The Old Switcheroo

Jeweler Ron Burton of Martinsville, Ind., has been charged with four counts of theft for switching customers’ diamonds with synthetic moissanite. According to Indiana State Trooper William Lux, the investigation of Burton has been in full swing since last August and concluded in December when the store posted a “going out of business” sign. Reportedly, the stone switching had gone on for at least two years.

Jewelers from around the community were called by Indiana State Police to aid the investigation. John G. Anderson, owner of Ellis Jewelers and the only JA member in Martinsville, identified some “diamonds” as CZ more than a year ago and has been on the alert ever since. Anderson’s store is across the courthouse square from Burton’s. “The customers contacted the local police, but we didn’t hear or see anything after that, until now,” says Anderson

Al Freedman, a GIA graduate gemologist and independent appraiser for a number of jewelers in the Indianapolis area, saw the first moissanite while working at McGee & Co. Fine Jewelers in Greenwood, Ind. Owner Bob McGee, a past president of the Indiana Jewelers Association, explains: “I had done an appraisal in ’94 on a heart-shaped diamond. Recently, the lady who owned the ring, now living in Martinsville, thought about selling it on consignment and had taken it to Burton. Weeks later, she changed her mind and went back to pick it up.” But something didn’t look right. “She came back to us for an appraisal update,” McGee continues. “I took a look, and I thought it might be moissanite. It was the first time I’d seen moissanite, other than from reading articles in the magazines and journals. I was sure it wasn’t a diamond. Al was due in on Tuesday, so with the client’s permission, we agreed to keep it until then. He identified it as moissanite, and I ordered a tester.”

“The following week, a princess cut came in with a similar scenario,” says Freedman, who has been appraising for 25 years but says he never expected anything like this. “The ring had been sized, and the stone was switched with moissanite.”

State police moved on Monday, Jan. 29, and seized Burton’s jewelry and jewelry records. Burton allegedly switched diamonds in jewelry that came in for repair and consignment. He is suspected of pulling diamonds and ordering same-size moissanite or CZ to replace them. He’s also suspected of selling original pieces supposedly set with diamonds but actually set with moissanite or CZ. In addition, Burton allegedly switched better-quality diamonds with lower-quality stones, returning the less-valuable stones to customers and keeping the originals.

Burton was in Florida when the search warrant was issued. He has since turned himself in to local police and posted bail. While the warrant listed only four counts of theft, State Trooper Lux noted that of the 54 moissanites ordered, 14 have been recovered in switched jewelry thus far, and the final count is expected to be higher.

Local jewelry owners have been streaming in to Ellis Jewelers to have their jewelry examined. “We’ve been swamped,” says manager DeAnna Barley. “I haven’t tested this many diamonds since my GIA diamond class.” Anderson notes that while the store has promotions for holiday cleaning and checking, they’re usually not looking for synthetics. “We’ve been working nights just to get the bench work done.”

“We ordered one half-carat moissanite from Stuller just so we could see the stone for ourselves,” says Barley. “We use it to show our customers the difference between moissanite and diamond, but not to sell. Now that we’ve been so swamped, we also bought a tester.” Because there are so many diamonds to be checked, Anderson and Barley are doing visual examinations first, then using the tester only on stones that are suspect. “After looking at so many, it will be easier to identify [the fakes],” says Anderson. “I think I had only seen two moissanites prior to this.”

Much to the surprise of Anderson and Barley—both of whom hold GIA diamond certificates—some of the switched or sold stones have been CZ melee. “We’ve roughly identified over two dozen pieces,” says Anderson.