Gemmerwocky

You say heated, and I say treated. AGTA calls it enhanced, GE calls it processed. Gem identification is becoming a study in semantics. If you take a stone and heat it almost to-or maybe beyond-its melting point, atoms reorganize, color centers sprout (or wither), and inclusions melt. Is this an enhancement? No, say some gemologists, it’s a treatment. The resulting changes in color and clarity are the enhancement.

But “treatment” sounds negative, according to colored gemstone merchants. “Enhancement” sounds nicer. (“Enhance” even rhymes with “romance.”) Meanwhile, General Electric and Lazare Kaplan call their HPHT (high-pressure, high-temperature) diamond treatment a “process.” A process, by definition, is simply a sequence of steps that bring about a desired result.

When GE introduced its HPHT-treated/color-enhanced diamonds as “processed,” the Gemological Institute of America, realizing the need for identification, agreed to use the term if GE inscribed all the stones. GIA made great efforts to have “GE POL” inscribed on the girdle of all HPHT-enhanced stones.

The Gübelin lab also calls the GE POL HPHT technology a “process.” “We support GIA and its efforts to have GE inform the trade and the consumer that their diamonds have been processed,” says Gübelin Gem Lab director Chris Smith. “We see no reason to call it anything else. GIA has established precedent in calling [these stones] processed.”

Smith says there’s no reason to be negative, and, in fact, the words “treated” and “heated”-considered the most negative terms-are slowly being abandoned. “Enhancement,” which identifies an end product as having been improved, is more descriptive than “processed,” but “processed” will probably win out-it’s the term least likely to cause confusion in a technical gem identification. “At least we know that this is not a natural thing,” says Smith.

The following account comes via the Opal Miners Association in Coober Pedy, Australia, as told by journalist Barrie Tornquist and geologist Bernie Hochwimmer, consultant geologist and proprietor of B. Hochwimmer & Associates, Consultant Geologists Mineral Exploration & Mining Geology, in Albury, New South Wales.