DUBAI // Until recently, diamond laboratories in Dubai were forced to rely on nothing more than the naked eye to determine the grade of various precious stones. Years of training helped specialists to examine which stones were natural and flawless, which were synthetic, and which were not precious stones at all. However, a recent push by the Government of Dubai, along with global experts in diamond grading, has led to the introduction of a rare technology for grading and certifying diamonds in a way the human eye can never match. In April, a landmark initiative with Damas Jewellery was unveiled, making Dubai the first government in the world to certify gem stone authenticity.
It is hoped that the agreement between Damas, based in the UAE, and the new International Diamond Laboratory (IDL), a subsidiary of the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), will serve as a sales catalyst amid a global surge in gold and jewellery prices. "At the end of the day, this is about consumer confidence," said Peter Meeus, the head of the IDL. "We are removing the aspect of subjectivity that previously existed, by introducing new machines."
One glimpse at the intricate equipment used in the IDL's new Jebel Ali facility begs the question of how the industry could have ever managed without it. Day in and day out, trained technicians study every curve, corner and colour on hundreds of stones using a range of specialised equipment, including the world's only colour metre. This determines how much light is absorbed by the diamond. "We also do a treatment for the diamonds that come to us, which costs US$200 (Dh734), but it can raise the value of a diamond by 10-fold," explained Filip De Weerdt, the head of research at the IDL. "The colour metre then computes how much light is being absorbed by the diamond, which helps us tell whether it is natural, synthetic or an imitation."
Dr De Weerdt added that the IDL machines were the source of rather unfortunate news for some who sought grading and certification, only to discover the stone was a cubic zirconium. The lab also evaluates the carat weight of the purchased stone, whether loose or mounted. The document issued from the IDL also provides a detailed chart showing the cut, measurements and finish of the polished stones, and not rough cut diamonds often linked to the controversial use of so-called "blood diamonds".
"IDL has done a fair amount of research and came up with a perfect colour grading system," said Dilip Mehta, the chief executive of Rosy Blue, the world's largest diamond manufacturer, based in Belgium. "They are working on the clarity so everything remains consistent and up to global standards." While Belgium is renowned for its innovation in diamond grading, industry leaders say Dubai is the obvious choice for a secondary hub. The Middle East is the third-largest consumer of diamond jewellery in the world. Retail diamond jewellery sales in the GCC alone bring in an estimated Dh7.34 billion a year and are expected to see a significant increase this year despite the global sales slump, according to the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI).
Dubai's diamond trade witnessed record growth last year with an estimated Dh41.2bn in sales. Polished diamond imports to Dubai increased last year by 73 per cent to hit Dh13.5bn, driven by increased trade from India and Belgium. Officials admit that with better standards come higher prices. Mr Meeus estimates that the retail price of diamonds certified by the IDL have gone up between two and three per cent, but he believes that there will not be further increases.
"When you buy an aeroplane ticket, you pay a little extra money for travel insurance," Mr Meeus explained. "IDL certification is a kind of insurance for your stones." While it is too early to assess the long-term impact on retail sales, those behind the agreement are convinced that higher consumer confidence will yield higher sales. That has been music to the ears of nervous jewellers anxiously riding out recent market fluctuations. The launch of the IDL comes as part of the Government-backed Diamond Master Plan, adopted by the DMCC last year for the development of greater diamond trade, with a strong focus on research and technology.
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