Lab certification brought a great deal of standardisation and transparency in the way diamonds are bought and sold. Certificates resonated with the De Beers global marketing campaigns that promoted diamonds globally and gave consumers a great measure of confidence about the attributes of the diamonds they bought.
So successful has certification been that today, the sale of solitaires is almost entirely certificate driven. This means the consumer’s belief in the product is based on what the certificate says. It also profoundly influences the pricing of diamonds.
This is unique to diamonds. If a consumer buys a luxury car today, the product will no doubt come with some certificates from third parties guaranteeing its emission compliance, fuel efficiency etc. But the consumer’s perception of the quality of the car itself is based on the belief in the brand.
With diamonds, however, the dependence on certificates for assurance of the product itself has thrown up a big consumer confidence issue for the diamond industry. No two labs agree on the attributes that make for the very best diamond cuts. Today, many of the big, globally reputed laboratories differ on the facet angles and the proportions of different facets that are considered to be the very best.
A diamond that carries a certificate from one lab stating that it has the very best cut, polish and symmetry, may have one or more of its attributes downgraded by another lab. The result is not just a vehement disagreement on the aesthetics of the diamond, as a change in grades of one or the other attribute will immediately impact the price of the diamond.
Vexing and unsatisfactory as this is, it is nonetheless accepted and managed fairly well in the professional circles that cut, polish and trade diamonds. Prices are quoted based on certification by specific laboratories and the labs themselves are chosen for the task based on how much weight their individual brands carry in specific markets. There are arguments and disputes every day, but the system undoubtedly works.
The problem is that this situation leaves the consumer uncertain about the assessment and commercial valuation of a diamond she or he might be in possession of. Nobody can say with any degree of certainty exactly how much that particular diamond is worth. The uncertainty persists even in pure aesthetic terms. Has this diamond been cut the very best way it could have been? Is it at its beautiful best? The answer is different when one consults different labs.
There have been attempts to try and resolve this, with a globally agreed upon set of cut angles and symmetry ratios to define the very best cuts. None of these has resulted in agreement and one set of agreed upon criteria. This is because there is a fair amount of subjectivity when it comes to defining the angles, proportions and ratios that one thinks produce the best aesthetic result. Even though it is within the narrow confines of a set of base criteria that determine how good a diamond looks, there is a fair bit of latitude when it comes to stating what works best. Even with scientists, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, as it were.
As I said before, all very vexing and unsatisfactory.
We are, however, now on the verge of breaking out of this less than perfect situation. All the different labs are working on defining the criteria that determine a diamond’s optimum performance when it comes to reflecting and transmitting light. Light performance could well be the one criterion that overrides all the other criteria when it comes to determining whether or not a diamond has been cut the very best way it could have been.
The evaluation of the light performance of a diamond involves measuring its fire, brilliance and scintillation in a controlled environment that resembles as closely as possible, real-life conditions. Special machines have been developed to make this determination. These machines are loaded with a database of criteria that influence light performance — the overall shape, cut, proportions and symmetry of the diamond, the type of light source, its intensity and position, the environment in which the viewing takes place and the angle at which the stone is viewed among others.
Using light performance as the measure of a diamond’s excellence has the advantage of enabling a retailer to tell a stronger story that is more easily accepted by the consumer and allows her to better connect with the stone itself and be more open to the idea of engaging in the whole idea of acquiring the product in the first place.
Our results indicate that most of the diamonds cut to our triple excellent or hearts and arrows parameters show the best light performance. We have had initial consumer feedback — particularly from the South-East Asia, Far East and China — that shows an enthusiastic connection with the idea of light performance in the diamond. Some proprietary cuts have done well with these consumers because they have generated the best light performance.
Once there is enough data to establish norms, we might see the end of the vexing differences in the scientific opinions of what constitutes the best cut for a diamond.
The opinions expressed in this post are the author's personal views and do not represent any official statements by HRD Antwerp.