Leonardo DiCaprio and synthetics irritate the diamond industry

Mention of the actor's name tends to not go down well at meetings of Kimberley Process, the organisation set up to stop conflict diamonds getting into the global trade chain.

Mention of the name Leonardo DiCaprio tends not to go down too well at meetings of the Kimberley Process, the organisation set up to stop conflict diamonds getting into the global trading chain.

Ever since the 2006 movie Blood Diamond, when DiCaprio played a tough African mercenary with a heart of gold, the Hollywood actor has been regarded by the gems business as a do-gooding liberal pinko who has given the industry a bad name as rapacious exploiters bent on extracting the last carat of value, regardless of the ­human cost.

The KP “family” (as it calls itself) points out that the industry set up the organisation well before DiCaprio’s movie, and was cleaning up its act even before he delivered such lines as: “will God ever forgive us for what we’ve done to each other?”

I won’t get into that debate, but must report that the actor’s name was much in evidence at the KP’s plenary meeting in ­Dubai this week. This time not for his condemnation of “blood” diamonds, as for his promotion of synthetic ones.

The technology behind making diamonds has got to the stage where even the experts confess to finding it very difficult to tell the real from the fake. Apparently, even Ivanka Trump cannot tell them apart.

Chaim Even-Zohar, diamond expert par excellence, performed a 90-minute tour de force on the looming threat from synthetics.

“The synthetic manufacturers are even suggesting putting minor flaws into their stones, just so they can make them perfectly realistic. They are marketing synthetics by saying our diamonds are evil,” said Mr Even-Zohar.

The real diamond industry is aware of the problem, and is racking its brains to work out how to respond. One speaker compared it to the situation with cultured pearls, which ravaged traditional pearling centres (like Dubai) when they emerged in the 1930s.

Meanwhile, DiCaprio is turning the knife. He is an investor in and endorser of a California company called Diamond Foundry, which claims it has made a breakthrough in synthetic diamond manufacturing that can make the stones more cheaply than hitherto.

In addition to DiCaprio, Dia­mond Foundry is backed by some big Silicon Valley money, and run by R Martin Rochseisen, a pioneer of the solar energy industry.

The “real” diamond industry is aghast. Rough diamond prices, under pressure for the past couple of years, could plummet if somebody starts churning them out for next to nothing.

There are other issues for DiCaprio to consider. If Foundry is a success, it would have a devastating effect on the living standards of the millions of Africans who depend on the diamond mining industry, whatever its faults.

One African delegate summed it up: “Leonardo is saying that the best way to save us is by cutting the source of our livelihood. That is crazy.”

Whatever the morality of it, DiCaprio’s firm is completely serious, even to the point of considering a move to the Middle East. There was gossip that it might be considering a licence in the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, the region’s diamond trading hub.

I had a email exchange with Mr Rochseisen, who said that he was indeed considering opening a foundry in the Middle East, although without committing himself to the DMCC.

If DiCaprio ever does decide to bring his fake gems to the region, he will be assured a warm welcome from Ahmed bin Sulayem, the DMCC chair who has been in charge of the KP for the past year.

fkane@thenational.ae

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