‘Gemstone Scandals’ headlines WSJ

Bulk diffusion-treated sapphires and Canadian diamonds are labeled as “scandals” on the front page of the “Marketplace” section in the Thursday, April 17, edition of the Wall Street Journal.

The lead story of bulk diffusion-treated sapphires is a brief history of the controversy, beginning with the discovery of diffusion-treated padparadschas in 2001 through February of this year when the Thai treaters finally admitted to adding beryllium. Differing viewpoints are given by members of the jewelry industry 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 problem of trying to keep up with the Thai treaters as “a constant cat-and-mouse game.” Scarratt is given due credit for sending out the January 8, 2002, Lab Alert which pretty much saved the American gem market from buying these diffusion-treated gems at traditionally-heated gem prices.

According to Robertson, the Wall Street Journal did their homework on this one, by contacting numerous experts in the field both here and in Thailand. (There have been concerns about accuracy in the Wall Street Journal’s reporting on gem-related topics after their stories on tanzanite two years ago.) Gemological references to diffusion treatment, including the original blue diffusion stones, are fairly accurate. Doug Hucker, executive director for AGTA, agrees that the WSJ got it “reasonably on target.” However, Hucker would have preferred to see something more positive about how the American gem industry is keeping it safe for the American consumer. Instead, the headlines read “Gemstone Scandals” and “Gem Industry Shaken by Reports of Treated Stones.” The slant of the article certainly will not bolster consumer confidence, Hucker said.

“Political Correctness by the Carat” headlines the second “Gemstone Scandals” story, a report on the benefits of owning a Canadian diamond. Canadian origin seems to be important for some, notes the report. Having a guarantee that the diamond is from Canada distinguishes it from an African “blood diamond,” one which has been sold to finance military campaigns, says the report.

Canada is fast becoming a major source for diamonds, and with the Canadian government stepping up its origin program, it is becoming easier to acquire a diamond with a Canadian birth certificate. The story included interviews with a few consumers who had purchased Canadian diamonds because of the stones’ origin. There is, however, the opposing viewpoint—in a quote from a Tiffany & Co. spokesperson—that customers are not 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.