An article from two weeks back, ”Why Jewelers Are Doing Their Own Diamond Grading,” drew a large number of comments (30!), some supportive, some horrified. This trend is, of course, not new: De Beers’ Forevermark has its own lab, and Tiffany has graded its own diamonds for years. In 1999, I wrote an article on this topic called “Going Cert-Less.” Looking back, one quote really struck a chord with me:
“We have all heard the horror stories where you submit a stone to a lab and it comes back one grade and then you submit again and there’s another grade,” [one jeweler] says. “And there are certain labs you just can’t believe.”
Since that time, things have arguably gotten even worse in the lab sector, with wide disparities now a regular fact of life.
So should jewelers just forget about the labs? One retailer offered a simple reason for doing his own grading: It’s cheaper. And while some consumers insist on GIA or AGS paper, it’s a sad fact that the majority of diamond buyers doesn’t seem to care who grades their stones. I wrote a while ago about an AGS jeweler who got sick of competing against a store selling diamonds from a less-than-reputable lab. So now that store carries that lab’s certs. Being ethical, they explain that the lab has “looser” grading. But most buyers don’t mind, they say. They think they are getting a deal, even though that’s pretty debatable.
Indeed, from a consumer protection standpoint, labs still fulfill an important function. It’s difficult to argue with the idea that the best opinion comes from a reputable third party with no economic interest in the stone. For all the problems, there are still excellent labs out there. Plus, let’s not forget, labs can detect treatments and synthetics and can even help recover stolen goods; check out the recent story about the Graff stone that landed at GIA.
So, I don’t think the answer here is jewelers no longer using outside opinions. But we also need to make sure all the labs in this industry offer truly reliable, independent, third-party opinions. Until that happens, it’s not surprising to see more jewelers saying the heck with it, I’ll do it myself.