Fixing the Lab-Grading Mess

The World Federation of Diamond Bourses president Ernie Blom today put out a much-welcome open letter on diamond grading, which makes a firm statement about what constitutes acceptable behavior as far as choosing grading labs:

Diamantaires cannot hide behind certificates with the excuse that these goods sell cheaper. There is a common standard of colors and purities, and it is not about price but quality. In blatant cases, the misrepresentation can amount to fraud with criminal consequences, depending on a country’s consumer laws.

Blom is calling a meeting of industry labs to chart a way forward.

Here is what I would like the WFDB and other industry groups—including the Gemological Institute of America, which needs to stop being silent on this issue—to endorse:

– The GIA color and clarity scale is currently the internationally recognized standard for diamond grading, and all labs should tailor their grading to it. (We’ll leave cut aside for now.) 

– The industry should move to have the GIA grading scale officially endorsed by the International Organization for Standardization and CIBJO.

– To help ensure consistency, GIA should provide a set of its official master stones to any diamond lab that requests it.

– If GIA makes adjustments to its scale, it needs to announce that publicly and consult with the trade.

– A one-grade difference for subjective measurements is acceptable, but no more. 

– If labs make individual tweaks to the GIA scale, such as an SI3 grade, these should be prominently noted to the trade and to consumers.

– If labs regularly demonstrate substantial deviations from either the GIA scale (beyond the one-grade tolerance) or standing grading methodology, then that lab should not use GIA terminology. To do otherwise could mislead consumers and set up unfair price comparisons. 

– Labs must have complete transparency regarding their grading practices and grading scales.

– Retailers’ use of lab standards should be completely transparent to consumers.

– The industry must strongly discourage labs raising grades as a favor to good clients. 

– The industry must also strongly discourage any dealer or retailer from asking for a diamond’s grade to be raised for any reason other than its gemological characteristics.

– All labs (and all lab branches) should regularly receive certification from an outside authority regarding their consistency and standards. (These exist.)

– Labs should be encouraged to move to a system of automated non-subjective grading.

– All members of the trade should use only labs that meet the above criteria. (There is a precedent for this: eBay lists only coins with grades from just four approved companies.

If the industry comes out for all the above, it wouldn’t fix all the problems, but it could go a long way to improving the current situation. Today’s WFDB statement is a great first step. I am hopeful it will spark more. 

I welcome any other suggestions.

JCK News Director