Gems in the Desert

This year in Tucson, Tom Cushman of Allerton Cushman & Co., Sun Valley, Idaho, and Richard Hughes of Pala International, Fallbrook, Calif., presented a wholesaler’s perspective of Madagascar and its gem deposits. Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, lies off the east coast of Africa and is a major source of gems, but because mining is sporadic, availability is a problem. “Organized” mining is comparable to the Gold Rush days of the Old West: When new gem deposits are found, miners pack up and move to the new mine, leaving the old ones all but abandoned. Jewelers understand that most Madagascar pink sapphire is heat treated, but that’s not necessarily true for the other gems found on the island. For example, rubies from Andilamena might be left untreated, while those from Vatomandry may be heated. There is some natural-color aquamarine, and we’re told that Madagascar sphene is never enhanced.

Sri Lankans appreciate Madagascar ruby because they can enhance it using what they call “traditional” heat. The Vatomandry ruby is typically pinkish, small, and relatively eye-clean, while the Andilamena ruby is more purplish or orangey. It’s big, but highly included—good cabbing material.

Madagascar is also the source of the pink sapphire that’s being treated in Thailand to give it the look of padparadscha.

Scales of justice. David Turner of the Arizona Department of Weights and Measures was on the job again, looking for illegal scales. “Arizona requires that the scale being used for commercial trade must be tested, and with very stringent requirements—if it’s to be used legally,” he says.

For example, scales can’t be self-calibrating, which disqualifies most of the portable scales in service at the shows, says Turner, whose department has had numerous complaints over the past four years, mainly from local consumers.

The solution: Have the scale NTEP approved. (NTEP stands for National Type Evaluation Program.) However, gaining NTEP approval is easier said than done.

Take Dendritics, a scale manufacturer in Waltham, Mass. Owner John Borschard tried to get NTEP approval: “We went to Washington, D.C., went through piles of paper, trying to understand the requirements,” he says. “We sent four scales to an Ohio lab for trade testing and tried to get through the process. It’s a slow process.”

When last year’s Tucson shows rolled around, the four scales were still “in application,” he recalls. Turner understood the problem and accepted the Dendritics scales for use last year. But the scales never did receive NTEP approval.

“We did confiscate quite a few scales last year,” says Turner. They were easy calls—the scales bore stickers that read, “Not legal for trade.” He recalls a complaint filed a few years back regarding a bad weight on an amethyst geode: “Somebody out at the GLW show was using a bathroom scale.”

Turner sends out lists of NTEP-approved scales to the major gem show operators. This helps everyone, notes Turner, since illegal scales don’t always benefit the seller. One dealer was upset when Turner confiscated his scale, until Turner showed him that the scale was actually weighing 21% less than it should.

ICA stamps N.E.T. The International Colored Gemstone Association (ICA) has taken another step toward implementing its “N.E.T.” gemstone enhancement and treatment guide, by introducing a numbered seal for its members. The seal stamps the letter “N” for natural, “E” for enhanced, or “T” for treated directly to any invoice that records the sale of a gemstone, and to any parcel paper. The seal includes an identification number specific to each member.

Use of the seal is intended to show that the ICA member follows ICA’s N.E.T. rules and to give clients confidence in the integrity of a gemstone’s identification and disclosure characteristics as well as in the seller’s identity and reputation. ICA’s N.E.T. guide follows CIBJO rules, is compatible with possible ANSI standards, and does not override local laws and regulations.

Pearl talk. Chinese freshwater pearls were abundant again in Tucson, but top-quality high-luster round pearls are rarer than ever, according to Lois Berger, appraiser for Fuller & Associates in McLean, Va., and advisor to The Guide on Chinese freshwater cultured pearls. According to the scuttlebutt at Tucson, U.S. dealers don’t even see high-quality, mantle-tissue-nucleated top rounds—they end up in Japan. Many exhibitors showing “top-quality” CFWPs had very nice strands and loose pearls, but much of it was last year’s merchandise.

