Why Jewelers Are Doing Their Own Diamond Grading

When Craig Underwood buys a diamond with a grading report, he reviews the document—and then promptly files it away. Like a growing number of retail jewelers, the Fayetteville, Ark.–based owner of Underwood’s Fine Jewelers has begun to offer clients his own in-house diamond evaluations because he can’t always reconcile the discrepancies between diamond grading reports from different gem labs.

Underwood and other ­jewelers adopting this practice tell JCK they’re committed to presenting customers with certificates of replacement or detailed store receipts instead of diamond grading reports or lab certificates.

“We’ll give the customer a lab-issued diamond grading report if the customer specifically asks for it, but that rarely happens,” Underwood says. “Most of the time the lab-issued grading report is filed in our archives and never shown to the customer. The only report the customer receives is our Underwood Diamond Report.”

Jeff Jaffe, president and co-owner of Harold Jaffe Jewelers, in Toledo, Ohio, takes the same approach. “We don’t believe in any certificates—even from the better labs,” he says. “If I agree with the diamond grading document, I’ll use it. But we usually go downward—not upward—when comparing our diamond evaluations to grading reports from a lab.”

Peter Yantzer, executive director of the AGS Lab, reminds retailers that regardless of where the report originates, “ultimately, the retail jeweler is responsible for the finding presented to the customer.”

Most retailers who believe in-house reports are a better bet began grading their own diamonds in the early 1990s. In recent years, however, the practice has gathered steam. Not only do internal reports help improve quality control, but they’ve also served as an important cost-cutting measure.

“We’re certifying fewer stones,” Jaffe says. “And in this economy, it’s not about the paper; it’s about the diamond value for the dollar.”

For some retailers, it’s also about finding better ways to communicate the characteristics of a diamond.

In Midland, Texas, Occasions Fine Jewelry has come up with its very own language to reconcile discrepancies among lab-issued reports. Mike Fleck and his father, Michael, recently created “Value Notes.” These are, essentially, crib notes for the sales staff ­written on diamond parcel papers, framed in wording that completely avoids the time-honored 4Cs.

“We use terms such as face-up whiter, or a 90-point spread as big as a carat,” says second-generation owner Mike. “Each parcel paper will have three to four Value Notes on it.”

So far, the initiative encompasses only size and cut descriptions. The next step is creating Value Notes on color and clarity. Eventually, Occasions is looking to issue its own grading reports with Value Notes terminology to convey the quality of its diamonds to customers. “This is a bold and time-consuming initiative for us,” says Mike. “But by changing the way our customers talk about diamonds, we have the potential to be market leaders.”