Some say treated and some say enhanced, but is there really a difference between the two words?
By Marlene A. Prost
To enhance: to make greater, better, heighten.
To treat: to subject to some process, chemical, etc.
Look up the words "enhancement" and "treatment" in Webster's New World Dictionary and you'll find two distinct definitions that could never be confused.
But ask any two experts in the colored stone industry to differentiate between the enhancement and treatment of gemstones and you'll start a debate over semantics, disclosure, and economics.
Many industry experts agree that the words are synonymous, that they refer to anything done to improve the appearance and marketability of a gemstone. Some, however, make a technical distinction between treatments and enhancements, saying that they are not all created equal. Still others take a more literal view, insisting that treatment is the accurate term, while enhancement is preferred only for marketing purposes.
Disagreement is so heated that the issue will be addressed by a special committee of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which is creating national standards for gemstones.
If any two groups represent opposite poles, they might be the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The FTC consistently uses the word "treatment" in its Guides for the Jewelry, Precious Metals and Pewter Industries. The AGTA, on the other hand, maintains that all treatments may be called enhancements because they are literally done to enhance the stone.
The two terms are "essentially interchangeable," says AGTA Executive Director Douglas Hucker. "You assume there's a difference in the words I don't think is warranted. Treatments are the same as enhancements. When you do something with gemstones, it's considered a treatment. We use 'enhancement' as often as we can because we think it sounds better. That doesn't mean there's a dividing line."
The AGTA Source Directory for 2000-2001 defines enhancement as any "traditional" process that improves the appearance, durability, or availability of a gemstone, other than cutting and polishing. The important thing, stresses Hucker, is that any enhancement/treatment must be specifically disclosed.
To that end, the Source Directory provides a detailed system of letters to use for disclosure. When a stone undergoes a "traditional enhancement process," such as heating a sapphire or oiling an emerald, the stone is identified with the symbol "E" for enhancement, used in conjunction with definitions in the AGTA's guidelines on disclosure.
Less common enhancements such as dyeing, irradiation, and diffusion are referred to in the directory as "treatment processes." Those treatments are identified by symbols such as D for dyeing, HP for heating and pressure, and U for diffusion.
The wording in the Source Directory seems to make a distinction between enhancements and treatments, as does Roland Naftule of Nafco Gems, who revised those guidelines as chair of the AGTA's Industry Rules committee.
He notes that the term treated sounds "harsher" than enhanced; it implies something is broken and has to be fixed, while enhanced connotes improving something cosmetically to make it look better.
"Enhancement is something that is commonly done to a particular stone, while treatment is seldom done to the stone," he says.
For example, most emeralds on the market have been enhanced with oil or other colorless fillers. "We call these enhancements because 98 percent are sold that way. They are enhanced by a colorless agent. Maybe one-and-a-half percent of emeralds have never been enhanced.
"I don't see it so much as a controversy [but] as a method to describe better the way these stones are handled," Naftule continues. "It's the reality. Unless you enhance the emerald with colorless filler, you'd hardly have any emeralds in the market.
"Generally speaking, the trade feels certain types of processes should be called treatments because they're not the norm," explains Naftule. For example, the color diffusion of sapphires is something that is done to perhaps 100 out of a million sapphires; most of the rest are probably heat-enhanced. "Notice I used enhanced for heat and treated for diffusion. The reason is, it's not necessary to diffuse a sapphire to get it into the marketplace, because there's plenty out there. The bulk are heated. They get thermal enhancement."
Naftule heads the ANSI committee developing standards for the jewelry industry, including terminology for treated/enhanced gems. He says it is "premature" to discuss the terminology to be reviewed.
Israel Eliezri, head of Colgem Ltd. and president of the International Colored Gemstone Association, also distinguishes between treatments and enhancements.
"Enhanced, I would say, just completes the process of cutting and setting the stone, not making any changes to the physical or chemical properties," says Eliezri. "Treatments are more aggressive, making some changes to the chemical properties. Some ways of enhancement are necessary [to sell the gem]; some treatments are extras, not necessary."
But while some dealers make a distinction between the two terms, for the most part the academic community doesn't.
Treatment and enhancement are "essentially synonymous," says Kurt Nassau, an independent scientist who literally wrote the book on the subject: Gemstone Enhancement.
"Recognize I am a scientist and I do not sell stuff," he says. "A person who sells stuff is concerned how to use [the terms] to customers without leaving any negative connotations. To me, either term is fine as long as everybody agrees." Asked which term he prefers, he says: "I did call my book 'Gemstone Enhancement,' so I could say I prefer [that term] . . . because to me enhancement does imply improvement."
But if one were to make distinctions, says Nassau, scientifically speaking filling a crack is "worse" than irradiation because a totally new material is being introduced. "To me, filling cracks and dyeing are essentially the same. You're adding something not in nature. To me, irradiation is a heat process that occurs in nature all the time."
The bottom line, he concludes, is that any enhancements/treatments must be disclosed under FTC requirements. "At that point, all argument has to stop. The FTC has the final word."
The FTC's disclosure guidelines were expanded in December to include disclosure of laser drilling and other permanent gemstone treatments that significantly affect the value of the gemstone. (See cover story FTC Ups Disclosure Ante.)
