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A Perspective on Cultured Diamonds

Kathleen Taylor G.G.
(c), 2002

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  William Shakespeare

The use of science to create gem materials, previously known to be formed only by the magic of nature, has always caused a certain amount of trepidation within the industry and with consumers alike.  Are these created gems the “real deal”? Do they hold up as well as their natural counterparts? Is their value the same or less than naturals - both economically and emotionally?

A classic example of this dilemma occurred in the 1920’s and 30’s with the introduction of Japanese Akoya pearls to the international market. In the 1920’s Kokichi Mikimoto perfected the technique of creating white, perfectly spherical pearls by implanting a “seed” into mollusks, causing them to secrete nacre, creating pearls 6 - 8 mm in diameter. Ironically, Mikimoto’s gems effectively changed the image we have of the ideal pearl.  Natural pearls rarely are perfectly spherical in nature, most being slightly off-round at best.  His process created a new market for pearls by making them more available to consumers.  Larger sizes became more affordable and the prospect of owning a strand of beautiful pearls became a possibility for nearly everyone.

But 1930 found the natural pearl industry reeling from the Great Depression and the effects of Mikimoto’s cultured pearls.  Their initial reaction to these cultured gems was understandably negative - there was no way, as yet, to differentiate between natural and cultured.  To protect the high price of natural pearls the European pearl syndicate sued Mikimoto, charging his pearls were “fakes.”  It took testimony from several very eminent scientists of the day to substantiate that Mikimoto’s pearls were indeed genuine.  While the process was initiated by man, the resulting pearl consisted of the same material (nacre) and had grown in the same manner as a naturally occurring pearl would have.

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