UpFront

Colombian-Quality Emeralds Found in the United States

Emeralds that rival the finest Colombian Muzos may soon be emerging from the mountains of North Carolina. In a stunning development, abundant high-quality emeralds have been discovered in an abandoned mine in the tiny hamlet of Hiddenite, about 70 miles north of Charlotte.

“I was digging away and opened this pocket, measuring about 8 feet deep, 2 feet wide, and 18 inches tall,” recalls James Hill, 35, a prospector whose family owns the mine. “It was pitch black in there so I took out my cigarette lighter, stuck my hand back in, and when I lit up the hole, I saw thousands of green crystals. When I saw them, I knew they were emeralds.”

And not just any emeralds. “They’re crystal clear,” says Hill, who had his high opinion of the find confirmed by visiting gemologists. Among them was mineralogist Chris Tacker of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science. He found the crystals “exceptionally clean, in very saturated green.”

Hill has been prospecting on his family’s property for years but had never unearthed anything nearly so important. Geologists who studied the area had predicted good pockets of emeralds below the surface, but at a depth of 150 to 250 ft. Hill’s find is in a mine only 12 ft. down.

Already well-known for specimens of the rare chrome green spodumene “hiddenite,” the area used to be called the North American Emerald Mine. After little commercial production was realized, it became a tourist site, where for $3 you could keep what you found. A 59-ct. emerald crystal turned up in 1970 and was sent to Tiffany & Co., where it was cut into a gem of 13.14 cts. “Thousand-carat crystals aren’t uncommon around here,” says Hill, referring to the prolific mineral deposits of the area. In 1990, Hill found a 300-lb. quartz crystal.

Hill has recovered more than 3,000 cts. of gem emeralds since November, when he uncovered this first important pocket. Much more is predicted to come out this year. The largest fine gem-quality emerald crystal mined so far weighs in at 88 cts. – Gary Roskin

Caribbean Chain Sues for Defamation

A war of words in the Caribbean jewelry industry has escalated into legal action. Diamonds International, a New York-based chain that caters to the island tourist trade, has sued the Caribbean Gem Institute, a Florida educational group, for defamation.

In a “Consumer Alert” sent in January to island jewelers and tourist agents, CGI claimed Diamonds International was defrauding customers in its Caribbean stores. The document said the company makes consumers “sign a receipt most people do not read. On the back it states that the store only guarantees the diamond grade to within one grade of the true grade. Meaning it can sell a J color/SI2 diamond to you … but deliver a K color/I1 diamond … and still be within their guarantee limitations. Problem is, the difference in price between a 1.00 carat I/SI2 and a 1.00 carat J/I1 is over $2,000!”

The “alert” also says CGI “has received many complaints about this unethical method of doing business regarding [Diamonds International].” At press time, the “alert” was still posted on the CGI Web site.

Diamonds International spokeswoman Elana Kay says her company has always had the same return policy and never had any problem with CGI until dropping its CGI membership last year. The company’s lawsuit calls CGI’s allegations “false and defamatory” and charges that CGI president Robert James “has in the past threatened that he would attack and disparage Diamonds International’s business if it does not employ his appraisal services, and pay [CGI’s] membership fees.”

For his part, James – a former contributing editor to the JCK International Publishing Group – says that he revoked Diamond International’s membership after repeated consumer complaints. He stands by his “alert” and says he has “prima facie evidence of deceptive trade practices.” – Rob Bates

Just as consumer distrust drove down the prices of emeralds, concern over treatments will cause the prices of rubies to plummet, according to a leading gemologist.

“Ruby will be the next gem to take a hit,” Richard Drucker warned during a session at the recent American Gem Trade Association show in Tucson, Ariz. “Emerald prices have declined 50% over the past year. Rubies will be hurt because jewelers still aren’t disclosing that the gems are being heat-treated and filled with glass.” Drucker, a Graduate Gemologist, has been following rubies and emeralds for years in his pricing book called The Guide.

“Don’t think you can avoid the issue of enhancement,” he told a large audience at the Tucson Convention Center. “Media exposés of failure to disclose are inevitable.”

“The jeweler-gemologist is asked to perform at a higher level than the GIA,” Drucker added, meaning that even the Gemological Institute of America’s Gem Trade Lab doesn’t provide detailed descriptions of enhancements. “Be up front, honest, and disclose,” he urged retailers. – Larry Frederick

Gem Dealer Injured in Tucson Crash

Tom Banker, president and owner of GemEssence in Bangkok and New York, was seriously injured in an auto accident in Tucson in February. At press time, he remained in guarded but stable condition at a Tucson hospital.

Banker has been in the gem business for more than 30 years and is one of the founding members of the American Gem Trade Association. His firm seeks out new and unusual gem materials and was recently promoting nambulite from Australia. At Tucson, GemEssence was showing top-color pink sapphires, chrysoberyl cat’s-eyes, alexandrites, and color-change rhodolite garnets, all from Madagascar.

