Professionals in the diamond industry hear warnings about "commoditization" at our trade conventions. We hear the warnings from traditionalists, from sellers and suppliers, from revered industry leaders. We hear the warnings from some of the most esteemed icons of our industry. But what does it mean?
It is about the reduction of an emotional experience to a mere set of numbers. That is the concern.
For many years diamond cutters were considered craftsmen and artists, like blacksmiths and carpenters (the best still are). As technology has moved forward, blacksmiths and carpenters have been replaced with automated manufacture. In diamond-cutting, auto-dialits and assembly line production have replaced the gray-haired cutter of old who took the rough through every step from blocking to brillianteering. However, the unalterable difference between 'smithing and diamond fashioning is that producing a diamond will never be like stamping out automobiles or pre-fabricated woodwork where pieces and parts are interchangeable. Our craft is unique.
Every piece of diamond rough took millions of years to form. Every diamond is a different story. Once mined from the earth each piece of rough is individually studied and analyzed. A different plan is developed for each piece to arrive at the shape, size and beauty that will be yielded. No two diamonds are perfectly alike; not in rough form nor polished. They may be comparable, but color, clarity and even cut differ from piece to finished piece. There are subdivisions within each color grade. There are microscopic elements of crystallization within each diamond that do not appear on a plot. There are aspects to the way the diamond was run on the wheel and took a polish that blend together to create its distinctiveness when finally viewed.
As we know, the cut of a diamond has the largest influence on its overall performance and can be expressed in differing terms. Proportions, cut estimators, 3D scans, natural reflectors and machines like Imagem and BrillianceScope can assign numbers. But numbers will never tell the story of the diamond's birth, its crystallization over millions of years and the blending together of distinctive elements WITHIN the numbers that make it one-of-a-kind.
Traditionalists emphasize that a finished diamond is both a snowflake and an artist's masterpiece. Its uniqueness is absolute; both in nature and in the treatment man has given it. It can never be replicated - and its singular, irreplaceable distinctiveness is the perfect expression for a giver, and the most its wearer could ever hope for.
The traditionalists are right of course.
Now there is concern among traditionalists that by reducing a diamond to a data stream we take away its romance. We remove its symbolic appeal, distinctiveness that can be measured only by the human eye and a history larger than life - and replace them with charts and graphs.
The information age has provided us with the ability to analyze the art of man and nature. We have powerful tools for measurement and analysis. We can place a number beside every facet. We can take analytic photographs at unreal magnifications. We have black boxes that assign values. For trade and factory analysts these things can empower more understanding and the ability to maximize beauty at the source. Certainly there are hundredths of degrees which can help our scientific understanding. However, any professional will tell you that once a diamond is within an acknowledged premium range the nuances of its specific appeal depend entirely on individual human taste and preference. To make such fine judgments, beauty can only be in the eyes of the beholder.