De Beers, GIA Defend Research

De Beers’ announcement of a breakthrough in detecting the Pegasus “whitening” treatment (now being marketed as Bellataire) has run into some prominent naysayers—the people who invented the process.

“My guess is that 90% of the stones are still undetectable,” says Thomas Anthony, a scientist at General Electric, which owns the treatment technology. The problem, he says, is that the De Beers method detects stones based on their patterns of nitrogen. But he claims the diamonds that GE now buys—high-color type IIa stones—are nitrogen-free. “Most of the stones De Beers looked at are low colors that we don’t make anymore,” he says. “There’s no question that De Beers can detect them, but that’s no longer where the action is.”

The De Beers method was the subject of a paper that appeared in the Spring 2000 issue of Gems & Gemology, the journal of the Gemological Institute of America. The authors, two De Beers gemologists, stated that they can detect “the vast majority” of Pegasus stones. Prior to the article’s publication, scientists from the Swiss Gemmological Laboratory published a paper on a similar method that they said could detect all the stones—although they were working from a limited sample.

Anthony says he’s brought his reservations to GIA but cannot contact De Beers scientists without talking to company lawyers because of the mutual indictment brought against GE and De Beers in 1994 for industrial diamond price fixing. (The case against GE eventually was thrown out of court, but since De Beers has no legal standing in the United States, it never answered the indictment.) Anthony also notes that publication of the article could prompt unscrupulous companies to alter the nitrogen vacancies De Beers is looking for. “It’s something that’s pretty easy to get rid of,” he says.

In response, De Beers acknowledges its method works best on low-color stones but argues that its equipment is extremely sensitive. “We can detect nitrogen at the most minute levels,” says Dr. Chris Welbourn, a company researcher. GIA also defends the research. “Based on the expert peer review for the article, we believe the De Beers study is a breakthrough,” says GIA president William E. Boyajian. “We seem to be at a standoff with GE. They are still trying to support the philosophy they had a year ago, that [the treatment] is undetectable. That doesn’t seem logical to us.” Alice Keller, editor of Gems & Gemology, adds:

“De Beers has published their research. GIA runs into this all the time; people make generalities they can’t support. I’m not sure that De Beers’ experience in diamonds is not greater than GE’s.” Boyajian says that if GE submits peer-reviewed findings that contradict the De Beers study, Gems & Gemology will gladly print it.

Still, even if the Pegasus people are right in their reservations, the game may not be over. De Beers scientists are hinting that they’ve found some other things—although they say it’s too early to say what those are. Anthony says his company wants a detection technique and has been looking for one but so far has not come up with anything. “Every time we think we have something, it blows up on us,” he says. The industry may have just had the same experience.—Rob Bates

Gemprint Eyes the Internet

Gemprint has signed an agreement with Internet luxury retailer Ashford.com to provide laser identification and registration for diamonds sold through Ashford’s e-commerce site. The deal kicks off a major push by Gemprint to move into the Internet. The company has agreements with 17 other Web-based businesses and wants to forge alliances with 400 wholesalers and retailers that trade diamonds over the Internet.

The Gemprint system digitizes a laser light pattern reflected from the surface of a faceted diamond, creating a unique “fingerprint” for each stone. The digital information is stored in Gemprint’s database, where it can be retrieved by local and international law-enforcement officials.

Gemprint has also announced an affiliation with Canada’s Gem Scan International Inc., a diamond-grading laboratory in Toronto. Gem Scan already laser-inscribes diamonds and will add the Gemprint system to its list of customer options. — Gary Roskin, G.G., FGA

Journalist Moves to Eight-Star

Jewelry reporter David Federman, who covered the diamond, colored gem, and pearl industries for Modern Jeweler, has taken a position as marketing director for Eight Star Diamond Company, the Santa Rosa, Calif.-based manufacturer of “ultra-Ideals.” Federman, often called “the dean of jewelry journalists,” frequently championed Eight Star and other Ideal cuts in print.

“David’s extensive writing on branding for Modern Jeweler makes him the ideal person to develop a branding strategy for this company and serve as a brand spokesman,” says Eight Star president Richard von Sternberg.

Federman, who began covering the jewelry business at JCK more than 20 years ago, has won numerous Jesse H. Neal awards for business journalism.—Rob Bates

Orapa Mine in Botswana Is Now the World’s Biggest

The Orapa mine in Botswana is now the world’s largest, thanks to a recent expansion that will double its output to 12 million carats annually. A ceremony to mark the expansion was filled with references to the ongoing controversy over “conflict diamonds”—stones blamed for funding rebel armies and fueling civil wars in Angola, Sierra Leone, and other African nations. De Beers officials noted that while trade in diamonds may be hurting certain African nations, the diamond industry has had a beneficial effect on other countries, particularly Botswana, which has a stable government and a sound economy. “We celebrate the diamond as a symbol not of Africa’s misery but of triumph,” said De Beers chairman Nicky Oppenheimer.

While De Beers was celebrating its increased presence in Botswana, it was puzzling many observers by selling its stake in the Lomonosov deposit in Russia, which is considered one of the world’s largest untapped diamond resources. De Beers didn’t give an official reason for its action but said the “legal climate” in Russia contributed to its decision.—Rob Bates

GIA Launches Online Consumer Diamond-Buying Tutorial

The Gemological Institute of America has added a tutorial to its Web site (www.gia.edu) that teaches consumers how to buy diamonds. It takes about 20 minutes and includes basic information on the “four Cs.” The virtual student is asked to rank diamonds by color grade, examine gems through a loupe, judge clarity grades, and draw conclusions about the relationship between carat weight and rarity. The interactive tutorial includes pop-up windows and audio clips (which require the Flash 4 plug-in). “The No. 1 call that we get here at the institute is normally on how to buy a diamond,” says Kathryn Kimmel, GIA vice president of marketing and public relations. “So now we can just send people to the Web site.”—Rob Bates

Diamond Council Updates ‘Diamontology’ Course

The Diamond Council of America unveiled its new “Diamontology” course at The JCK Show in Las Vegas. The course, designed with input from Janice Mack Talcott and Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts, includes information on the “four Cs” geared toward sales presentations; background information on where diamonds come from and how they’re mined and processed; and jewelry store skills related to diamonds, including cleaning, displaying, and selling diamond jewelry. DCA president Terry Chandler says the new course is meant to serve as a prerequisite to GIA’s diamond grading course.

DCA is also preparing a new brand identity and working on an updated gemology course. The organization recently appointed Randy McCullough, CEO of Samuels Jewelers, to its board of directors. For information, contact DCA at 9140 Ward Pkwy., Kansas City, MO 64114; (816) 444-3500, fax (816) 444-0330, www.diamondcouncil.org. — Rob Bates

Lloyd’s Stakes Claim to Crash Site

Lloyd’s of London has applied to the Canadian government for the rights to recover valuables—including more than four pounds of diamonds and 11 pounds of jewelry—from the crash site of Swissair Flight 111, which went down in the Atlantic just off the coast of Nova Scotia on Sept. 2, 1998, killing all 229 people aboard. Relatives of the victims don’t want the site disturbed. Lloyd’s says it made the application to stop treasure hunters from invading the area.

Four pounds of diamonds equals more than 9,000 carats. The diamonds were apparently in a stainless-steel tube, which may have broken up on impact or been thrust into the ocean floor. The Swissair wreckage lies in about 200 ft. of water.

The license application follows Canada’s decision to lift access restrictions to the site, which means it’s no longer a protected area. Canadian authorities already have conducted an extensive search of the site. — Gary Roskin, G.G., FGA

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