‘Whitening’ Process Still Has Some Seeing Red

The controversy over Lazare Kaplan International’s mysterious new Pegasus diamond “whitening” process continues. Two prominent jewelry organizations have called upon the company to release more information about the technology, which LKI says improves a diamond’s color, brilliance, and brightness.

LKI won’t call the technology a “treatment”; it prefers the more benign word “process.” Yet, CIBJO, the International Jewelry Federation, recently passed a resolution saying the process is a treatment and should be described as one. “Diamonds that have the Pegasus type of color modification should be clearly designated as ‘treated’ in verbal and written descriptions, right up the supply chain and in dealings with the consumer,” the resolution says. (See “Disclose All Treatments [Whatever that Means],” p. 86).

What about LKI’s claim that it is not treating the stones? “If they tell us what [the color modification] is, we might reconsider,” says CIBJO secretary-general Jack Ogden. For now, that’s unlikely. The company will not disclose the nature of the process, which was developed by General Electric, although it will cooperate with the Gemological Institute of America’s research on the subject.

That doesn’t sit well with Cecilia Gardner, executive director of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee. She notes that existing rules mandate that gem-sellers must not only disclose that a treatment has been done but also indicate what that treatment is.

“I can’t tell you what the company’s obligations are under the Guides, because they haven’t said what they are doing,” says Gardner, noting that the company claims the Pegasus process isn’t listed in the Guides. While LKI’s actions may conform to the letter of the law, says Gardner, they violate its spirit. “People downstream have to know what their obligations are, and they can’t if they don’t know what the process is,” she says.

LKI executive vice president Sheldon Ginsberg declines to comment on the two statements. Last month, the company agreed to laser-inscribe the stones as “GE POL” to show they have undergone the color-modifying process. The initials stand for General Electric and Pegasus Overseas Limited, LKI’s new Antwerp subsidiary that will be the exclusive distributor of the stones.—Rob Bates

De Beers’ ‘Marque’ Changes Diamond into Graphite

The latest advance in the jewelry industry’s ever-expanding high-tech arsenal is electron beam lithography, the process used to create the De Beers millennium inscription, or “Marque.” The technique works by aiming electron beams at a diamond’s surface, changing molecules of diamond into graphite and thereby forming legible letters, numbers, and symbols.

The so-called e-beam reconstructs isometric molecules of tightly packed carbon atoms (diamond) into hexagonally stacked, loosely packed carbon atoms (graphite). The amount and size of converted diamond is so small that the graphite, which we’re used to seeing as black, appears merely as a transparent gray area, giving the “Marque” a three-dimensional look.

To print the message, De Beers technicians currently place a thin gold stenciled membrane on the table of the diamond. The e-beam then changes the exposed diamond’s surface structure. It’s a time-consuming process, but it brings good results.

One of the companies that developed the process, Norsam Technologies Inc. of Portland, Ore., has now taken beam technology one step further. Norsam is using focused ion beams to do the same procedure without the use of gold stencils and with greater accuracy, says Jayant Neogi, vice president and chief technical officer. While De Beers is limited to the stencil size of the gold—about 7 microns (.007 mm)—with focused ion beams you can create brand features in exact detail as small as 18 nanometers (.000018 mm). Obviously, this is much smaller than any standard gemological microscope can reveal. With information this small, Norsam has created a technique that makes the inscriptions glow under infrared radiation, which is useful for quick identification.

This technology is commonly used in the computer chip industry to check or repair chips. Norsam also is using the technology to inscribe the genealogical record of the entire Mormon Church onto 2-in. nickel disks, 20,000 exactly replicated 81/2 x 11-in. pages per disk at 200 x 300 dpi resolution. The more recently updated technology can store 350,000 pages on a 2-in. disk at 300 dpi resolution.

Further information about Norsam Technologies can be found on the Web at www.norsam.com.—Gary Roskin, G.G., FGA

Police Track Diamond Theft

It’s shaping up as one of the biggest diamond thefts of all time, involving a 186-ct. jumbo gem that originally was mistaken for an oversized rock.

A mine worker in northwest South Africa plucked the egg-sized stone from a pile of rock rubble after the mine’s sorting machine mistook it for gravel. He then sold it to two local bar-owners for $5,000, a fraction of its worth.

Since then, the yellow-hued super-stone has passed through six people, and it’s now believed to be in Antwerp. Police say they are in a “race against time” to save the diamond before it’s carved into unrecognizable smaller ones.

Six people have been arrested in connection with the theft, and the mine worker has disappeared. The mine is locally owned and not connected to De Beers, but its owner refuses to give its name. He’s worried that if word gets out, his property will be overrun with scavengers hoping for another gemological jackpot.—Rob Bates

Jeweler Charged with Stone Switching

A Massachusetts jeweler has been charged with three counts of larceny after allegedly switching a customer’s diamond with a fake.

According to Anson Kaye of the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office, Weston jeweler John Barrett is accused of swiping a $10,000 diamond from a ring left for overnight repairs, replacing it with a cubic zirconia. The customer discovered the alleged switch after having the ring appraised. Barrett is also accused of doing the same thing to a $14,000 emerald bracelet. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

There was no answer at the phone number for Barrett’s store.—Rob Bates

Newly Reissued Book Examines Hope Diamond

Author Susanne Steinem Patch questions the “curse” of the Hope Diamond in a new edition of her 1976 book about the famed gem. Patch, the former Federal Trade Commission attorney who helped draft the Guides for the Jewelry Industry, has unearthed new material about the 45.52-ct. blue stone’s origins and checkered history in Blue Mystery: The Story of the Hope Diamond.

The Hope Diamond currently resides in the Smithsonian and is most famous for the supposed “curse” that accompanies it. Patch is skeptical of the “curse” talk, noting that most of the stories surrounding the diamond—of untimely deaths, lost fortunes, people driven to insanity—are apocryphal.

Blue Mystery is published by Harry N. Abrams (www.abramsbooks.com) in association with the Smithsonian Institution. For more information, call (800) 345-1359.—Rob Bates

Namibia to Stay with De Beers

De Beers executives have reason to feel relieved after the Namibian government nixed a proposal to bolt from the cartel.

Namibia, which sells its stones exclusively to De Beers’ Central Selling Organisation, accounts for 10% of the cartel’s annual sales by value. Recently, a Namibian parliamentary commission recommended that the country also sell rough to local dealers to stimulate a homegrown cutting industry.

But the country’s Mines and Energy Minister, Jesaya Nyamu, killed the plan after hearing from pro-De Beers government officials in neighboring Botswana and South Africa. “We don’t want to promote chaos in the diamond industry,” he said.—Rob Bates

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