GemNotes

MORE RUSSIAN SYNTHETICS ON THE WAY

A new load of Russian synthetic colored diamonds will likely hit the U.S. market next month.

Alex Grizenko, president of Russian Colored Stone Co. in Golden, Colo., says he will begin to market synthetic yellow, blue, pink and red diamond rough and polished in December and will add “demantoid garnet green” colored diamonds several months later. He also plans to market colorless rough and polished synthetics as demand warrants.

The diamonds are produced by a former microelectronics facility outside of Moscow that worked on military projects until recently, says Grizenko. “Now they are undergoing privatization and looking for commercial projects,” he says.

The laboratory has worked with synthetic diamonds “for quite some time” using a process related to the standard Russian BARS method. The BARS method uses multiple chambers to apply the heat and pressure necessary to grow the diamond crystal. The line of Russian synthetics launched earlier this year by Superings of Los Angeles, Cal., uses this method.

Grizenko says the product is generally clean, with a yield of 30% to 60% from stones as large as 2 carats. Most of the flux inclusions collect in the crown of the rough, he says, making it fairly easy to polish out.

Grizenko hopes to improve the yield by creating different shapes — round, elongated and square — that will make polishing easier. “Eventually, we also hope to tweak the colors so we can produce them to order,” he says.

The diamonds are expensive to make, he says, and production will have to be tailored to demand initially, making it difficult to estimate per-carat prices. The diamonds will be marketed by a new subsidiary called Russian Created Diamonds, also in Golden, Colo.

MADAGASCAR’S BAFFLING ‘BLUE QUARTZ’

Is there such a thing as a natural blue crystalline quartz? As you may remember from gemology school, the answer is basically “no.” That rule still holds true, despite a recent close call. A gemstone mined in Madagascar was recently brought to JCK’s attention because of its initial bluish appearance. Closer inspection revealed the quartz is not blue — it’s actually colorless rock crystal quartz. The bluish color is cast by a large quantity of small rounded blue inclusions randomly scattered through the gem.

The inclusion is the mineral lazulite, says Tony Nikischer at Excalibur Mineral Co. in Peekskill, N.Y. He confirmed this through energy dispersive spectroscopy.

Lazulite is often found in association with quartz and is present in many deposits in Madagascar, according to the Encyclopedia of Minerals (second edition, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, N.Y., 1990). The remote deposit where the “blue quartz” is found is at Mount Ibity in northern Madagascar. The nearest town is Antsirabe, says Michael Randall of Gem Reflections of California, San Anselmo, Cal., a U.S. supplier of the gem. He says several kilograms of rough have been mined from the deposit so far.

ARGYLE RETURN TO CSO ‘IMPOSSIBLE,’ SAYS EXEC

A key executive of one of Argyle Diamond’s parent companies has virtually ruled out any possibility the Australian diamond mining company will return to selling through De Beers’ Central Selling Organisation.

“It is almost impossible to conceive of circumstances in which we would return to the CSO,” says Mark Hooper, general manager of Ashton Mining, a minority partner in Argyle. (Executives of Argyle announced this summer they would end their agreement with De Beers and market their diamonds themselves.) Hooper says such a move would cause Argyle to lose credibility with De Beers and with its customers, who are supporting Argyle at the risk of jeopardizing their relationship with De Beers. “The fact that we mean what we say is the only bargaining power we have.”

Hooper says it remains “highly probable” that Argyle will move on to underground mining, which will add another 10 years to the mine’s life. “On top of that, it is highly likely that RTZ-CRA [which has a 60% interest in Argyle] and Ashton Mining will be developing new diamond mines around the world to augment Argyle’s production,” he says. Chief among those projects is Canada. “Our loyal customer can count on continuity of diamond supplies for several decades to come.”

Hooper also rules out setting up joint ventures with other producers to create a rival to CSO. He explains that the U.S. Justice Department may view any type of marketing joint venture as anticompetitive, and this could be interpreted as a violation of U.S. antitrust laws.

For its part, De Beers says the “door remains open” to Argyle, though executives don’t anticipate overtures any time soon. “Argyle clearly thought long and hard about their decisions and took the view that the money on the (bargaining table) would not match what they would get by marketing their own diamonds,” De BeersDirector Tim Capon says in a recent issue of the South African publication Business Day. “Time will tell whether or not they were right.”

