GemNotes

Charles & Colvard, the Morrisville, N.C., company that promotes moissanite gems and jewelry, is searching for a new chief executive officer. The position was left vacant by the resignation May 14 of chairman and CEO Jeff Hunter.

Hunter, who had held those positions since June 1996, told the board earlier this year that he might resign. Lower-than-expected earnings prompted his decision to step down. “As a publicly held company, all of us are accountable to the owners … and I believe accountability starts at the top,” Hunter said in a statement. “Although Charles & Colvard has made great progress during my tenure over the last four years, the board and I believe that the time has come for new leadership.”

New chairman Dr. Frederick A. Russ says Hunter’s service helped the firm move from a start-up to a publicly traded company, establish a supply and distribution chain, and develop growing brand recognition. “The entire board of directors has unanimous confidence in the branding strategy, new distribution model, and inherent value of Charles & Colvard created moissanite,” says Russ.

President Robert S. Thomas will be acting CEO. Walter J. O’Brien, former vice chairman of the board of J. Walter Thompson and a consultant to Charles & Colvard since 1999, will take Hunter’s seat on the board of directors.

Hunter, a co-founder of Charles & Colvard and one of its largest shareholders, will stay on as a consultant. “During the next three years, I will provide consulting services for Charles & Colvard. I will be a raving fan cheering from the sidelines and asking in every jewelry store, ‘Do you carry Charles & Colvard created moissanite?’ ” Hunter told the C&C staff in a farewell e-mail.

Charles & Colvard also announced an agreement to sell all the crystal growth systems it owns to Cree Research for $5 million. (Cree Research is the company that produces silicon carbide—synthetic moissanite—crystals. Jeff Hunter’s brother Neal is chairman and CEO of Cree.) Thomas says the agreement improves C&C’s liquidity and gives the company more flexibility.

EGL Offers Reports on Nacre Thickness

The European Gemological Laboratory in New York not only identifies pearl varieties but also provides information on pearl origin and nacre thickness. According to EGL’s Greg Sherman, demand for information about nacre thickness is increasing, a consequence of the rising popularity of Chinese freshwater pearls and declining production of fine-quality Japanese akoyas.

EGL’s pearl-testing process converts X-rays into bits of digital information that can be viewed on a computer screen. “We’re using the standard Faxitron unit, which we married with a special system to capture the X-ray digitally,” Sherman says. (Faxitron manufactures real-time X-ray imaging systems.) He notes that EGL’s system eliminates the practice of immersing pearls in liquid film cleaner and reduces X-ray exposure time to one second. “There are no chemicals, no sinks, no developing of X-ray film,” Sherman says, adding that the procedures are not hazardous and are “environmentally friendly.”

Besides eliminating set-up time, the system allows a user to repeat the process immediately if the initial view is inconclusive. For more information, call (212) 730-7380, Ext. 214.

Rio Verde Industries Makes Colombian Connection

Rio Verde Industries Inc. of Canada is attempting to develop a multinational Colombian emerald business that would encompass all stages from mining to retail.

To accomplish this, Rio Verde, a relative newcomer to the emerald business, has merged an emerald marketing company called EmeraldStone with a team of specialists in exploration, mining, grading, cutting, wholesale distribution, and marketing of Colombian emeralds. The team includes geologists, gemologists, emerald dealers, and mine owners.

Rio Verde says it has attracted five of the top Colombian emerald producers to the project, but only one of the five is in production. Two are past sources that Rio hopes to revive, and two are new sources not yet in production, although Rio says tests look “promising.”

EmeraldStone’s marketing emphasizes cedarwood oil treatment, and each of its stones is accompanied by a written guarantee that the gem has been enhanced by cedarwood oil. “There’s a new prevalence of plastics and resins being used to mask dynamite damage, more so now in the rough stones,” says Andy Rendle, president of EmeraldStone and vice president of marketing for Rio Verde.

