Clear as Mud

Everywhere we turn in politics and business we hear that marvelous wordtransparency. Everybody acclaims it, demands it, promises it, and sells it. Wonderful, I think, just wonderful. We are in a world where everyone and everything is aboveboard, and human rights and the environment are protected. And all precious stones are natural and untreated or else have fully disclosed treatments.

That should only be the case, and it should only be that simple. Consider the following excerpts from various reports by the Gemological Institute of America.

In one examination, “trace elements were close to or slightly above the detection limits of the instrument (about 0.015 wt.% for MgO, TiO2, and Cr2O3; and about 0.005 wt.% for SiO2, CaO, NiO, CoO, and Ga2O3).” I will have to bone up on this.

In another case, “the presence of a coating in the form of pale blue spots was observed while the diamonds were being examined with magnification. Upon detection of the treatment, these two diamonds were returned to the clients to remove the coating before grading could continue. Since they were not resubmitted as of this writing, we do not know their true colors.” Nor does GIA know if they were sold somewhere to someone.

In a separate case, GIA sought “to understand better the color-causing mechanisms behind the unusual concentrations” of color in a number of heat-treated blue sapphires and to reevaluate “how the GIA laboratory considers and discloses heat treatment on its corundum reports.” The question is, what more could be said?

GIA’s Gems & Gemology reports on all kinds of scams. One report on a clever deception with rubies evoked this comment: “The degree of care and effort expended to produce this item was astonishing.” The deception was uncovered by unmounting the stones, which “proved unequivocally that the only way to evaluate gems presented in a closed-back setting is to unmount them. The risk of fraud is too great otherwise.” Must we unmount every valuable piece of color?

The American Gem Trade Association Web site includes information about enhancements, many of which are common and generally accepted. We read about heating, tumbling, bleaching, infusing, dyeing, irradiating, impregnating with wax or plastic or glass, laser drilling, filling, HPHT, beryllium diffusion, oiling, painting, vapor deposition, and I stopped at that point.

This is clear as mud. We acknowledge that industry organizations do a commendable—and necessary—job of researching and disseminating information and establishing best practices. Still, the range and complexity of treatments, legitimate and not, is so broad that it’s bound to damage credibility and consumer confidence. The industry must find a way to protect the consumer and cut through this thicket.

Rick Krementz, the president of AGTA, believes that we do the public some injustice by developing ever more complex descriptions of treatments and enhancements. That information should be readily available for those who want to know the details. But at the retail counter consumers should know that a stone has been enhanced and that the treatment is acceptable to the trade generally. A buyer should know if the treatment is permanent and if there are cautions in handling and cleaning the stone.

Krementz’s point is that satisfying and assuring the bottom of the market when we sell stones is the way to develop loyal customers who will aspire to acquire better stones. I agree and add that it is incumbent on the trade to develop the best visual and literal aids for retailers to use in training their sales personnel and in making simple, accurate, and truthful presentations to the public.