Standards

Is a standard immutable, or does it leave room for interpretation?

The American Heritage dictionary has more than a dozen definitions of the word “standard.” Among them:

  • (noun) An acknowledged measure of comparison for quantitative or qualitative value; a criterion.

  • (noun) An object that under specified conditions defines, represents, or records the magnitude of a unit.

  • (adjective) Serving as or conforming to a standard of measurement or value.

  • (adjective) Widely recognized as a model of authority or excellence.

  • (adjective) Acceptable but of less than top quality.

None answer the question; in fact, some conflict with each other. If the dictionary can’t determine whether the word implies an absolute vs. a range of possibilities, how can jewelers?

At the American Gem Society Conclave in Vancouver this spring, the topic of the group’s annual Town Hall meeting was diamond cut grading and the standards used to identify a well-cut stone. Is the current definition of an Ideal cut—adhering to Tolkowsky proportions—the only way to make a brilliant diamond, or can other arrangements and proportions of crown, girdle, and pavilion facets produce an equally ideal-looking diamond?

And the answer is: No. Yes. Maybe.

It all depends on whom you ask. GIA says what really matters is not how the stone performs on a math test, but how it looks—and yes, it is possible to deviate from Tolkowsky and still produce a stone with maximum fire and brilliance. AGS argues that diamond as a mineral has a fixed set of optical properties, and the best looking ones always come down to the same cut: Tolkowsky, or darned close to it, so it is possible to grade a diamond like a math test. Others say it doesn’t matter, because taste is subjective. And a lot of retail jewelers just want the issue to go away. They say it confuses customers, removes their one remaining point of differentiation, and will finally succeed in turning diamonds into a total commodity instead of an almost-commodity. In this issue, senior editors Gary Roskin and Rob Bates dish on the latest fracas over diamond proportions, light-measuring devices, beauty, and the best cut. Be sure to turn to “Tolkowsky Revisited” on p. 130.

Not being a gemologist or a jeweler, I don’t have an answer—but I do think we can’t ignore the value of chemistry, like when you meet a potential mate. We all have standards we want in a mate—intelligence, humor, income level, looks, interests, spirituality—but beyond those lies the intangible: Does the person make your heart skip a beat? They may meet your standards on paper, but if you don’t feel a little thrill every time you see him or her, there’s not much point in pursuing the relationship.

Applying this logic to a diamond—cut grade or no cut grade—the successful sale still comes down to this: Does the stone make her gasp every time she sees it?

On a separate note, my previous two June editorials have been my annual “state of things” commentaries. It goes without saying what a difference the past year has made, but it’s gratifying to see that jewelry remains a positive force in people’s lives and that they’re choosing precious gifts of lasting value to express themselves in the face of a world painted with terrorism and corporate irresponsibility. On the home front, we still have to explain that “King of Prussia” really is a place, although in Pennsylvania—Land of Eternal Construction—it’s not easy to get here. Nevertheless, here we all are, and JCK is happy and proud to bring you another year of award-winning industry coverage. Thank you, as always, for your ongoing support!