Fred Ward Seeks a New Day in Court

The now-infamous lawsuit over a fractured emerald that cost Bethesda, Md., jeweler Fred Ward his custom salon has taken some new twists. Hoping to appeal the June 1997 judgment, Ward now believes he has evidence that will disprove the two lab reports that swayed the court’s opinion.

Both reports – from the Gemological Institute of America’s Gem Trade Laboratory (GTL) and American Gemological Laboratories (AGL) in New York – claimed that the fracture was inherent to the stone and therefore must have been there when Ward sold it to his friend Doree Waldbaum and her fiancé, Michael Lynn, in 1994. The court gave greater credence to these reports than to countervailing evidence suggesting that the crack occurred, and then worsened, after the purchase – namely, when Doree Waldbaum Lynn slammed it against a kitchen counter and later had sizing beads added to the shank, exacerbating the damage.

More recently, Ward had the emerald tested using a technique called optical flat testing, which showed different surface elevations on either side of the fracture. That supports a conclusion that the crack occurred sometime after the stone was last polished. A subsequent fracture analysis along with new photos showing a lack of polishing “drag lines” further upholds Ward’s case.

Armed with this new evidence, Ward filed a motion with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to reopen the case. The court scheduled a hearing on that motion last month.

Could this happen to you? The saga began in April 1994 when Ward, owner of now-shuttered Blue Planet Gems, designed, manufactured, sold, and had appraised an 18k gold engagement ring. The ring contained a 3.65-ct. bezel-set, emerald-cut Colombian emerald, set with two matching modified 1-ct. radiant-cut diamonds. The ring cost Ward $28,100, and he sold it for $38,600.

Three weeks after her wedding, Doree Lynn smacked the ring against a kitchen counter. The next day, she took the ring back to Blue Planet and showed it to Ward’s partner. The emerald now had a large fracture and cavity, and Lynn’s finger was bruised and swollen.

According to Ward, Lynn was concerned more about having the ring sized than about the damage that had occurred. She in fact left the ring with Blue Planet for sizing. But Ward’s jeweler refused to do the repair without a written release from both Lynn and Blue Planet for any further damage that might result from heating the ring. When Lynn refused, the ring was returned to her unsized.

Ward took photos of the emerald from the time he purchased it up to this point in the story. Those photos show no evidence of a fracture, a cavity, or fracture filling. The plaintiffs argued that the fracture was there nevertheless.

Sometime between May 10, 1994, when Ward last saw the ring, and Jan. 2, 1995, when the Lynns threatened to sue if he didn’t buy it back, the ring was sized with sizing beads. Just who did the job remains a mystery. In any event, the heat from that repair further damaged the emerald. Meanwhile, in October 1994, another jeweler cut the emerald out of the mounting and sent it to GTL for a damage report and to AGL for a market value report.

GTL’s damage report stated that the fracture was “inherent to the stone” and had been filled with a foreign substance. This indicated that Ward must have sold the Lynns an emerald already fractured and treated to hide the crack.

Armed with this report, the Lynns felt they had a case. Ward had pictures he felt could prove otherwise. He also reminded the Lynns that Doree admittedly cracked the emerald on her kitchen counter. He said the Lynns’ insurer, State Farm Insurance Co., should pay for damages to the gem. State Farm, meanwhile, denied the Lynns’ claim based on the GTL report. Instead, the insurer offered to have the gem re-treated and the ring reassembled. On June 18, 1995, the Lynns filed a lawsuit against Blue Planet in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. They also named State Farm as a defendant.

Damage reports. The case went to trial in June 1997. During the two weeks of testimony, Cap Beesley, director of AGL and an expert witness for State Farm, claimed that the now-obvious fracture “was resident in the material previously.” He also said that an “Opticon-type” filler was “simply failing to perform its function to hide and mask the fracture.” He concluded that it probably wasn’t trauma but rather exposure to heat that produced the reversal of the filler.

Insurers have long relied on gem labs to determine the probable cause of damage to a stone. That way, they can determine whether the damage was present when the piece was sold or occurred at a later date.

Here’s how it works. Polish marks are viewed under high magnification to assess whether the polishing lines have been interrupted by the fracture or cavity. As the grit of the polishing wheel encounters a break, the polish lines left on the approaching side will be smooth, while those on the departing side will be rough. As the grit travels over the fracture or cavity, it picks up tiny pieces of the break. These pieces then travel across the surface of the stone, leaving “drag lines.”

Of course, labs can determine only whether a fracture or cavity was there when the gem was last polished, which in most cases means before it was sold. Both labs in this case discovered drag lines and concluded that the fracture must have been present the last time the stone was polished.

The verdict. Ward testified that he informed the client that the stone had been oiled. He submitted as evidence the photos he took before and after setting the emerald, which showed no fracture filling or cavity, as now appear on the stone. The unknown jeweler who sized the ring could not be questioned about the state of the emerald before and after sizing.

