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Kathryn Wyatt
Kathryn Wyatt

Terminology and spin

To ensure the public knows exactly what they're getting, the GAA's KATHRYN WYATT advocates getting it right and being consistent when it comes to nomenclature.

I tend to see things in black and white. The abbreviation of grams is "g" - not gm, not GM and not gms.

If many in the industry cannot get such simple things right then how are we going to deal with more difficult areas like synthetic versus created or cultured?

I don't believe many people in the industry actually understand the correct definitions of the terminology. I'm talking about "natural", "synthetic", "imitation", "simulant", "artificial", "fake" and "cultured".

A synthetic gem has the same chemical and physical properties as the natural gem and has been made in a laboratory or factory.

An artificial or man-made gem has no known counterparts in nature, has been invented by man and made in a lab or factory.

An imitation or simulant looks like a natural gem but does not have the same properties; it can be natural, artificial or synthetic.

A fake is any of the above if it is purported to be what it is not.

The term cultured means grown in living mediums - i.e. something that is organic. This includes cells, tissues, organs, organisms grown for scientific purposes, or the breeding and keeping of particular living things in order to get the substances they produce (such as cultured pearls).

So how can the term cultured be applied to synthetic diamonds or other coloured gemstones? Quite clearly it should not be associated, and CIBJO agrees. Under its guidelines, the only term to be used is "synthetic".

CIBJO's purpose is to encourage harmonisation, promote international cooperation in the jewellery industry, and to consider issues that concern the trade worldwide. Foremost among these is to protect consumer confidence.

As the GAA and JAA are members of CIBJO, all members of those associations are bound to follow their guidelines and use the term synthetic when describing synthetic gemstones.

Germany has passed a law stating that the word cultured (in German) cannot be used to describe Gemesis synthetic diamonds, for example, as it is misleading. I have not seen any other companies insisting upon using cultured in relation to diamond marketing.

I asked one of my intelligent clients what he thought a cultured diamond was and he replied, "Oh, is it farmed like a pearl?"

The problem is perception. The public perceives the word synthetic to mean imitation or artificial. This is, I believe, due to other industries using the word in an inaccurate manner.

In the gardening industry, they sometimes promote synthetic grass. Of course it isn't synthetic; it did not have the same chemical and physical properties of grass. No, it is artificial or man-made. In some languages, synthetic is even translated into the word fake!

The terms synthetic leather, synthetic fibres, and synthetic blood are all used incorrectly, but widely. I recently asked a shop assistant from a medium-sized jewellery chain if he sold synthetic gemstones. His shocked reply was, "Oh no. We only sell created gemstones. Synthetics aren't real, they are like glass."

Some in the industry believe it is better to describe synthetic gems as created or cultured, but I feel that the term created, by itself, is misleading. Who created it? God or man?

Some synthetic manufacturing companies are also using their name preceding the term created.

When challenged on this, Robert Thomas, CEO of the company that makes synthetic moissanite, stated, "You may find it interesting that CIBJO uses the Charles and Colvard logo in publicising and promoting their annual congress. They use "Charles and Colvard created moissanite" and "Moissanite created by Charles and Colvard."

It is not ideal but certainly it tells the customer these gemstones are created by a company.

Rather than confusing them, take the time to explain to our customers what these terms mean? Tell them their synthetic ruby is just like the natural, with all the same characteristics, except that it was made in a laboratory.

Use the term synthetic or laboratory-made and laboratory-created, but don't say cultured, as that is misinforming. And if, after all that, your customer doesn't like the sound of synthetic, you can up-sell a natural gem.

If you are not well informed, it reflects poorly upon yourself and your reputation. The better educated the industry, the greater the confidence of its consumers. And this translates into better business for all.

Author: Kathryn Wyatt
Business: Imogene Antique & Contemporary Jewellery / Gemmological Associaiton of Australia (GAA).
Position: Owner / Publicity Officer.
Qualifications: BSc FGAA Dip DT, Registered valuer.
Years in the industry: 20

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