Berger notes that prices for the tissue-nucleated pearls varied wildly, with some strands tagged at $100 and others closer to $500, with no appreciable difference in quality or size. Sales were slow and inventories high, so discounts at several dealers were marked at 20% for selected goods, and many others offered up to 50% off entire stocks.

Bead-nucleated coins, squares, rectangles, and triangles were popular, and sometimes design considerations trumped traditional stringing: There were squares drilled through opposite corners, across the tops of rectangles, and through the center of flat tablets to create stacks.

Gina Latendresse, president of American Pearl Co., called attention to conch pearls from the Caribbean. Prices on these pink concretions can range from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars. She warned that fake conch pearls have been coming from Honduras. “You will still see the flame pattern” typical of the real thing, said Latendresse, “but you will also see the growth rings of the shell”—the shell of the conch out of which it’s been cut, shaped, and polished, not grown.

Tetsu Maruyama, principle for C. Link, promoted his Ion Pearl, a proprietary product that he says generates negative ions 100 times more powerful than tourmaline or black silica, and is as effective as infrared light. The ion pearl is set into necklaces and bracelets, alongside Chinese freshwater cultured pearls. According to Maruyama, his new line of ion pearl jewelry will counter the purportedly negative effects of positive ions.

The risks of appraising HPHT diamonds. This year’s Diamond Show at the Manning House featured panel discussions on HPHT, Ideal Cut, and the diamond pipeline. JCK sponsored the HPHT panel, which included Dr. James Shigley, director of GIA’s Research Laboratory; Chris Smith, director of the Gübelin Laboratory in Lucerne, Switzerland; Martin Haske, Adamas Gemological Laboratory, Brookline, Mass.; Branko Deljanin, director of research, EGL-USA, New York; Chuck Meyer, managing director, Bellataire Diamonds; Alex Grizenko, Lucent Diamonds; and Cecilia Gardner, executive director and general counsel, Jewelers Vigilance Committee.

A number of appraisers expressed concern over whether they’re still qualified to appraise diamonds if they’re unable to identify HPHT. Antoinette Matlins, author, appraiser, and specialist in pocket instrumentation gem identification, spoke about a pocket instrument that can detect Type IIa diamonds. When Type IIa diamonds are detected, they should be sent to a laboratory that can identify whether or not the gem has undergone the HPHT process. However, both Smith and Deljanin pointed out that other types of diamonds now are being enhanced by HPHT, so the pocket tester does not always catch the culprit.

Gardner cautioned that an appraiser is not protected from litigation simply by stating the limits of his or her identification instrumentation.

Koivula wins Bonanno Award. The Accredited Gemologists Association (AGA) awarded John I. Koivula, GIA’s chief research gemologist and internationally respected author and photomicrographer, the Third Annual Antonio C. Bonanno Award for Excellence in Gemology.

The Bonanno award, named in honor of AGA’s founder, recognizes those in the gemological field who have made significant contributions to the industry. The award includes a medal of honor and a check for $2,000 and calls attention not only to the outstanding contributions of the recipient but also to the responsibility of the gemological community to encourage and reward ongoing research, education, and dissemination of information.

Nominees for the Antonio C. Bonanno Award must have made a significant contribution to the field of gemology, or defended and upheld gemological standards in a way that has benefited the larger gem and jewelry community. Accomplishments can be in the field of education, research, instrumentation, or innovative/practical application of gemological procedures or standards.

This year’s nominees included Richard T. Liddicoat and G. Robert Crowningshield, both from the Gemological Institute of America; Martin Haske of Adamas Gemological Services in Brookline, Mass.; Jeffrey Post, curator of the Smithsonian’s Hall of Gems and Minerals; and JCK‘s gemstone editor, Gary Roskin.

Previous winners of the Bonanno Award include Alan Hodgkinson, and C.R. “Cap” Beesley.

It’s a wrap—see you next year! The numbers are in, and AGTA had less than a 5% decline in buyers’ attendance at this year’s AGTA GemFair compared with figures from the 2001 show. According to AGTA, 8,450 verified buyers entered this year’s show compared with 8,833 who attended last year. The next AGTA Tucson GemFair is slated for Feb. 5-10, 2003.