Many in the industry do not agree with the revisions, however. The FTC is "too literal and single-minded," says Naftule. He criticizes the FTC for referring to all enhancements as treatments without taking specifics into account. "I don't believe they understand colored stones. Remember, the people who make rules of the FTC are lawyers, not gem dealers. They don't understand our product . . . why one thing is different from the other. It's like if doctors asked the FTC how to work on the heart and they came up with a ruling, this is the way to do it."
Despite the disagreement, the FTC guidelines have become the industry standard. Gemologist Cap Beesley says that his lab, American Gemological Laboratories, uses both terms in documents in order to meet FTC requirements.
"We use both terms with consistency, with deference to what the FTC requires. My understanding is the FTC prefers treatment. We carry out the letter and spirit of the law," says Beesley.
Both terms are fine, adds Beesley. "Treatment and enhancement have the same effect, fundamentally altering the appearance of the natural state of the material." Debating the difference is just "smoke and mirrors" that confuses the people on the firing line: the consumer and retailer.
"Jewelers and consumers are at risk because of the Mickey Mouse arguments that go on. We've been squabbling over the terms for years. Enhancement and treatment have been around long enough that everyone gets it at the trading level. I'm not sure everyone gets it at the consumer level," says Beesley.
Beesley is in a unique position to discuss terminology. He and his mentor, legendary gemologist Robert Crowningshield, were involved in drafting the original version of the AGTA's guidelines in the 1970s for Modern Jeweler, he says.
"Originally, the term treatment was the order of the day. 'Enhancement' was not used with any regularity," says Beesley. After the guidelines appeared, meetings were held in the industry and "The word enhancement came to the fore. Treatment was interpreted as a negative term, slam dunking the material." By the early 1980s, "Enhancement emerged as the term of the day."
Some experts still maintain that the industry should call a spade a spade. If a treatment is a treatment, why not use the word? asks Tom Tashey, owner of Professional Gem Sciences Inc. in Chicago.
"It's a tricky issue, emotional to a lot of people," says Tashey. "I'm a lab, I'm not involved in buying and selling. To me, [the term] treatment is not so bad. I understand it has a stigma to it, [but] I feel treatment is the easiest, most straightforward [term]."
Clearly, some methods referred to as enhancements could be considered treatments, says Tashey. "Some, like diffusion of sapphire, are definitely treatments because . . . the price difference between natural and blue sapphire is significant. Dyeing is a clear-cut treatment [as well]."
Both treatment and enhancement are "sales categories" that are in no way related to a "scientific scheme," says gemologist W. William Hanneman, Ph.D., of Hanneman Gemological Instruments in Poulsbo, Washington.
"All these terms are defined by people who want to make money by essentially deceiving the public by making the product appear [more] desirable," he says.
The public has accepted that most gems are heat treated, so now the trade industry says that heat treatment is just an enhancement, he notes. "But enhancement doesn't tell you anything about heat treating. Heat treating does! You're burying what you're doing," asserts Hanneman.
"Everything is [called] an enhancement. Even faceting a stone is an enhancement. Some would say heat-treating is like faceting. . . . The question is, at what point does rearranging the molecular structure [make the stone] synthetic?"
"Anything can be an enhancement," he continues. "What's the difference between a white sapphire that's heat treated to clear it up, and enhancement with chemicals to make [the gem] dark blue? They're both enhanced."
The debate over terminology has become even more complicated with the development of the Bellataire diamond, which undergoes a high pressure/high temperature (HPHT) technique formally referred to as a "process" - introducing the term process as a potential alternative to "treatment."
The Bellataire diamond was introduced in 1999 by General Electric Co. and Pegasus Overseas Limited (POL), a subsidiary of Lazare Kaplan International today, the diamond is marketed in the United States by Bellataire Diamonds Inc. of New York.
The HPHT process is applied to the relatively rare brown Type IIa diamond to remove the brown and convert it to a whiter, and far more valuable, diamond. The GIA refers to the diamond as processed in its certification reports, says Bellataire spokesperson Chuck Meyer.
A process is any activity applied to the manufacture of diamonds from rough to final product, including laser shaping, polishing, and high pressure acid boiling, explains Meyer.
The HPHT method is a process and not a treatment, he adds, because it does not meet the three criteria of a treatment: It is permanent, it does not add or take away material, and it does not require future special care.
When the diamond was first developed, the industry was concerned that the process was not detectable, so the letters GE POL are laser inscribed on the girdle of each stone. Meyer says that laboratories have since found improved ways to detect the process.
In an article last summer, the GIA suggested that the word "process" may someday be used in a manner similar to "enhancement" and might become an acceptable term for treatments other than HPHT.
However, some gemologists remain skeptical about calling the Bellataire method a process rather than a treatment.
"I'm not opposed to the process [itself]. It's an alchemist's dream come true," says Beesley. "[But] 'process' is a chicken term to cover up what's going on. . . . Treatment and enhancement have the same effect. You're fundamentally altering the appearance of the natural state of the material. Now they're introducing the term process. I don't believe in labs manipulating terms to appease the community."