ARGYLE TENDER FEATURES 3 CARAT PINKS

The 1996 tender offer of pink diamonds from the Argyle mine inAustralia featured the largest polished stone the company has offered in the 11-year history of the sale. The 3.66-ct. intense cushion-cut fancy intense pink was one of 47 stones sold at the tender offer.Also attracting interest was a 3.06-ct. fancy intense purplish pink emerald-cut diamond.

Argyle Diamonds won’t release the amount raised in the sale or identify the buyers. But it did say the average per-carat price exceeded last year’s $100,000, and that the 13 buyers were from Tokyo, Hong Kong, Perth, London and Geneva.

“This year’s tender result reflects the overall price strength experienced for Argyle’s full range of pinks these past 12 months and makes the 1996 tender among the most successful in recent times,” says David Fardon, Argyle’s manager of polished diamond sales.

The sale featured six pink diamonds over 3 carats — the first time Argyle has offered that many at one sale.

LAND AHOY! FOR INDIAN PEARL OYSTERS

Pearls, natural and cultured, have always been jewels of the sea. But if scientists in India have their way, part of the pearl culturing process may be moved to drier ground.

The pinctada fucata oyster, which produces the akoya pearl, used to grow in abundance in the Gulf of Mannar at the southeastern tip of India and in the Gulf of Kachchh on the northwest coast. By the 1960s, however, exploitation had depleted supplies, and the government of India banned the hunting of the pearl oyster. India began to depend on imports now worth more than $9 million a year for its supply of oysters.

Now, according to a series of news releases from the Trans Asia News Service in Sri Lanka, scientists at the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute in Tuticorion, India, have discovered a way to breed pearl oysters — on land. The oysters are grown from seeds in giant concrete tanks with water-pumping systems that control temperature and saline levels. Dr. Syda Rao says he has been able to grow an oyster of 45mm in six months using the land-based method, according to the reports.

When oysters reach this size, they are implanted with nuclei and transferred to farms in the coastal waters of the Indian southwestern state of Kerala and the eastern state of Andhra Pradesh. Pearls grow quickly in these waters, which — according to reports — yield “marketable sizes” in three to four months for nuclei of 2mm to 3mm, and 15 to 18 months for nuclei of 6mm to 7mm. About 77% of the oysters transferred to the ocean have survived, and more than 25% of them have produced cultured pearls.

The project has captured the enthusiasm of government agencies, which have donated about US$165,000 to encourage the development of large-scale commercial production of cultured pearls. It also has caused a big stir among local entrepreneurs, according to CMFRI scientist V.S. Chennubotla. “It is no doubt going to add a new dimension to aquaculture, particularly as the shrimp farming sector is getting overcrowded,” he says.

Most importantly, it means new economic activity for a country that lies alongside some of the largest cultured pearl producers in the world and owns waters where pearls grow easily.

SMITHSONIAN DELAYS NEW EARTH SCIENCE HALL

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., has postponed the opening of its renovated earth science halls from December to fall 1997. The reason: government furloughs in 1996 put the project behind schedule, says Randall Kremer, museum spokesperson.

A centerpiece of the new exhibit will be the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals, designed to showcase the world-renowned National Gem and Mineral collections.

The 20,000-sq.-ft. project, conceived in 1989, put more than 100 curators, designers, scientists, architects, engineers, artists, educators, writers and researchers to work. Among new features this team is creating are interactive computers, animated graphics, film and video presentations, floor and ceiling treatments, hands-on specimens and tailored display lighting.

The exhibit areas will include the Harry Winston Gallery, which features the famous “Hope Diamond” and other significant jewels. The National Gem Collection will feature the “Hooker Starburst Diamonds,” “The Star of Asia,” “The Rosser Reeves Ruby” and “Chalk Emerald.” The Splendors of the World exhibit will feature some of the world’s most spectacular minerals, crystals and gems. A Mine Gallery will be an actual “walk through mine” that shows what crystal “pockets” and other mine features look and feel like. Other exhibits will have more theoretical geologic themes, such as the Plate Tectonics Gallery and the Earth, Moon and Meteorites Gallery.

Janet Annenberg Hooker donated $2 million and a suite of rare yellow starbust-cut diamonds designed by Cartier toward the project in 1994 in honor of her two sons, Gilbert S. Kahn and Donald P. Kahn. The National Museum of Natural History termed the contribution “one of the most significant gifts of rare jewelry and financial support in Smithsonian history.” By mid-1996, the total of private funds earmarked for the project stood at $8.5 million.