Exclusive: A Diamond Scam No One Is Talking About

A recent incident in Antwerp, Belgium, has shed light on an apparent scam in which con artists defraud diamond dealers by selling colorless topaz as diamond rough.

The incident began on Jan. 17 when Antwerp diamond dealer Eddy Elzas got a call from a diamond buyer who said he was at an airport in Switzerland “buying rough in the duty-free zone.” He asked Elzas if he could come to Antwerp to sell it. Elzas said yes, Antwerp was the place to sell diamond rough.

“But of course,” says Elzas, “I also said to him, ‘I don’t want anything in my office that’s not kosher,’ so we met in another office.”

Elzas, owner of the Rainbow Collection of fancy color diamonds and a man with more than 40 years’ experience in cutting, buying, and selling diamonds, says the stones he saw were big, near-colorless crystals—the biggest weighed 64 cts.—but the price seemed much too low.

“There’s a Yiddish saying, that the bride is too pretty,” says Elzas. “The big stone is worth much more than what they are asking.”

Something else troubled Elzas. “I touched the first stone. You know, if you touch a diamond, you can tell that it’s a diamond by the feel. They absorb heat, and they should be sticking to your fingers. These didn’t feel right.”

Elzas took a closer look. “I held up an octahedron, and I see gletzes [fractures] that don’t follow the growing direction. This is unusual.”

Other signs were more encouraging, such as oxidation stains that showed the stones had not yet been boiled. Moreover, the crystals all tested positive on the diamond tester. “But the diamond tester on the table only bleeped once,” notes Elzas. “I put the tester on my ring and it bleeps 10 times.”

Elzas called in another diamond dealer. “After looking at the rough, he says to me in Hebrew, ‘Eddy, it looks bizarre. I’ll buy another diamond tester.’”

The stones looked like diamond, hefted like diamond, and tested like diamond. But they weren’t diamond. They had one additional factor in common, says Elzas. “The one common thread is that the stones were always ice-cold when tested—like they had just come out of a refrigerator.”

Elzas had heard other tales of stones examined in very cold rooms. According to these stories, the sellers would blame the cold temperature on faulty air conditioning. Buyers reportedly would take their rough crystals home only to have them shatter on the cutting wheel.

We sent some images of the rough crystals to John Koivula, chief gemologist for the Gemological Institute of America. He noticed that the crystals appeared similar to topaz crystals that had been fashioned into imitation diamond rough, which had been the subject of articles in the Spring and Fall 1997 issues of GIA’s Gems & Gemology.

So we asked Martin Fuller, Fuller & Associates, McLean, Va., to test room-temperature and cold topaz with a diamond tester. Cold, they tested as diamond; at room temperature, they didn’t.

“This scam has been going on for more than three years,” says Elzas. “The stones come into the country from Angola as a natural mineral, but not diamond.” As topaz there’s no difficulty importing them into the country.

Elzas says no one is talking about this apparent scam. Speculation is that the victims were seeking to buy diamonds outside the Kimberley Process and are too embarrassed to complain.