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'Gemstone Scandals' Headlines WSJ

Up Front
By Gary Roskin, G.G., FGA, Senior Editor
This story appears in the June 2003 issue of JCK magazine
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The April 17 edition of the Wall Street Journal’s “Marketplace” section ran an article about bulk-diffusion-treated sapphires titled “Gemstone Scandals.” A companion piece about Canadian diamonds was called “Political Correctness by the Carat.”

The lead story presents a brief history of the bulk-diffusion-treated sapphires controversy, beginning with the discovery in 2001 of diffusion-treated padparadscha-colored sapphires through the recent admission by Thai treaters that they were adding beryllium. Members of the jewelry industry are quoted, including Don Kogen of ThaiGem.com in Chanthaburi, Thailand, who claimed early suspicions of a new treatment, and Stuart Robertson, research director for The Guide at Gemworld International in Northbrook, Ill., who is quoted as saying “unless treatments are reined in … and disclosure taken seriously, the market will drop.”

Ken Scarratt, director for the American Gem Trade Association’s Gem Testing Center, also was quoted in the article. He described the laboratory’s attempts to keep up with Thai treaters as “a constant cat-and-mouse game.” Scarratt is given credit for sending out the Jan. 8, 2002, Lab Alert that warned the American gem market about diffusion-treated gems.

According to Robertson, the WSJ reporters contacted numerous experts in the field both here and in Thailand, and the article’s gemological references to diffusion treatment, including the original blue diffusion stones, are fairly accurate. (Concerns about the Wall Street Journal’s accuracy in reporting on gem-related topics arose after its stories on tanzanite two years ago.)

Political Correctness by the Carat,” a report on the benefits of owning a Canadian diamond, noted that a guarantee that a diamond is from Canada distinguishes it from what the newspaper calls “blood diamonds”—African diamonds that finance military campaigns.

Canada is quickly becoming a major source for diamonds, and as the Canadian government steps up its origin program, it’s becoming easier to acquire a diamond with a Canadian birth certificate. The WSJ story included interviews with consumers who had purchased Canadian diamonds because of the stones’ origin. But a Tiffany & Co. spokesperson claimed that customers aren’t interested in origin. Some retailers, according to the report, refuse to buy Canadian diamonds: They claim wholesale suppliers are increasing by as much as 20% the standard price of diamonds with Canadian pedigrees.

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