Rendle says “neighbors” to the north of the one productive property have tunneled in and are removing as many emeralds as they can during 24-hour shifts. “This has put a slight crimp on Rio’s involvement in this property,” he says.

For more information, visit Rio Verde’s Web site at www.rioverde-ind.com.

Estate Jewelers Association Opens Laboratory and Web Site

The Estate Jewelers Association of America (EJAA) is launching a new authentication laboratory to identify and authenticate antique and estate jewelry for the trade and public. The independent lab is located at 608 Fifth Ave. in New York.

“The lab will assure buyer’s and seller’s credibility when authenticity is an issue,” says David Rieger, executive vice president and chief operating officer. “It will be staffed by experts in the field, with at least two members examining each piece independently of each other for identification and authentication, including provenance, condition, date, place, and name of manufacturer. No values will be offered. When a question arises, or a conflict of identification takes place, a third expert will be called in to help identify the piece.”

Major auction houses are expected to use the laboratory’s reports when applicable.

EJAA is also developing a Web site, www.ejaa.net, to link wholesalers and retailers. It plans to launch the site in late summer.

Retail members of the site will enter their logo, brand name, and markup strategy ahead of time. Pieces that appear on a retailer’s computer screen during a search are labeled with the store name and priced according to the retailer’s prior instructions—a feature that encourages retailers to let customers observe. If a suitable piece is unavailable, a search and notification system goes into effect. As soon as an appropriate piece is listed, buyer and seller are notified.

For more information about EJAA, call David Rieger at (212) 707-8358.

Ruby Slippers Prove There’s No Place Like Oz

An anonymous bidder paid $666,000 for a pair of ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz at Christie’s East New York auction house May 24. The shoes are one of six or seven pairs made for Judy Garland to wear during production of the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie classic.

The spool-heeled shoes are made of red silk faille overlaid with hand-sequined georgette and include flat-jeweled bows made of dyed leather. Each bow is covered with rhinestones—approximately 42 round single cuts and three large red rectangular scissors cuts surrounded by approximately 36 bugle beads. The soles are painted red and affixed with red-orange felt, which muffled the sound of Garland skipping down the yellow brick road. The white kid leather lining is stamped “6B E 58 68” and labeled “Innes Shoe Co., Los Angeles, Hollywood, Pasadena.”

Only four pairs of ruby slippers from the film are known to exist, including one that’s on display at the Smithsonian Institution. “The ruby slippers are one of the most widely recognized icons of American popular culture,” says Ellen Roney Hughes, a cultural historian at the museum. “They have special meaning for the thousands of visitors each year who ask specifically to see them.”

The movie ruby slippers contain not a single real ruby, but another pair of ruby slippers is covered with them. In 1989, in honor of The Wizard of Oz’s 50th anniversary, Ronald Winston of New York’s Harry Winston designed a $3 million pair of genuine ruby-set slippers. Craftsman Javier Barerra spent more than two months setting 4,600 rubies (1,350 cts. t.w.) and 50 cts. of diamonds into Lucite model shoes. Winston’s ruby slippers, which are still for sale, have been the showpiece of traveling tours benefiting children’s charities such as the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the Starlight Foundation, and the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

If you don’t have a spare $3 million or a friend at the Smithsonian, but you’d like a pair of ruby slippers to promote ruby jewelry, Jack Townsend can make an exact replica for you, down to the last sequin. His shoes are covered in red sequins and have jeweled bows, orange felt on the soles, and copies of the original Innes Shoe Co. label. The shoes are priced at $250 a pair and come with a lifetime guarantee on the sequins and bows.

Townsend has been making ruby slippers for more than 20 years and has given pairs to charities such as the Make-a-Wish Foundation. He says buyers include “lots of brides, actresses playing the part of Dorothy, or for costumes at Halloween, and of course, Valentine’s.”

Jack Townsend, 2010 Greast Creek, Lenoir, N.C. 28645; (828) 754-6167, e-mail: townsendenterprizes@hotmail.com.