AGSLab ­ the new American Gem Society diamond grading laboratory ­ is now open and assigning grades for the quality of cut as well as color and clarity. The grading reports also have high-tech features designed to deter counterfeiting and to make diamond information more accessible to consumers.

“We include more information about a diamond than any other grading lab,” says Peter Yantzer, the lab’s director. Cut receives prominence because it’s crucial to the beauty and value of a diamond, he says.

Each diamond examined by the AGSLab is fully diagrammed on the report, called a Diamond Quality Document. The diagram for rounds, for example, represents the diamond’s actual measurements and proportions. “If the table of the diamond is 65%, the diagram will have a 65% table,” says Yantzer. Diagrams for fancy shape diamonds carry only one table size, he says, “but we are working on printing fancy plots with varying table diameter percentages.”

Also included in the diagram are table percentage, crown angle, girdle thickness, pavilion depth percentage, culet size, polish and symmetry. Other reports lack some of this information and use standard diagrams not drawn to a stone’s actual measurements, he says. “With our reports, a jeweler can very easily show a prospective customer exactly what the diamond looks like,” he says.

Grading information is given in AGS terms. Color and clarity are numbered 0-10; cut grades (available only for round brilliants) are “excellent,” “very good,” “good,” “fair” or “poor, even though AGS also has a numbering system for this. (Gemological Institute of America equivalents are listed in a flap folded under the report.) The top cut grade is reserved for stones with AGS Ideal Cut proportions (table percentage of 53%-58%, crown angle at or near 34.5º).

The cut grade resulted from intense negotiations between the AGS Gemological Committee and the AGSLab’s Board of Managers. There were deep divisions of opinions over whether to require Ideal Cut proportions for the “excellent” grade and whether to use AGS terminology, which is not familiar to many outside the organization. “There was a lot of polarization at the beginning,” says Yantzer. “But everyone came together for the common goal.” Fancy cuts won’t be graded in the foreseeable future, and their grading reports will carry the notation: “Because of the many proportion variations in fancy shaped diamonds, you should consult a certified gemologist or other qualified gemologist about the proportions of this diamond. The grading of fancy shaped diamonds is under revision.”

How it’s done: AGS uses a Sarin Diamension machine to do the basic proportion measurements, but its four staff gemologists actually view the diamond to assign the final cut grade. “The machines are very repeatable and very accurate, but they do not take into account facet alignment, off-center tables and finish. That’s why we have to have our graders check them.”

The reports are laminated with holographic coloring and the word “Original” to deter counterfeiters, who have tried to reproduce other diamond grading reports in the past. In addition, all diamond plotting is printed rather than pasted on the document so it can’t be altered or removed.

The disclaimer is printed in large type on the back of the report (some AGS members had complained that GIA’s disclaimer is printed too small). It says the report is not a guarantee, but a “description of the characteristics of the Diamond based upon the application of the grading techniques and equipment available to and used by the AGSLab at the time of its examination.” Other descriptions of the diamond may differ, says the disclaimer, depending on when, how and by whom it is graded. The disclaimer also says improvements in techniques and equipment may result in different grades in the future.

Some members thought the disclaimer should go on the front of the report. Instead, AGS opted for a notice that “even diamonds with the exact same color & clarity grade can vary in value by 25% or more.” It advises buyers to consult a certified gemologist or other “credentialed gemologist” before purchase.

Funding & growth: AGS is raising money for the lab by offering society members non-equity lab memberships. The membership fee is $1,500 per year with the option to buy an unlimited number of years. In return, lab members receive a 20% discount on lab fees and a guarantee that prices won’t increase for the length of their membership. For volume users, the savings can be considerable, says Yantzer.

AGSLab rates are 25%-30% lower than GIA’s rates. The fee to grade a 1-ct. diamond is $69 for lab members, $83 for non-members. For a 2-ct. diamond, the fee is $104 for members, $125 for non-members. The lab also grades small diamonds down to 1 point ($43 for members, $51 for non-members).

The service is available only to AGS members at least through September. “We want to grow the lab business slowly to maintain quality and build one of the best labs in the world,” says Yantzer. AGS hopes the lab will become a full-scale gemological service center some day, but will stay with diamond grading for the foreseeable future.

Birth of a lab: AGS initially flirted with opening a diamond grading lab about two years ago in conjunction with the Diamond Dealers Club of New York. DDC was upset with GIA’s plan to open a subsidiary lab in Antwerp (later dropped) and with the two- to three-week turnaround at GIA labs. But AGS rejected DDC’s proposal and began studying whether to create its own lab.