In any event, the court believed Beesley’s testimony and the GTL report and ruled against Ward in the face of countermanding evidence:

  • Doree Lynn told the court that she hit the stone on her kitchen counter.

  • The ring now has sizing beads in the shank. Beesley himself testified that heat can damage an emerald.

The judgment compelled Ward to buy back the ring for the selling price of $38,600 and to pay $180,000 (plus interest) for Lynn’s lawyers’ fees. Covering these costs depleted the assets of Blue Planet Gems, and Ward closed the store.

New evidence. To this day, Ward believes the emerald he sold was not fractured as it is now, and that he did everything required of a reputable jeweler. He’s been fighting on two fronts. One is to prove that the stone was not broken and filled when he sold it. The other is to find the “mystery jeweler” who sized the ring, who could testify that the emerald was not in the condition in which it now appears.

Ward sent the emerald to the Centre for Gemstone Testing in Bangkok. Ken Scarratt – who is now the American Gem Trade Association’s lab director in New York – tested the emerald using Raman laser spectroscopy. Scarratt determined that most of the fractures had been filled with oil and that there was only a small amount of an unidentified synthetic resin – one he had never encountered. This counters Beesley’s testimony that the emerald had been filled with an Opticon-type filler.

Meanwhile, Ray Zajicek, the wholesale emerald supplier, noticed something else that might help Ward’s case. Gems in plastic displays show concentric, iridescent rings on the table of the stone. These so-called interference fringes, or Newton rings, occur when two flat surfaces are placed together.

Why are these rings important? You can determine the flatness of an object by using an optically flat glass or quartz to examine Newton rings. If the emerald had been polished with the fracture present, the surface would be flat and the circles would be concentric. Ward hopes to persuade the court that if the fracture occurred after the gem was polished, as he maintains, the rings would appear broken at the point of the fracture. In fact, the Newton rings that appear on the emerald are now broken.

Optical flat test. To further support his case, Ward turned to two materials scientists, John Marion II and Charles Woods, to perform the optical flat test. Based on that test, both researchers believe that the surface of the emerald has different heights where the fracture occurred. Woods concluded that “the crack we were observing had not been present during the grinding and polishing of the facet.”

Certain questions remain unresolved. CDoes optical flatness prove that the fracture occurred after the gem was polished? Did the fracture cause the height difference? Can a stone that’s already been fractured and polished flat be subsequently struck, thus altering the height of the surface and appearance of the fracture?

Beesley remains unconvinced by the optical flat test. “I don’t think much has changed here,” he says. “Analyzing the data and determining its validity is where this thing needs to go. Let’s see how [the optical flat test] reacts with stones of known damage. Let’s get some synthetic emeralds, [damage] them, and see what they would find.”

He may be right. The optical flat test tells you only whether a surface is flat. Various scenarios can create an uneven surface on a gemstone. For example, if the fracture were present at the time the emerald was last polished and then struck at a later time, the blow could create an uneven surface while not accounting for the original break itself.

And then there’s the fact that the emerald was bezel-set and later heated to put in sizing beads. Both processes could have placed enough pressure on an already fractured and filled stone to create an uneven surface and a discolored filler. “We do see this sort of thing, mainly with diamonds,” says one gemologist. “It’s fairly common. All it takes is a slight separation to make [an inherent fracture] apparent.”

Fracture analysis and new photos. At this point, the table on the emerald is uneven. When did the two sides get displaced?

According to Woods, “It could be seen very clearly from the fringe patterns that there was a large phase shift from one side of the crack to the other. This indicated to me that the crack we were observing had not been present during the grinding and polishing of the faceting process but had formed at some time later. It was also evident to me that this emerald had what appeared to be a severe impact fracture near the edge of the table coinciding exactly with the large transverse crack observed.”

Woods’s analysis revealed that “there are several sets of cleavage steps discernible in the crater itself. This is typical of impact fractures in brittle crystalline solids such as emerald.”

New photos of the fractured surface appear to prove him right. Richard Hughes of the Gem Quality Institute in Los Angeles took pictures that show no evidence of the drag lines noted by the GTL and AGL lab specialists. A lack of drag lines strongly suggests that the emerald was broken by the blow and that the fracture was not present when the stone was last polished.

While GTL has no comment on these photographs, it stands by its report. Polishing across existing fractures doesn’t have to create obvious drag lines across the surface. And, as each damage report states, “although it is possible for preexisting flaws to alter in extent or appearance since the last polishing, there is no scientific means to prove it.” Was there a shallow fracture, and did the subsequent blow against it create a more extensive and apparent one? According to GTL, that will never be known.

Back to the courtroom. Ward believes there’s enough new information to prove the emerald was not fractured until Lynn hit it against her kitchen counter. The optical flat technique may have potential as a new test for fractured gems, but it’s still unproven. Far more important to Ward’s case are the fracture analysis by Woods and the photos showing no polishing drag lines. The embattled jeweler hopes to get one more chance in court to achieve the vindication that has thus far eluded him.