Diamond and gem forensic laboratories DiaLab South Africa is playing a leading role in technological innovation in the diamond industry by filing the first commercial DNA- fingerprinting patent for diamonds and gems.
The technology is to be used in the commercial reports of diamond and gem certifications and the company reports it is the first to offer the fingerprinting ser- vice on certificates of authenticity.
DiaLab spokesperson Baron Baretzky tells Mining Weekly that the unique diamond fingerprinting technology it developed has the potential to cause unease within the diamond dealing industry. The high-technology machinery is up to 99,99% accurate, which could result in revelations about the amount of synthetic diamonds being passed off as type-one (mined) diamonds in the market.
DiaLab studied a sample of 1 565 diamonds taken from the Western Cape market and, after thorough testing, revealed that up to 20% of the diamonds in circulation were synthetic, or had been processed to enhance their appearance.
Baretzky alludes to the fact that the diamond dealing indus- try may not at first welcome the fingerprinting technology, owing to the amount of money it will lose by discovering the true extent of synthetic diamonds in stock that have been certified as natural.
Crystalline fingerprinting machines have been in existence for about three years to four years, but the first-generation machines cannot detect the difference between all the variants of synthetic diamonds. DiaLab developed the fingerprinting technology from existing medical apparatus, similar to that used in radiology, and refined it. The company received a patent for its technology earlier this year.
DiaLab is now able to detect treatments applied to diamonds that previously went undiscovered. It can now tell if a diamond was recently polished or boiled to alter its appearance. Further, the organic fingerprinting process can trace the origin of diamonds by assessing traces of uranium in the diamond. The soil of different diamond-producing areas has different uranium contents, enabling diamonds to be traced to its point of origin. DiaLab continues to research this field.
The company reports that all gems of crystalline origin can be fingerprinted by using DiaLab’s organic fingerprinting system, especially diamonds.
Global research points to statistics showing about 500-million carats
of synthetic diamonds being sold each year globally since 1990.
The reason for developing the technology is for public and commercial protection and to avoid exploitation. “DiaLab-certified diamonds can be traced to the point of origin, by matching it with the known DNA-structure from the region.Diamonds can also be tracked throughout the duration of their lifetime in the market, offering peace of mind to prospective buyers,” he says.
Meanwhile, DiaLab has potentially discovered a new chemical diamond, by using its fingerprinting technique.
“The problem now arises: how many of these synthetic diamonds have already passed into the market as authentic diamonds?” he asks.
The company is continuously improving the system and plans to commercialise it within the next three years. The company does not expect an immediate surge of interest in DiaLab’s tech- nology, but foresees that demand will increase in 10 years to 15 years, when more advanced synthetic diamonds flood the market.
“We currently subsidise about 95% of the price to certify diamonds, owing to the fact that we use the opportunity to facilitate research and development. It can normally cost up to €400 to test stones,” he says.
On its website, DiaLab reports that its fingerprinting system will be conclusive in all future audit and forensic testing requirements globally. The company says that the synthetics market is exploring the diamond industry and flooding it with carbon-13, synthetically produced diamonds, and that only accurate testing by the fingerprinting system will be able to determine the origin of the diamond.
Technically, it will leave no room for any devious sales or certifications. It is also understood that a new certification mark, called Cams, is in the development process to provide a platform for a more transparent sales environment.