AGS announced last spring it would create a lab that could process 200 diamonds weekly at the outset. The goal was to raise $1 million through an arrangement called the Chinese Wall, which keeps the management and board from knowing who invests in the project. AGS owns 51%, investors own the rest. Members of the lab’s board are Mark Moeller, R.F. Moeller Jewelers, St. Paul, Minn.; Bill Underwood, Underwood’s Jewelers, Fayetteville, Ark.; Charles Dixon, E.A. Collins Development, Las Vegas, Nev.; Lee Berg, Lee Michaels, Baton Rouge, La.; Sheldon David, ADS, New York City; Tom Tivol, Tivol Jewels, Kansas City, Mo.; Henri Barguirdjian, Van Cleef & Arpels, New York City; Bob Green, Lux Bond & Green, West Hartford, Conn.; Charles Lacy, Lacy & Co., El Paso, Tex.; and Bill Elliott, Ross Elliott Jewelers, Terre Haute, Ind.

The lab’s standards were developed by a committee comprising Tom Gorman of J.C. Keppie, Pittsburgh, Pa; Bill Hoefer, a gemologist and appraiser in San Jose, Cal.; Doug Parker, William L. Kuhn Co., New York City; Chuck Meyer, Henry Meyer Diamonds, New York City; Craig Underwood, Underwood Jewelers, Fayette-ville, Ark., Hertz Hasenfeld, Hasenfeld & Stein, New York City; and Al Gilbertson, Gem Profiles, Albany, Ore.


Superings Inc. of Los Angeles plans to begin marketing a line of Russian synthetic diamonds at the JCK International Jewelry Show in Las Vegas this June.

The polished diamonds will be offered in limited quantities of .30-ct. to 1-ct. sizes until the full production run is available in January, says Atul Mehta, managing partner of Superings Inc. All diamonds are yellow, ranging from light canary to deep orange. Prices will be announced at the show.

“We will start by selling loose goods ­ all polished in Russia ­ and eventually do mounted jewelry once we begin receiving larger quantities,” says Mehta. “We expect our primary customers to be larger independent jewelers and diamond wholesalers.”

The diamonds are produced at the Russia Academy of Sciences in Novosibirsk, Western Siberia, one of the nation’s chief gemological and crystal research centers. The academy has produced synthetics in limited quantities for about five years, selling small amounts to labs and research facilities.

The go-between in the venture is Walter Barchai, a Russian native who operates Pinky Trading and Thai-Rus, a Thai-Russian venture that sells and polishes synthetic emeralds and other gemstones. Barchai says the synthetic diamond venture will succeed where others have stalled or failed because he already has a reasonable inventory of diamonds and is often in Novosibirsk to ensure the operation runs smoothly.

Commercial quantities will become available when the academy installs $2 million worth of equipment next year to mass-produce the synthetics, says Barchai. “We’ll be able to do about 1,000 carats per month and control the rough shape: flat for square cuts and hexagon for round stones,” he says. Some will be irradiated to create a line of colored diamonds.

Skeptics argue that no commercial quantities of synthetics have ever been produced by the Russian method. (Called the BARS method, it involves two chambers, one inside the other. The diamond grows in a high-pressure cell that lies in the middle of the inner chamber when pressure is created by injecting liquid into a compression barrel). Barchai says the process works and that he has the stones to prove it.

Chatham Created Gems of San Francisco is the only other company to announce plans for a line of synthetic diamonds ­ also in conjunction with Russian producers. But President Tom Chatham admits the project has not gone well. Chatham wants only white diamonds, which are very difficult to produce. This, coupled with problems getting the Russians to meet deadlines and keep promises, may scuttle the project this year. “If we don’t have product to display by this year’s JCK Show, I’ll probably bail out,” says Chatham.

Last fall, Chatham signed a contract and put money into a facility that was supposed to yield a monthly production of about 100 carats to start and 1,000 carats when fully operational. Thus far, however, production has been much lower and the quality unacceptable, he says. “I want to do it right and sell real gems, not curiosities,” says Chatham. “So far I’m frustrated by the Russians’ lack of forthrightness.”


There’s a fast new way to remove matrix from newly mined gemstone crystals. The process eliminates the need to use small hammers and chisels to hack away the matrix, the mineral deposits that become caked on gem crystals during their formation in the earth.

Aerie Partners Inc. of San Diego, Cal., says its GemFree process literally shocks the matrix off the gem crystals. The crystals are placed in water with electrodes, then “ultra short” (nanoseconds-long) pulses of electricity break the matrix into fragments by flowing along boundaries and grains between the crystal and the matrix itself. The process leaves the crystal unharmed ­ and clean.

The exact process depends on the rock, says Ronald A. Walrod of Aerie Partners. “Some samples take fewer pulses, others more,” he says. The object is to reduce the aggregates of the rock to minimum particle size because a single rock sample might contain gem crystals of varying sizes. “Kimberlite can be broken into less than a 1mm very fine crush,” says Walrod.

Aerie Partners hopes to sell GemFree machinery eventually but for now does the service itself for $400-$500 per hour. The time depends on the physical characteristics of the material, but Aerie Partners estimates 15 minutes to an hour to process 2 kilograms.

The major advantages: the process doesn’t break the crystal and it’s portable so it can be taken to the mine to reduce transportation costs and losses from thievery, says Walrod.

Aerie Partners, 9879 Hibert St., Suite D, San Diego, CA 92131; (619) 271-9881.