The tussle goes to the heart of the marketing problem for Gemesis or any maker of synthetic gems: How will consumers feel about them? The mystique of natural diamonds is anything but rational. Part of the allure is their high cost and supposed rarity. Yet diamonds are plentiful - De Beers maintains vast stockpiles and tightly controls supply.
Clever marketing may bring buyers around to manufactured diamonds. After all, there's no chance that they are so-called blood diamonds - stones sold by African rebels to fund wars and revolutions. And they aren't under the thumb of an international cartel accused of buying off foreign governments, despoiling the environment, flouting antimonopoly laws, and exploiting mine workers.
In fact, Gemesis is developing a marketing campaign that portrays synthetics as superior to naturals. The General came up with a proposal to brand the company's diamonds "cultured" - a deliberate echo of the designation given to the wildly successful (and more valuable than natural) cultured pearl. In an ambiguous April 2001 ruling, the Federal Trade Commission said that it was "unfair or deceptive" to call a man-made diamond a "diamond," but offered no opinion on the question of calling it a "cultured diamond."
So, for now, Clarke is sticking with cultured. But in the end, he insists, it won't really matter. "If you give a woman a choice between a 2-carat stone and a 1-carat stone and everything else is the same, including the price, what's she gonna choose?" he demands. "Does she care if it's synthetic or not? Is anybody at a party going to walk up to her and ask, 'Is that synthetic?' There's no way in hell. So I'll bite your ass if she chooses the smaller one."
Wrong, says Jef Van Royen, a senior scientist at the Diamond High Council, the official representative of the diamond industry in Belgium. "If people really love each other, then they give each other the real stone," he says, during an interview at council headquarters on the Hoveniersstraat in Antwerp. "It is not a symbol of eternal love if it is something that was created last week."
(Gotta love the De Beers cartel! "Oh, your diamonds are better than ours - completely flawless, even! But they were made in a machine! So they don't represent TRUE LOVE!" Jesus christ, exactly how stupid do they think women are?)