In many ways, jeweler Dalton explains, those characteristics are now used by the diamond industry to unnecessarily squeeze more money out of unknowing consumers. For example, the difference between the highest clarity rating and the second highest is technically measurable, yet not visible to the naked eye.
"What they're not saying is it's outside the human vision range. Then the question is why are we measuring the invisible? To raise the price," he says. "It is in reality a ripoff by the industry not by [individual jewelers.]"
Instead, Dalton advises buyers work with a trusted jeweler to find the best fit for their budget. For example, even a lower-rated diamond with minor imperfections can look the same as a higher-rated diamond in a finished ring if the imperfection can be covered by a ring's setting. Doing so, Dalton says, could save thousands of dollars instead of unnecessarily jumping to a higher clarity rating.
And the idea of "unseen differences" very much sits at the heart of the debate between lab-grown and mined diamonds. To the naked eye, or even a jeweler's eye with a magnifying glass, they are exactly the same. They are both diamonds. But the simple fact that a diamond is a diamond wasn't the reason behind why generations of Americans bought into buying them. It has always been much more than that. More important than the diamond itself, N. W. Ayer noted, was the idea behind the diamond. The one constant message that appeared on every De Beers ad since 1948? "A diamond is forever."
"The only reason diamonds are the kind of money that they are, are historic reasons," Dalton says. "So when you grow them in a lab, the mystique is out of it because the natural stone goes back to the beginning of the earth. I mean there's a permanence, there's a meaning to that."
For now, lab-grown diamonds make up just 1 percent of annual diamond sales around the world, according to Morgan Stanley, but that share is expected to rise. Though it came as shock to many industry stalwarts that De Beers will begin to sell lab-grown diamonds through one of its portfolio brands, it's perhaps a sign the tide is turning. At least a little.
"They're not to celebrate life's greatest moments, but they're for fun and fashion," De Beers Chief Executive Officer Bruce Cleaver told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Whether or not people shopping for diamonds agree will hinge on exactly how a new generation of lovers chooses to symbolize just what "forever" truly means.
— Video by Zack Guzman and Richard Washington
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