certification - Authentication of Quality:
Diamond certification and grading bestows a stone with a documented confirmation of quality for which a customer is paying. However, the global gems and jewellery industry thrives largely on word of mouth. Until recent times word of mouth won over written guarantee, “The figures that we have looked at, and the analysis we have come to believe, is that only about half (50%) of polished diamonds that enter the US market that could or should have a grading report, “ tells Donald A. Palmieri, President, GCAL Inc. Various propellers like trust, tenured jewellers, and lack of awareness amongst others have been influencing the buying behavior. However, this conduct is undergoing a characteristic change as more people are asking for third party verification and this has created massive potential for the certification industry worldwide.
India & China: Most Potential Duo:
Let me squeeze my thoughts to the Asian countries for a moment. India that is also the largest manufacturer of polished diamonds is also becoming a prolific diamond-consuming nation. A recent estimate by Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) stated ‘Gold and diamonds will continue to drive jewellery growth in domestic market in which jewellery demand is expected to reach $ 20 billion by 2010 and $30 billion in 2015 and also generate additional employment for 3 lakh workers every year’. India has been the biggest consumer of gold for a while now; diamonds have lately joined the league of the consumer’s preference when it comes to jewellery. The growth in diamond retail sector has seen fast-track momentum in the past year. Biggest manufacturing hub coupled with a substantial consuming base makes India a tempting destination for anybody who has even the slightest interest in the industry. Diamond certification industry that forms major chunk of diamond industry’s support system has also been lured by prevailing trade prospects following which major international labs have ventured into the country. Similar is the case with China, which again is a homongous diamond consuming market and an upcoming manufacturing hub too. Ralph Destino, GIA Chairman explains, “The increase in demand for certification parallels the growth of the diamond business in the region, impacting both the retail community (where the public has learned to ask for third-party reports) and the wholesale community (where diamantaires are finding that independent documentation will help to market their gemstones, particularly to the West.)”.To this Palmieri adds, “Asian countries have compelling stories to lure business from long established centres in Europe, USA and even the Middle-East. With 90% of diamonds being cut and polished in India, and to a lesser extent China and Thailand, it is natural for the labs to want to locate as close to the source of the polished product as possible. It provides an obvious advantage for those labs.”
Retail boom has just added cherry to the cake tells Peter Meeus, CEO, International diamond Laboratories, “Both the increase of branded diamond jewellery as well as the arrival of synthetics in the market has stimulated demand for a third party endorsement of diamonds through certification. Growth in diamond consumption will mainly come from the East. Therefore, service providers should be close to the markets.”
Undoubtedly, certification industry has not been too widely recognized in the two countries. But, the labs are looking at these places from a different dimension and are determined to phase out a profitable deal, “Independent diamond certification has been a niche service in these countries until now, but with so many different qualities and varieties of diamonds available in the market today, the consumer wants to be sure that the gemstone he is buying is a natural diamond. Hence the growing need for increased diamond certification. Also as we all know – more than 90 per cent of the world’s diamonds are cut and polished in India and it makes a lot of sense to have increased certification of diamonds in India”, tells Dirk Dullaert, Chief Officer, Commercial Operations, HRD Antwerp Institute of Gemmology.
The Laboratory Cluster:
Besides, the existent laboratories several new ones have mushroomed globally. Diamond laboratory business that was not even a business opportunity earlier has now become a prosperous industry. Still, it is a race where survival of the fittest is applicable, agrees Joe Van Ells, Director AGS Lab, “Only those with the most consistent accuracy and highest customer service will probably prosper,” while Palmieri views enough room for all, “I believe that there is room for all the labs that do an honest job. Unfortunately, laboratories have been playing fast and loose with naïve public. This has been going on for decades, and most labs hide behind elaborate disclaimers in hard to read type. This is a harsh but honest assessment, having spent over twenty five years as a court certified, forensic expert in US and international courts of law.”

Product differentiation plays a very crucial role and is essential to break the cluster of similar service brands. Various labs employ their individual USP’s or stress on their ongoing legacy components to maintain a superior share in the entire business pie. Reportedly, only 3 million gemstones out of a vast pool of 30 million gemstones in India are certified. Similarly, large amount of diamonds await certification in other parts of the world too. Therefore, immense market remains to be tapped.

Lack of Standards Uniformity: Curse or a Blessing?
Diamond certification assists in assessing and determining the characteristics of a gemstone based on multiple rigid parameters. Although, it may come as a surprise to the consumer that these parameters differ from lab to lab, which implies that, the certification industry lacks standardization which is a problem the trade will have to worry about sooner or later. “The diamond industry has never been very transparent. Unity among diamond dealers or the retail jewellers could demand and receive unified quality grading and a decisive standard. The diamond market shuns controls, and demanding a truly internationally accepted and enforced standard is simply not in their best interest,” opines Palmieri while Destino asserts, “Some labs are known as “sweet graders” whose reports are often more “generous” and less stringent. Instead of helping a consumer, such “sweet reports” only serve to confuse the matter, forcing a consumer to grapple with the difference between a “true report” and a “sweet” one. Responsible labs provide a valid service; sadly the others render a disservice.”