Joseph Menzie, Banker’s business partner and a colored gem expert in New York, has sent an International Colored Gemstone Association news update expressing member concern. All inquiries about Banker’s condition should be directed either to Menzie at joe@menzie.com, (212) 302-7600, or to Roland Naftule at nafcogems@worldnet.att.net, (602) 998-3393. All cards and letters can be sent c/o Nafco Limited, 10427 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, AZ 85253. – Gary Roskin

‘New’ Moissanite Can Fool You

C3, the North Carolina manufacturer of synthetic moissanite, has discovered coated moissanite occurring unintentionally during specific but as yet unidentified jewelry manufacturing processes. It allows the gem to fool standard reflectivity meters so that some moissanite will read as diamond.

Mechanically and thermally resilient, the coating can’t be scratched, boiled, or burned off.

Not wanting to give unscrupulous gem hustlers an easy way to produce this effect, C3 finds itself in an awkward position. “We don’t want to teach people how to do it, yet we want to provide enough information so jewelers aren’t fooled by inaccurate reflectivity tests,” says Jeff Hunter, the company president.

Hunter says C3 isn’t intending to manufacture synthetic moissanite with the coating. An easy way to identify moissanite is to look for doubling of facet junctions using standard magnification. – Gary Roskin

Little, lovable baby shoe pendants are generating a big and very nasty legal tiff in New York. Over the past 15 months the Aaron Basha Corp. has filed three lawsuits, claiming that companies infringed on its copyright as an exclusive U.S. licensee for Basha Baby Shoe pendants designed by Staurino Fratelli of Italy.

The first suit, filed against Benham Jewelry Corp. of New York, resulted in a confidential settlement. Of the 11 companies named in a second suit, 10 have settled. Basha’s third case, directed against jewelry manufacturer Felix B. Vollman Inc. and several of its retail customers, prompted a counter-suit for more than $500,000 in damages. The retailers named in Basha’s lawsuit that carry the Vollman line of baby shoe pendants include Cellini of New York, Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry of Louisiana, and Lux, Bond & Green of West Hartford, Conn.

Vollman says it counter-sued to protect its clients against harassment and to safeguard its name and product line. Vollman’s attorney, Nancy Wolff, says the Basha lawsuit is “without merit. Aaron Basha is trying to say no one else can do an enamel baby shoe. The copyright doesn’t protect ideas, just specifically how to express those ideas.”

Basha also has sent more than 100 cease-and-desist letters to companies said to be manufacturing baby shoe pendants with designs similar to its own. What’s more, Basha mailed advisement letters to more than 2,000 manufacturers and retailers claiming proprietary rights to this line of baby shoe products and warning them not to offer similar pendants.

Basha’s attorney, Amy Goldsmith, says this is the first time she’s seen a client send such letters to retailers. “Typically a plaintiff would go after a manufacturer, but Basha feels loyal to its own retailers and wants to protect their retail base. That is unusual. However, this product has taken off. When that happens in the jewelry industry, people want to ride on your bandwagon.”

At issue in the Basha-Vollman litigation are conflicting interpretations of which elements of the Basha Baby Shoe are protected under copyright law. Basha’s attorney says the standard in the Circuit Court of Appeals is “the perspective of the ordinary observer to determine the likelihood of confusion.” Basha says the Benham case clarified which features of its baby shoes are protected by copyright: dual-color enamel separated by a band, the particular patterns of stones on the toe, and a stylized bow.

Vollman contends that its pendants are substantially different from Basha’s. The company says it sells a high-top infant booty and not a shoe, and that its product has a different size and shape and is composed of three-part enamel. Vollman also claims its design is an updated version of a booty mold that the 75-year-old firm designed in the 1960s and that the company registered the design with the U.S. Copyright Office two years ago. – Jessica Stein Diamond

Mystery Lazare Kaplan recently shocked the industry by announcing it will sell stones that have undergone a mysterious new process to enhance their “color, brilliance, and brightness.”

Lazare Kaplan vice president Sheldon Ginsberg says the secret treatment – which occurs prior to polishing – is permanent, irreversible, and undetectable and keeps the stone “all-natural.” A new company subsidiary, Pegasus Overseas Limited, based in Antwerp, will be devoted to selling the stones – which won’t be any cheaper than comparable stones that haven’t undergone the process.

Not even buyers of the treated diamonds will be given details of the new process, which is based on proprietary information. All Ginsberg will say is, “This doesn’t involve fracture-filling, laser-drilling, surface-coating, or irradiating.”

Experts speculate that the process involves some sort of cleaning, similar to acid boiling. Virtually all diamonds are subject to acid boiling, which doesn’t have to be disclosed under the FTC Guides for the Jewelry Industry.

Pegasus has a 10-year, exclusive agreement to use the technology, which was developed and is owned by General Electric. – Rob Bates