Letters

OK: WHO LIKES RAPAPORT’S LIST?

A number of letters to the editor (including one of mine) have been printed in the past few issues regarding the Rapaport Diamond Report. Here is something to put to your readers that has puzzled me for a long time. It seems there are many jewelers who think that Rapaport’s price list has ruined the diamond business. The question is: are there jewelers who think the list has helped the business? Are these the people who keep subscribing to it? If so many jewelers are opposed to this list, why is it still in use? The question I pose to jewelers who oppose the list yet still subscribe to it is: why? If everyone stopped sending Mr. Rapaport their money, I don’t think Mr. Rapaport would have much financial incentive to keep publishing his list. So why do jewelers keep sending him their money and then complain? Would jewelers ever start a movement to eliminate Rapaport’s list (by simply not subscribing anymore)?

I would be interested in comments from other jewelers on this subject.

Steven R. Martin G.G., MBA, BSEE President M. Martin and Co. Chicago, Ill.

‘STOP MAKING UNNATURAL DEMANDS OF NATURE’

On the whole, I think Robert Weldon has courageously used his role as a journalist to articulate one of those problems that affects our industry but is not discussed publicly (“Cheap Synthetics Sold as Natural Gems,” JCK, September 1996, p. 84-89).

Synthetics intentionally sold as natural materials are fraudulent representations made by knowledgeable individuals or firms in order to gain unwarranted profit or a competitive edge in their markets. In other cases, uninformed and ill-prepared buyers are known to blindly trust that nature can produce perfection, volume, consistency, size and price — at the convenience of the buyer and the will of the seller. How to deal with this witting and unwitting deception creates a whole series of new problems, the solutions for which our industry is simply not equipped to enact.

Your interviewees’ explanations regarding “salting” of rough and cut lots are true in many cases. Where deception is the mission of the provider of rough or cut materials in high-volume commercial quantities and price ranges, it is relatively easy to accomplish without discovery.

Some categories of gem natural quartzes have been discredited by synthetic quartzes as a result of this fact. All dealers and manufacturers of consequence know this. Many have made significant attempts to spot-check their lots, to buy rough they are sure of, to require certification by gem labs. But the unfortunate fact is that there are too many stones in too many rings and mountings from too many parts of the globe to maintain any realistic checks of these quartzes. Think of the millions of rings, earrings, bracelets and pendants sold this year alone. Tell me how to be certain that they are all what they are said to be. And please, somebody, show me a cost-effective method to prove it. To my knowledge there is none.

Quartzes are not the only gem family that has been thus tainted in commercial high-volume price categories. Corundum is another. You have pointed out the substitution of synthetic materials in large runs of small natural rubies and sapphires. This can and does happen. But how to protect against this?

To point out how ignorance can result in deception, even in the world of lab materials, consider the following story:

Recently, it was reported to us that a retail marketer was planning to sell color-change synthetic corundum as “lab-created alexandrite.” This was either the result of pure ignorance by a buyer charged with a great responsibility or it was a calculated effort by the foreign supplier of the stones to deceive (and by the buyer to ignore the reality of synthetic alexandrite’s availability and value) in order to achieve the mass marketing plan. “Lab-created alexandrite” sounds a lot better to the ear than “lab-created color-change corundum.”

Whatever the case, we informed the manufacturer involved that it could be drawn into a serious conflict with Federal Trade Commission disclosure requirements. We suggested that it inform the buyer that a catastrophe was about to occur, to assume the buyer didn’t know the facts and to exit gracefully from a potentially disastrous association. To our knowledge, the program was nipped in the bud. But it could have happened if we hadn’t been asked tangentially about the materials in a casual conversation about other matters.

So deception through misrepresentation of some synthetics for others is also an operative practice by a few suppliers out there in the world. Can we stop this? Will technology solve our problem? Yes and no. We can find ways to detect variances. But when we find them, we can also find ways to create a new model that meets the new detection characteristic and neutralizes it. Or we can most always be correct, but require too much time, money and effort to make the outcome worth the expense.

A short two years ago, a major gem lab asked us how it could detect our clear sapphire from the natural. Did we dope it? Would we? Could we? We don’t. Won’t. Could but oughtn’t — else it will be a different material to look at. So how do we sell it? We sell it like it is — lab-created white sapphire. Do all our clients pass the information along? I do believe so, but I cannot guarantee they all do. Should we stop selling it? I think not. The market needs it. There is not enough natural material to go around. And we tell the truth. We’re proud to do so. We are obligated to do so. And we are in the majority of cutters, growers, dealers, manufacturers and retailers who do so.

At the crux of this complex issue is the fact that our huge consumer markets require huge-volume materials at huge-volume prices.

Nature can’t always provide the solution to this demand. And certainly nature cannot always provide the low price, the color perfection or any of those 10x loupe-clean requirements that the absurdity of television marketing “standards” has placed upon old Mother Nature to provide. There’s an arrogance in all this, a hubris born of a huge checkbook and a lack of concern for the little details that make up reality.

Not to defend, not to offer excuses, but merely as an explanation: some material providers the world over know they cannot provide natural materials exclusively to fulfill the burgeoning requirement for pretty, inexpensive, perfect materials. And a select few of those at the “prime” level, the raw material mining level or the huge-volume cutting level, will resort to “salting” to make up the lack of supply from nature.

