Is There an Accepted Diamond Grading Standard?

A few months back EGL International sent out a release with the following, quite controversial assertion: “At this point in time there is no single, international standard for diamond grading that has national or international status or acceptance.”

This didn’t sit well with Martin Rapaport. In his recent editorial on Honest Grading, he writes, “Let us be perfectly clear on this, the GIA is the global diamond grading standard accepted by the international trade and the legal systems of the United States and other countries.”

So who is right? It’s a tricky question.

Technically, you could argue they both are. CIBJO, the international jewelry group, does not endorse any grading scale or procedure, nor do any of the world diamond groups. Hopefully, this recent controversy will lead to some much-needed progress on this front. 

Still, at some point the argument becomes a circular one: Labs grade to different standards, so that means there is no standard, which then gives the labs license to grade however they want. As Rapaport says, that will ultimately lead to anarchy. What’s to stop any lab from grading everything a D flawless? Why even have grading labs—or diamond grades—at all?

Whether there is a sole standard as a matter of policy, as a matter of practice, the trade overwhelmingly looks to GIA as the benchmark. Even the labs that deviate most from GIA use the nomenclature it developed, which has very specific definitions (“included,” “flawless,” etc.).  

Until we have complete clarity on this point, the answer may be complete transparency. The GIA scale is posted online for the world to see. When we order GIA reports, we assume—and have every right to expect—grading is done to that scale.

Do we know the same for other labs? If they grade to the GIA scale, they should let customers know that. (And if they don’t follow that scale—just as when GIA doesn’t —they should be called to account.) And if labs grade to another standard, they must clearly spell out what that scale is. Do the lab’s slightly included goods have large inclusions? Do its flawless stones have flaws? It wasn’t until recently that EGL International announced that its policy was to grade color face-up—a substantial deviation from common practice. Why wasn’t that declared before? 

One grader told me that, at her former lab, gemologists were directed to grade to GIA, then add a grade. That is not a policy that anyone should be proud of, but if that is how it’s done, then that needs to be disclosed to purchasers. And if a lab routinely gives breaks to good clients—which some say happens quite a bit—that should be disclosed as well. That would make those reports far less attractive, but that’s kind of the point. If your business practices need to be hidden from the public, you should reconsider them. And if a lab issues better grades that are not based on the diamond but on how much money the client is spending, and yet calls itself “independent,” that could be seen as a form of fraud—just as taking bribes to change a grade is fraud. 

The California-based chain The Jewelry Exchange requires anyone purchasing a stone with an EGL International report to sign a disclaimer that says: 

Please be advised that the opinion of the grade on this report is that of EGL International and is graded according to European standards. European standards of color and clarity may vary an average of two grades from the grading of GIA/EGL USA certificates. However, the difference in grading is reflected in a substantially lower price for the diamond compared to a diamond graded by GIA/EGL USA. 

This certificate should only be used to compare prices and grading with other EGL International certificates.

Some may take issue with what’s being said there, but that note is better—the last sentence especially—than just selling the reports outright and implying EGL International’s grades are equal to others. After all, what set this off was jewelers complaining that they were the subject of unfair price comparisons when looser labs were compared to stricter ones.

The best policy, ethically as well as legally, is to stock only products you truly believe in—and that includes grading reports. Every jeweler’s business is selling, and what they sell is a reflection of who they are. If you carry reports with grades that are misleading, then you are arguably being misleading as well. Or to put it another way,  when a retailer patronizes labs that don’t have any standards, that sends the message that they don’t have any standards either.

JCK News Director