9th May 2022

Consumer protection is not a luxury

When buying diamonds, consumers can be in a vulnerable position. To help retailers get it right, a guideline for diamond terminology has been developed.

By JTS Staff
Journal of Trading Standards' in-house team
The guideline lists certain phrases that should be avoided completely, and explains the importance of distinguishing between natural and synthetic diamonds

One of the core tenets of trading standards – and consumer protection in general – is that when a person buys something, they should get what they pay for. That applies to the quantity as well as the quality of their purchase, and the nature of the product itself. And it applies across the board, whether the consumer is buying an everyday essential like a loaf of bread, making a life-changing purchase like a house, or investing in the ultimate luxury product, a natural diamond.

Within the context of diminished trading standards resources and an ever-increasing workload for on-the-ground enforcement, there may sometimes be a temptation to see luxury purchases, like diamonds, as somehow less worthy of attention than other types of purchases. There is perhaps a subconscious attitude that people who can afford to buy diamonds are in some way less vulnerable than those who can’t.

But bear in mind that for the average consumer, buying a diamond will be a once-in-a-blue-moon experience, and is likely to represent a hefty proportion of their annual income. It is also likely to be loaded with emotional significance – such as the buying of an engagement ring.

Furthermore, the average consumer is unlikely to be well-versed in the specialist terminology surrounding diamonds – and the disparity in value between different yet similar looking products, not least between natural and synthetic diamonds – is substantial. The scope for businesses – either unscrupulously or unwittingly – to exploit that lack of specialist knowledge is large, as is the financial incentive to mislead consumers.

All of this combines to mean that in many ways, a consumer buying a diamond is likely to be in a more vulnerable position than if they were buying, say, a loaf of bread.

The potential for detriment caused by misuse of diamond terminology has implications not only for consumers though. The natural diamond industry supports the livelihoods of 10 million people globally, many in some of the most remote regions of the world. The erosion of confidence in the market due to misleading claims about provenance, environmental credentials or quality of product, has the potential to cause very real harm that reaches beyond the immediate interaction between retailer and customer here in the UK.

In light of this, an industry-wide agreed terminology for diamonds and synthetic diamonds has been created to help instil confidence among consumers who are in the market for a diamond, to help retailers get it right – and avoid penalties for getting it wrong – and to assist bodies such as trading standards get to grips with the terminology surrounding diamonds.

Supported by the Natural Diamond Council, as well as the National Association of Jewellers and a host of other industry bodies, the Diamond Terminology Guideline sets out the definitions of what is, and what isn’t, a diamond:

  • A diamond is a mineral created by nature; a “diamond” always means a natural diamond
  • A synthetic diamond is an artificial product that has essentially the same physical characteristics as a diamond
  • An imitation diamond, also named a diamond simulant, is an artificial product that imitates the appearance of diamonds without having their chemical composition, physical properties or structure
  • A gemstone is a mineral of natural origin that is used in jewellery for reasons of combined beauty, rareness and intrinsic value.

The guideline, which has Assured Advice status, also lists certain phrases that should be avoided completely, and explains the importance of distinguishing between natural and synthetic diamonds. And it lays out the best practice procedures all diamond retailers should follow when it comes to disclosing information, whether that information is requested by the consumer or not.

The Natural Diamond Council is encouraging all businesses involved in the natural diamond and synthetic diamond trade to adopt, and adhere to, the guideline in order to build mutual trust within the industry and ensure that consumers are protected. And for busy trading standards officers tasked with protecting consumers, the guideline serves as a handy reference tool should an issue with a particular product or retailer arise which needs a quick, confident response.

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