But there are other informed retailers out there who recognize the limits of nature. They sell lab-created material openly, honestly and very successfully. Consumers like them. They value them! Imagine that! They value them. This is why synthetics have taken hold. They are pretty, cost-effective and they are often much more beautiful than any natural material in their price and volume range. Period.

Synthetics are not “synful” (pardon the poetic license). Industry professionals have to get hip to this fact in a very big way. Stop making unnatural demands of nature. Stop asking for volumes and prices that don’t exist. And accept the fact that, just as in medicine, clothing, hair color, body parts (human and otherwise), the lab is here to stay — and with good reason. We need stuff when we want it. And where we can make it, we will do so.

My point is that the examples in your article are all true — to an extent. The fundamental reality that some people will break the law, violate ethical and moral codes or simply act from ignorance is also immutably true. But must we police everybody and everything? No. And do we really want to? I hope not. Because we’d never get our goods to market.

My father used to say to me, “Gerry, one day they’re going to want to buy opals with flaws, with cracks, with ‘cotton’ imperfections.”

“Why, Dad?”

“Because they’ll know they’re naturally occurring,” he answered.

Well, today we can grow the opal with cracks and cotton too. So that is not necessarily the answer. But it does lead to a practical working guide.

Imperfections, zoning, feathers, telltales that have been provably categorized as particularly natural are the best way to identify material origins. Labs that have made their livelihood of proving origin by understanding and categorizing natural “telltales” are our best guarantee of certification.

Perfect gems at low prices in huge quantities are counter to the definition of gems. They probably aren’t all from the ground and probably won’t ever be. The best and the brightest are always in short supply, and they usually have little idiosyncrasies that make them provably identifiable. Don’t expect to get them too cheap or too fast. And if you do keep getting them that way, suspect the worst and do all you can to find the truth.

If the markets started paying higher prices, would consumers be guaranteed to get their proven origin material? Not if the volumes bespeak unreality. Not if color requirements are contrary to laws of supply.

Is it fair to make those who do sell absolutely all natural materials suffer because a few unscrupulous outfits “salt” their own supply?

No, it is not fair. But it is one consequence of mistrust in a commodity. The whole category is made to suffer unless a company is absolutely 100% willing to guarantee that no false material origin claims are being made — ever. And that is a hard guarantee to guarantee (it is also probably impossible to prove which supplier of the cut stone in question sold which to whom and when).

Can technology be the task master? No. Not at this time.

Can education make a perfect call? No. Not all the time.

So what this means is that synthetic materials that are functionally indistinguishable from natural materials are, in fact, now a fixture in our lives?

As Lily Tomlin, in her high-chair-bound little girl character, says, “And that’s the truth!”

Several years ago, I made a proposal to the industry (in an article I wrote for the ICA Gazette) that materials that truly cannot be guaranteed as naturally occurring must be accompanied by a “U” signifying “source or origin of material unverifiable.”

I note in your article that Scott Sadlecek of Ben Bridge Jewelers is quoted as saying, “We may get to the point with amethyst where we say every amethyst we sell is synthetic unless proven otherwise.”

His statement, while probably not meant as a practical proposal, does illustrate the need to de-demonize synthetics and to bring them to the consumer as a matter of course. Full disclosure, without fear that other retailers will knowingly (or unknowingly) boast of their materials as exclusively “natural” when they probably are not, will never happen unless synthetics are fully integrated into the public consciousness as first-class citizens of the gem community.

And when technology can prove it so, anyone who wants to guarantee “natural origin” can do so with confidence — until someone figures a way around that technology.

Our company can no longer guarantee that some categories of natural amethyst and citrine materials are “natural.” How can we? How can we check each rough lot, each cutting production, each volume purchase when the technology is not there for us to do so?How can we do so when the time and the economics are not there to support us? Will the market pay the price of our added cost in attempting to be 100% certain? Absolutely not. Certainly not when the guy down the street will offer material at a lower price and take a chance that it’s what it’s said to be.

However, if we are asked to supply in these categories, we will use a “U” to identify them as from unidentifiable, uncertifiable origin. And our prices will reflect this fact as well. We will not sign disclaimers requested by some retailers and manufacturers who wish us to obligate ourselves to the impossible. Many of them have more money, equipment and staff than we do. If they cannot detect variances, how can we?

But we will proudly sell lab-created amethyst. We buy the rough. We cut it. We sell it — any way you want it. And we do not see any fear out there in mass-market land that our lab creations have been “salted” with naturals.

We do have a means of guaranteeing amethyst origin. If the market will bear the imperfections and the zoning, we will provide commercial materials with certainty. But be ready for the imperfections. Put down those loupes. You can see these imperfections with the informed naked eye. And you know what? They’re beautiful too — if you just let them be.

Remember,

If our gems are all perfect,

If there are no flaws,

If there are no telltales, no tracks,

We’ll just pause…

For science progresses

Much faster than Nature…

To create a demand for

New nomenclature…

I wrote that maybe eight years ago. It’s part of a longer poem. But this letter’s long enough. Thanks for the forum.

Gerry Manning President Manning International New York, N.Y.