Debunking the Ethical Diamond Myth - Interview with Forevermark Senior VP Costantino Papadimitriou


Diana Verde Nieto | July 17, 2017

Technology advances has seen the conversation around synthetic diamonds grow in recent years, with the stones sometimes suggested as a more ethical option. But do these claims really stand up? Luxury Society spoke to Costantino Papadimitriou, Senior VP of Brand Strategy and Innovation at Forevermark, part of the De Beers Group of Companies, to find out more about the differences between synthetic and natural diamonds.

Costantino Papadimitriou is Senior Vice President of Brand Strategy and Innovation at Forevermark, part of the De Beers Group of Companies. He is responsible for global brand strategy for Forevermark and leads the global communication strategy and campaigns. He is also responsible for brand innovation; from new product development to the key collections proposed by the brand. The approach to innovation also includes the full consumer experience from visual merchandising through to the digital experience, the website and digital media. 

On behalf of Luxury Society, Positive Luxury Founder & CEO Diana Verde Nieto sat down with the Senior VP to find out more about the differences between synthetic and natural diamonds. 

Diamonds have been revered and desired for centuries. Why do you think they have such a continued prestige?

Diamonds have always been precious and timeless – both carrying people’s emotions and sentiments and being a symbol of power and strength.

They are the world’s hidden treasures. The youngest natural diamonds date back nearly a billion years, and the oldest over four billion. Not only are they old, but diamonds are also unique and will last forever. This union of physical rarity and indestructability, mixed with emotional preciousness really creates this idea of the most prestigious thing that can exist.

What’s the difference between natural and synthetic diamonds?

Natural diamonds are mined directly from the earth. They are often referred to as the treasures of our planet because the earth will not produce any more natural diamonds. It’s this rarity that makes diamonds so desirable and gives them such innate value.

At Forevermark, we take this a step further through our rigorous selection criteria to choose only the best diamonds in the world. Less than 1% of the world’s diamonds are eligible to be inscribed as Forevermark – which really gives you this sense of a rare, finite and valued resource.

Synthetic diamonds on the other hand, are created in factories in large batches using industrial reactors or high-pressure presses. Technology has enabled synthetic diamonds of larger sizes and with fewer imperfections, but they can still be readily detected from natural diamonds.

Do synthetic diamonds hold the same value as natural diamonds?

Natural diamonds have enduring value, we have seen their value continue to grow over many decades.

In contrast, we’ve seen that over time that when synthetic materials are introduced into any category that their value depreciates over time. For example, synthetic sapphires are worth around two per cent of the equivalent of a natural sapphire.

There is a place for both in the world, but when it comes to luxury people gravitate towards what is natural, as synthetics don’t carry that enduring value. This is what really sets the two things very clearly apart. 

Synthetic diamonds are sometimes preferred as the ethical alternative – would you agree?

When you examine the differences, the ethical claims of synthetic diamond producers don’t stand up to scrutiny. The difference between natural and synthetic diamonds is that there are no audits, documentation and regulation when it comes to synthetic diamonds. So, when it’s said that they are ethical and eco-friendly, there is no proof.

Natural diamonds go through regulations, such as the Kimberly Process and at Forevermark we and our partners are audited at least once a year by a leading third-party auditor for what we call Best Practice Principles and pipeline integrity.

Forevermark diamonds are mined in a variety of producer countries including Botswana, South Africa, Canada and Namibia. We ensure that every Forevermark diamond is conflict free and comes from an approved mining source that tracks and records its movement throughout its entire journey from mine to retailer.  

A country such as Botswana has gone from being one of the world’s poorest to becoming an upper middle-income nation, entirely thanks to its diamond industry. The government of Botswana itself has a 15% share in De Beers Group, and the mining company in the country, Debswana, is a 50/50 joint venture between the De Beers Group and the government. Once dividends, taxes and royalties are taken into account, the government receives more than 80 cents from every dollar of the company’s revenue. About a third of the country’s GDP comes from diamonds and they have delivered a truly transformational positive effect on the nation, offering one of the all-too-rare examples of a mineral-rich nation avoiding the ‘resource curse’.

However, buying synthetics offers no such benefits to developing nations such as Botswana or Namibia. Viewing synthetics as the ‘ethical option’ simply doesn’t stack up.

What kind of social and ethical practices does Forevermark contribute to?

Forevermark very much believes in creating a sustainable economy and that the future of a nation is the future of its people. We have spurred change in the way things are being done and we believe that a healthy community and a healthy employee environment is what helps both thrive – company and employee.

This outlook means we invest greatly in the livelihoods of our employees and the wider communities we work in, offering health services and education programmes. We fund entrepreneurship and work particularly with women, mentoring them into business and supporting their rights, health and education so they can in turn bring up healthy and educated children.

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What about the environmental impact of synthetic and natural diamonds?

While synthetics claim to be an eco-friendly option, it takes a great amount of energy to produce a one carat polished synthetic. Energy itself can, of course, be produced in many different ways, but it normally does have a significant environmental impact. In fact, these environmental claims are now coming under significant scrutiny as they are seen to be misleading to consumers.

At Forevermark and the De Beers Group we are focused on running innovative programs that commit to protecting the planet. De Beers Group is investing in a ground-breaking carbon-capture project that could lead to it having carbon neutral mining operations within a decade. It also maintains 164,000 hectares of land for conservation, an area five times larger than that affected by its mining activities.

How do you think these ethical and environmental commitments will shape consumer opinion in regard to synthetic and natural diamonds?     

It’s all about how diamonds are talked about or introduced. I think what is essential, and what the industry is agreeing on, is there has to be disclosure. Consumers must know what they have in front of them as a choice – what is a synthetic diamond and what is a natural diamond?

As with everything in life, there is always somebody who might want to spend their money in a different way. As long as there is transparency in the market – in terms of the nature of the product and its impact – consumers buying synthetic or natural diamonds will understand their inherent value, as well as what differentiates them and they can then make informed choices.

Personally, I think the world is moving more and more towards values and meaning. Particularly when we are choosing a luxury product, we look for something that captures our dreams and desires and we gravitate towards these human values – what is natural and positive and will endure.

Choosing a Forevermark diamond is an investment in something that is beautiful, rare and responsibly sourced. It’s a piece of our planet’s history, as well as a commitment to excellence and a commitment to positive impact on people and the planet. It’s this which makes us most proud.