True Colors

Gemological Institute of America’s Gem Laboratory

580 Fifth Ave., New York 5345 Armada Drive, Carlsbad, Calif.

The GIA Gem Laboratory is focusing on three major areas of improvement: upgrading equipment, enhancing reports, and identifying pearls.

Shane McClure, director of identification services at the Carlsbad facility, says the lab is currently upgrading its Raman spectrometers. Raman spectroscopy focuses laser light onto a gemstone and detects the spectrum that results when the light is scattered. The process does not harm the gem.

McClure says when the upgrade is complete the lab will have five-laser Raman capability: “Five different lasers allow us to be very thorough in gathering data as the results can vary depending on what laser wavelength is used,” he says.

The lab’s newest tool is its LA-ICP-MS (laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer). Unlike Raman, this form of spectroscopy removes a small but insignificant amount of gem material for determining its chemistry. McClure says it’s effective for detecting beryllium treatment of sapphires, which the lab still sees.

The lab is closely examining the identification report itself. “We are also working to improve the look of our reports and the information that is supplied on them,” says McClure. “This is a very strong focus of ours right now in the identification department.”

The lab already has improved its emerald identification report, which now includes the amount (but not the type) of emerald filler present in a stone, categorized as none, minor, moderate, and significant.

GIA doesn’t note the amount of oil in anything other than emerald, but that could change, says McClure. Meanwhile, fillers are noted on GIA reports when they affect clarity in any significant way.

The pearl identification department is another focus for improvements. McClure says factors such as nacre thickness as well as other quality-grading features may be added to pearl identification reports in the near future.

American Gemological Laboratories

580 Fifth Ave., New York

“We’re going into the diamond verification business in a significant way,” says C.R. “Cap” Beesley, president and owner of American Gemological Laboratories.

Beesley says the recent scandal at GIA’s New York diamond-grading lab has made members of the trade more proactive about getting a second opinion on questionable grading reports. “We’ve always had a verification program, but now a lot of people have called about extending the program,” says Beesley, who worked as a GIA Gem Lab staff gemologist for 10 years. “We’re pushing a lot more into the colored-stone-grading arena with particular emphasis on quality assessment,” he notes. “We think quality in many cases is far more critical than some origin issues.”

AGL is the only lab identifying individual emerald enhancements, and every report comes with the identification of the enhancement filler. “Clients want to know what type of filler is in the gemstone,” says Beesley. “If you’re signing the check, you want to know hands down what is in your stone and, specifically, how much is there.”

AGL is also a leader in identifying unenhanced emeralds. “The whole landscape of emeralds has changed dramatically,” says Beesley. More often, emeralds come into the laboratory to ensure there are no enhancements.

American Gem Trade Association’s Gem Testing Center

18 E. 48th St., New York

Lore Kiefert, director of gem identification services for GTC, says sapphires have been keeping the lab busy. “Pink and yellow sapphires are the most popular right now,” says Kiefert. “Most are in to determine whether or not they’ve been heat treated.”

Origins are also highly requested. “A lot of the sapphires we see are from Madagascar,” Kiefert says.

Rubies are the second-most-popular gem submitted for identification. The three most-common IDs are for lead-glass filler, oil filler, and heat treatment with flux.

On the equipment front, thanks to a recent JCK Industry Fund grant, GTC will purchase LIBS (laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy) technology to help identify beryllium treatment. Similar to LA-ICP-MS, LIBS removes an insignificant amount of gem material for examining chemistry. In addition, AGTA member Bear Williams, of Bear Essentials in Jefferson City, Mo., has donated a small ultraviolet spectrometer with fiber-optic lighting to the California laboratory. “It can be used for sapphire origin, as well as color authenticity of black pearls,” Kiefert notes.

GTC also offers on-site identification services for attendees of the AGTA Gem Fair in Tucson, Ariz., where vendors can have their gemstones tested at the GTC Portable Lab Facility. Services include identification reports for all kinds of gemstones, as well as country-of-origin reports for ruby, sapphire, and emerald.

Finally, GTC has created a new incentive program for clients who aren’t AGTA members that gives discounts on laboratory services. According to AGTA’s latest online lab note, the program has been well received.

Gübelin Gem Lab Ltd.

Maihofstrasse 102, Lucerne, Switzerland

The Gübelin Gem Lab, the leader in country-of-origin reports, upgraded its services last year, adding, for example, a weekly shuttle connecting New York, London, Hong Kong, Dubai, and all of Germany to the lab. The lab also runs a daily shuttle to Geneva. These shuttles offer a turnaround time (including both trips and analyses) of three to 11 days, and the service is less expensive than individual shipping.

Other GGL services include free Chinese and Japanese translations of gemstone reports and private testing at a client’s location. “If he has a certain number of stones to test, he can significantly reduce the cost per stone,” says director Daniel Nyfeler of the latter service.

[Ed. note: In the upcoming issue of JCK, we’ll report on the latest developments among labs specializing in diamond grading.]