Up Front

TOP OF THE NEWS – Swiss Gem Lab Claims Foolproof ‘Pegasus’ Detection

A leading gemological association and De Beers say they can detect the Pegasus color-enhancing treatment—but the people behind the “whitened” stones aren’t so sure. Dr. Henry Hanni, director of the SSEF Swiss Gemmological Institute in Basel, says his lab can identify all “GE POL” enhanced diamonds. SSEF will include “whitening” detection among its standard services, according to Hanni.

The Gemological Institute of America and De Beers recently announced their own version of a detection technique for the Pegasus (now “Bellataire”) treatment. The London-based De Beers scientists published their findings in GIA’s spring 2000 issue of Gems & Gemology but will commit only to identifying a “vast majority” of Bellataire stones.

Although the two identification methods differ in a few respects, the key to both is nitrogen. Brown type IIa diamonds—the stones affected by the “whitening” treatment—originally were thought not to contain nitrogen. It turns out, however, that at least some have minute amounts. Heat and pressure make the nitrogen more prevalent, so once a diamond is identified as a type IIa (through features such as strain patterns and luminescence), treated diamonds can be recognized by tracking the telltale formations of nitrogen.

Still, De Beers and GIA aren’t ready to declare victory yet. “We’ve made significant progress,” says James Evans Lombe, De Beers’ “gem defense” spokesman. “But while it’s a giant step forward, it’s still not the final whistle.” De Beers isn’t sure the method will detect all the “whitened” stones. GIA’s director of research, Dr. James Shigley, agrees the new methods “have a lot of potential, but I’m not sure they will solve all the problems.” Hanni disagrees. He says De Beers’ methodology as published in the G&G article lacks the precision necessary to positively identify all GE POL type IIa diamonds. Hanni has shared his information with De Beers.

De Beers says the method works on type IIa stones in both rough and polished forms. Early in its research, however, GIA spotted type I stones that Lazare Kaplan International, which markets the stones, said were Pegasus-treated. So for now, De Beers and GIA are leaving the question open. “We still have a lot of work to do,” Lombe says. “But this is still quite a breakthrough.”

De Beers cites several reasons why retail jewelers may not be out of the woods. First, most jewelers have neither a Raman spectrophotometer (the $250,000 device that identifies the nitrogen patterns) nor the machine that identifies type IIa diamonds. And for now, there’s no quick visual identifier, like the “flash effect” for fracture-filled stones.

Meanwhile, the people behind the “whitened” stones are skeptical. “There are clear limitations to what I’ve read of the De Beers method,” says Chuck Meyer, the head of Bellataire, the Lazare Kaplan subsidiary that’s marketing the stones. “The key to their method is, there must be nitrogen. Most of our stones—certainly the high-color stones—don’t contain any trace elements of nitrogen and cannot be detected by this methodology.” He adds that he hasn’t seen the Swiss method but assumes that if it uses nitrogen, it would also not work on most of the diamonds. David Hall, CEO of NovaDiamond in Provo, Utah, disputes Meyer’s assertions. Hall says that all high-temperature/high-pressure-treatable diamonds show trace amounts of nitrogen and would therefore show the nitrogen vacancies. They should all be detectable.

SSEF offers GE POL identification to the industry and the public. The fee for detecting HTHP treatment starts at $250 and varies based on diamond size. Contact Dr. Henry Hanni, SSEF Swiss Gemmological Institute, Falknerstrasse 9, CH-4001 Basel, Switzerland; tel. (41-61) 262 06 40, fax (41-61) 262 06 41, www.ssef.ch.—Gary Roskin, G.G., FGA and Rob Bates

Litigation – Vollman Declares Victory In ‘Baby Booties’ Case

A federal judge has dismissed claims of copyright infringement filed by Aaron Basha Corp. against Felix B. Vollman Inc. in 1999 (JCK, April 1999, p. 19). The dispute concerned pendants designed as baby shoes.

Judge Sidney H. Stein of the U.S. Southern District Court of New York ruled on March 10 that the two companies’ products were sufficiently different. He based his decision on pretrial review of the law and comparison of the firms’ baby shoe jewelry. In late April, Basha voluntarily dropped its other claims against Vollman, which then dropped its counter claims, including a suit for more than $500,000 in damages. Basha also dropped its suit against several of Vollman’s retail clients.

Vollman attorney Nancy E. Wolff says the written judgment provides a precedent to which other jewelry makers in similar legal situations can refer. Stein’s decision also is important for the jewelry industry, she claims, “because it clearly defines how jewelry copyright disputes should be analyzed.”

Basha, headquartered in New York City, is a retailer and importer of jewelry. It had asserted that Vollman’s “infant booties” pendant jewelry infringed on Basha’s copyright as an exclusive U.S. licensee for Basha Baby Shoe, designed by Staurina Fratelli of Italy.

Vollman countersued, claiming that Basha’s suit had no merit and that its pendants were substantially different from Basha’s. It alleged the suit sought to harm Vollman’s reputation. Vollman also claimed its design was an updated version of a bootie mold the 75-year-old firm designed in the 1960s and that it registered the updated design with the U.S. Copyright office in 1997.

Ted Knebel, president of the 75-year-old Vollman firm, which is also headquartered in New York, says the decision “vindicates what we’ve been saying from the day Basha filed suit.”

“Obviously, we believe the judge was wrong,” says Amy Goldmsith, Basha’s attorney. “But we won’t proceed against Vollman or the retailers [who were named in the suit with Vollman].”

Basha has filed other legal actions since 1998 against companies it contended infringed on its copyright. The Vollman decision is the first Basha has lost.

—William George Shuster