Lab Faces Critical Issues

Lore Kiefert, Richard W. Hughes, and John I. Koivula are joining a gem laboratory that’s confronting three major issues. The lab has high hopes that the three gemological superstars will help resolve them.

  • Credibility. Because the American Gem Trade Association’s Gemological Testing Center is directly controlled by AGTA members—who are wholesale gem dealers—some in the industry believe it’s impossible for the lab to be independent and unbiased, unlike laboratories that are removed from direct ties to the wholesale trade. But Kiefert, Hughes, and Koivula are well known for no-holds-barred unbiased identifications and should help allay such suspicions.

  • Finances. Some AGTA members cite money concerns. According to sources close to AGTA’s laboratory board, the six-year-old GTC has never made a profit. Some have told JCK that the lab was losing close to $1.2 million per year initially but has trimmed that annual deficit to $400,000. Adding three highly paid gemologists makes some members uncomfortable. And adding a West Coast office for Koivula and Hughes and shuttling stones between the coasts means even more expense. By some estimates, salaries and start-up expenditures could cost the organization a quarter million dollars or more.
    Laboratory director Ken Scarratt says money isn’t an issue. “It’s all been very carefully budgeted,” he insists. In addition, the lab expects the three newcomers to identify many more goods, potentially improving its financial position.

  • Leadership. For more than a year, Scarratt has been planning to leave AGTA and return to Thailand. “That is still my intention,” he says. “My focus at the moment, however, is to work on this project to see that it comes off smoothly.” Meanwhile, the Gemological Institute of America has discussed with Scarratt the possibility of establishing a research facility in Thailand with him at the helm. If Scarratt accepts GIA’s offer or otherwise follows through on his plan to relocate to Thailand, the GTC will be in need of a new lab director.