Quality Benchmarking Confusing:
As a result, quality benchmarking becomes very tough and creates chaos in the manufacturer’s, wholesaler’s, retailer’s, and most importantly in the customer’s mind, “Deciding on a benchmark for certification of diamonds can be confusing for many consumers. The best advice is to do a little research. It doesn’t take long to narrow down the choices based on reputation and credibility,” suggests Joe.

Educating the Consumer is not a Norm:
Many labs spend pounds and dollars aplenty in marketing their services to the trade while fewer donate much needed attention to educate the end consumer, says Palmieri, “For those of you who are familiar with toll roads and toll bridges, imagine the toll booth as a diamond grading laboratory. In order to pass down the highway (supply chain) you must first pay your fee. I believe most laboratories do not feel any further obligation than to collect their fee. Some teach gemmology but do not really attract the consumer. It is a missing detail.” There are still people in the certification business who think that it is not feasible to educate the end consumer always, “It is really up to the final sales person to be educated, and in turn, educate the consumer. The internet is a great facility to get information, but it is costly to pass this information on to the public, may be confusing, and needs a professional jeweller to evaluate, interpret, and translate. The AGS mandate is to educate its members,” tells Joe.

Added Cost:
Certification adds extra cost to the product, and labs make plenty of efforts to justify the additional bucks though at times it gets difficult to convince the consumer, as he is not sure about the necessity of this document. This Destino explains, “The public wants to be comfortable that what they are buying is honestly presented at the counter. Having the guidance of an unbiased, independent grading report is well worth the modest extra cost if it can provide an enhanced level of consumer confidence at the point of sale.”

Past Mistakes:
Detection of flaws and inaccuracies in certification and grading results emanating the biggest of labs in past years have undoubtedly shaken the trust of consumers, “Consumer trust of the US jeweller is slightly over 50% according to research data reported by DTC and the World Diamond Council. To put it the other way, almost 50% of consumers distrust US jewellers. I have been in this industry since 1965 and have watched the milemarkers of industry fraud; indifference and arrogance towards the diamond, gem and jewellery consumers pass by. There is a lot to repair to regain crucial consumer trust. To be sure, I believe most dealers and retailers are honest, hard working individuals with integrity, but they have let a significant population of the unscrupulous dealers, laboratories and retailers drag them into the same mud- hole,” says Palmieri. He further observers, “In an article in Barrons Financial, September 7, 1981, in an interview concerning sloppy and over-graded diamonds by various laboratories, I was quoted saying that I believed the existing laboratories could be 99% accurate if they took the time and effort to do the job right, instead of running paper factories. I believed that then, and I believe that now.” Joe offers an interesting reply, “With the tremendous amount of gemstones being sent to labs today, it is not surprising that mistakes will be made. In defense of the labs, it may be remembered that humans grade the gemstones and grading is somewhat subjective. It is not an exact science and many gemstones may fall on the borderline. In addition, computers generate a great deal of information on the cut and computers are not always 100% correct. Most labs do their best to provide accurate reports.” However, recently a new lab has claimed to take diamond certification and grading from art to a science.

Synthetics: Opportunity or Obligation?
Lately inflow of synthetic diamonds in the market has more or less made it a necessity at the retailer and wholesalers’ end to certify their products. “I would hardly call the appearance of man-made diamonds a “heavy inflow.” At this moment, it is more like a “trickle.” Nonetheless, labs have a responsibility to make certain that such gemstones are properly identified and treatments if any, are disclosed. Rather than characterizing the appearance of synthetics as a “grading opportunity” for labs, I think it is more accurately described as an “obligation” for the labs to ensure full disclosure,” tells Destino. Apart from the professional labs, few companies have evolved their own grading and certification systems to identify synthetics and win consumer trust.

The Road Ahead:
The Diamond Certification segment is at a very interesting point at present. Several labs namely IDL, HRD, IGI, GIA, AGSLAB, GCAL amongst others have extended their operations to India. Like any other place here are also few challenges, it would surely be enlightening to get views to this question from all three respondents, “Figuring out how to play on a level playing field (legitimately) without losing all your business is a major challenge. Laboratories, that built their businesses on furnishing false benefit to diamonds by inflating the quality grades or the value, have no integrity….just an immoral gimmick. I do not know if they can be rehabilitated, or should find another line of work. For honest labs, competition is healthy and robust competition will only benefit them and the consumer at the end of the day,” suggests Palmieri.

Major Challenge: Technical Advancement:
“The major challenges for certification laboratories arise out of the continuing advances in technology which have created a whole new menu of treatments that can be employed to enhance a gemstone artificially. The color and clarity of diamonds can be improved by the use of powerful doses of heat and pressure. The clarity of emeralds can be improved by filling in the fractures that nature created. The color of sapphires and rubies can be enhanced by heat treatment. Some companies have even created diamonds via special technology. None of these technologies are illegal, of course, but the public, standing at a jeweller’s counter and looking at such gemstones, should be properly informed about what they are seeing.

The challenges to GIA and other labs are:

  • Make certain to keep pace with all the technological advances, and
  • That we can detect and disclose any and all enhancements to the public,” Destino adds, while Joe says, “Challenges for the certification labs in the future lie in consumer education, awareness and confidence. Maintaining consistent and accurate grading practices, as well as keeping up with detecting synthetics and treatments, are of key concern.”

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