Martinsville, Ind., jeweler Ron Burton has been charged with four counts of theft by switching customers’ diamonds with synthetic moissanite.
The investigation of Burton has been in full swing since last August, says Indiana State Trooper William Lux, and came to a quick conclusion a couple of months ago when a ”going out of business” sign was posted on his storefront. Reportedly, the stone switching has been going on for at least two years.
Jewelers from around the community were called by the state police to aid in the investigation of the alleged stone-switching operation. John G. Anderson, owner of Ellis Jewelers, located across the courthouse square from Burton’ store, has been on the alert for more than a year after identifying a few pieces set with CZs. ”The customers contacted the local police,” says Anderson, ”but we didn’t hear or see anything after that, until now.”
Al Freedman, a GIA graduate gemologist and independent appraiser for a number of local jewelers, saw the first moissanite while working at McGee & Co Fine Jewelers in nearby Greenwood. Bob McGee, owner of McGee’s, and past president of the Indiana Jewelers Association recalls the incident. ”I had done an appraisal in ’94 on a heart-shape diamond,” says McGee. ”Recently, the lady who owned the ring, now living in Martinsville, thought about selling it on consignment and had taken it to Burton. Weeks later, she changed her mind and went back to pick it up.”
It was at that point that McGee noticed that something wasn’t quite right.
”She came back to us for an appraisal update. I took a look, and I thought it might be moissanite,’ McGee said. ‘It was the first time I’d seen moissanite, other than from reading the articles in the magazines and journals. I was sure it wasn’t a diamond. Al was due in on Tuesday, so with the client’s permission, we agreed to keep it until then. He identified it as moissanite. I ordered a tester.”
”That was a month ago,” says Freedman, who has been appraising for 25 years but never expected anything like this. ”The following week, a princess cut came in with a similar scenario. The ring had been sized, and the stone was switched with moissanite.”
State police moved in on Monday, Jan 29. Burton’s jewelry and jewelry records were seized. From all accounts, Burton switched diamonds in jewelry that came in for repair and consignment. Allegedly, Burton not only pulled diamonds, ordered the same size moissanite or CZ, and replaced the diamonds with the synthetic diamond look-alikes but also sold original pieces set with moissanite or CZ as diamond.
It is also suspected that Burton has switched lower-quality diamonds for better-quality diamonds. At the time of the search warrant Burton was in Florida. He has since turned himself in to local police and posted bail.
While the warrant lists only four counts of theft, state trooper Lux notes that of the 54 moissanites ordered, 14 have been recovered in switched jewelry thus far. And the count will be higher.
”We have been swamped,” says DeAnna Barley, manager for Ellis Jewelers, as concerned jewelry owners are coming in to have their jewelry examined. ‘We have tested more diamonds than you can imagine. In fact, I have not tested this many diamonds since my GIA diamond class.” Anderson noted that while they do have promotions for holiday cleaning and checking, they’re usually not looking for synthetics. ”We’ve been working nights just to get the bench work done.”
Surprisingly to both Anderson and Barley, both of whom have GIA diamond certificates, some of the switched or sold stones have been CZ melee. ”We’ve roughly identified over two dozen pieces,” says Anderson. ”Just ten minutes ago we saw a half-carat moissanite sold as a diamond. Another piece I saw had 35 stones and 17 were CZs.”
”We ordered one half-carat moissanite from Stuller just so we could see the stone for ourselves,” said Barley. ”We use it to show our customers the difference between moissanite and diamond, but not to sell. Now that we’ve been so swamped, we also bought a tester.” There are so many diamonds to check that they’re examining everything first, and using the tester only on stones that are suspect. ”After looking at so many, it will be easier to identify,” says Anderson. ”I think I had only seen two moissanites prior to this.”
In the short term, business looks good for Ellis Jewelers, which is examining jewelry for free and helping most people feel more comfortable about the jewelry they already own. But in the long term, Anderson fears it will be the town of Martinsville that gets remembered, and not Burton’s Jewelers, for stone-switching.