New challenges for the gem trade.
Today most gemstones have been heated, radiated, diffused, filled, dyed, bleached, oiled, coated, or any possible combination of these.
(Photo: High-tech gemstone burner)
Low-grade sapphire is radiated and burned into blue or diffused into orange, white topaz is radiated into London blue, brown zircon is cooked blue, quartz becomes citrine, and so on.
New technologies create gems that are essentially man-made mutant gems but are sold as "natural".
(Photo: unknown filling in Burma ruby)
Some treatments are known and legal, others are considered cheating, some are permanent, and others fade. Some traders disclose treatments, some don't.
What really happens to gemstones is hidden in Asia. Even the best gemologists can hardly oversee every new process that is used to "enhance" a gemstone.
New treatments are developed in more and more rapid succession. Every new treatment needs months, or even years, to be indentified. Meanwhile the door is wide open for fraud and misuse.
1. Heated gemstones are less durable.
Extreme heat causes a gem's surface to become brittle. Over time the faceted edges of a heated gemstone will wear out and the stone will begin to look dull or chip, reducing his future value even more.
(Photo: "chipped" heated sapphire)
2. Treated stones might be a risk to health.
Ever since gems exhibiting radioactivity or containing beryllium have appeared on the market people worry about what else might have been done to the gemstones they wear.
(Photo: radiated tourmaline)
3. Treated gemstones are unnatural and not rare.
Before and after radiation: Topaz
Geuda - 18 tons are
mined per annum
Sapphire in most unnatural
color made from Geuda
More and more people think that turning an ugly pebble into sapphire is not "enhancing" of natural beauty, but fake.
Ted Themalis (the grandmaster of gemstone treatment):
"For years I have been saying that the definition of "gem" must be changed: A gem must be untreated to be called GEM!"
4. Treated stones do not retain value.
A gem's value is determined by its rarity. The past has shown how entire varieties were devaluated when new treatments hit the market:
Prices of heated yellow sapphire crashed over night when newly treated yellows flooded the Tucson Gem Show in the 90s
Blue topaz is now sold for a few dollars since it became possible to radiate and heat colorless stones into sky blue ones
Thousands of BE treated padparadschas appeared recently in Japan and prices for treated pink-orange sapphires have dropped by 80%.
The gem trade is thrown into turmoil, but the public demand for product information is simply normal:
"Educated consumers do not [anymore] appreciate buying products of questionable origin containing unknown ingredients induced in secret production from countries notorious for bad consumer protection."
On their ways from the mines to Japan, America or Europe most gems pass through so many different hands and countries that no one really knows what has happened to them and where they came from.
The traditional supply chain is a mess when it comes to transparency and product information. Therefore Wild Fish has implemented its own sourcing methods and offers only certified and untreated gemstones.
Medical Aspects of Beryllium Use in Gemstone Enhancement
By S.K. Samuels, M.S., M.D., G.G.
At the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) seminar in Tucson (February 7, 2003) on "Beryllium Diffusion Coloration of Sapphire," a number of comments and questions were raised about the health hazards of beryllium-treated gems. Other than the federal government's requirements for the handling of beryllium, no information was available.
Some earlier details were reported on bulk or lattice-treated stones (1) and were issued January 8, 2002 on the AGTA Web site. Another report appeared in Gems and Gemology (2). These reports suggest that one of the agents used in the treatment was beryllium, the light element Be4. The reason given for this treatment is to improve the color of the gem. The enhancement appears to produce color change in corundum from some localities to make the sapphire and rubies more pleasing. There currently is much consternation and confusion in the trade about the propriety of such treatments, their effect on full disclosure or lack thereof, and the effect of such treatment upon the valuation of gems. To add to the woes, there is evidence that such treatments pose a health hazard not only to the workers who process and cut the gemstones, but also to gem merchants who handle treated stones and the customer who wears such treated gems.
To address the issue of beryllium use and its medical effects, a brief literature search was made, and the results are presented here. They will help lay persons understand the medical risks beryllium poses to the jewelry industry.
This brief review shows that Be4 has important medical effects. Beryllium (BeO) is a silvery white metal and possesses some of the best mechanical properties of the light elements (3). The ore that is mined (in its natural state) has a chemical formula of Be3Al2Si6O10. It also is found in several other forms. In its oxide form (BeO), beryllium can cause illness, this effect is true whether inhaled or through skin contact.
It has been known for almost a century that miners exposed to the ore developed serious lung disease. These reports appeared in early 20th-century medical textbooks and indicated that exposed workers developed granulomatous lung disease similar to that seen in Silicosis and Pneumoconiosis, a condition of progressive lung disease leading to fibrosis, lung masses, pulmonary impairment, respiratory failure, and death. BeO is used in Uranium reactors, when plutonium is made from uranium.
Its use in high technology in the late 1940s led to the development of Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD) in workers exposed to beryllium. CBD was found in workers who extracted and produced beryllium phosphor to make fluorescent lamps (4). In 1947, Hardy, et al., reported 17 fluorescent lamp workers with advanced pulmonary granulomatous disease. They reported that while the overall attack rate was between 1 to 16 percent, severe disease was noted in patients with low exposures, and tissue levels of beryllium do not correlate with the presence or the extent of the disease. CBD has also been reported in bystanders, as well as persons residing near beryllium processing plants (5). The list of industries that use beryllium includes:
1. aerospace foundries
2. beryllium extraction nuclear reactors
3. fabrication, smelting
4. ceramics nuclear weapons
5. dental alloys and prosthesis plating
6. electronics telecommunications
7. tool and die
To this list can be added heat-treaters of sapphires and rubies.
In 1951, Sterner and Eisenbud (6) described the immune pathogenesis of Chronic Beryllium Disease. Beryllium and other metals elicits a immunologic reactions in humans, including a delayed hypersensitivity reaction. Beryllium induces a proliferative response in the peripheral blood lymphocytes, consisting largely of T lymphocytes and CD 4 cells, along with elevations of serum immunoglobulins. (This reaction can be specific to beryllium.) In the lung, beryllium produces a active granulomatous disease. These granuloma are maintained by CD 4 cells. Some genetic factors appear to play a role; however, a detailed discussion of the subject is not germane to this paper (7). The development of CBD does not appear to be dose related. Family members who had no contact with beryllium were known to develop CBD, indicating that the exposure-response relationship is complex and that past exposure cannot be ignored.
Sterner and Eisenbud further reported on tests such as harvesting of lung cells by Broncho-alveolar lavage. They subsequently reported on other tests such as the Beryllium lymphocyte proliferation test (BLPT). These tests were carried out on workers in the ceramics industries. The tests may initially have been negative, but when followed longitudinally, the test was positive even after an interval of 15 years. They reported that beryllium induces an antigen-driven immunologic response. The results are not dose related, the threshold for sensitization to beryllium is low, but skin sensitization is high.
Given the above, it appears that workers who treat stones with beryllium are at risk for developing chronic beryllium disease. The incidence in workers exposed to beryllium is complex and is not known. Family members of beryllium miners have been known to develop CBD also. People in the jewelry trade and the end user (i.e., the customer) may also be at risk, due to the delayed hypersensitivity reaction which appears not to be dose related but, rather, related to complex genetic and other factors. This raises serious questions about acceptance of such treated material in the jewelry trade. Due to lack of details of the material used in the enhancement process, and keeping in mind that only some forms of beryllium ? such as phospor, BeO and BeFe, and other analogues ? can cause CBD, it is important to obtain further details about the form of beryllium used in the enhancement process. This information may also help in other ways, that may provide information leading to information that people who may have already exposed, and to access the risk it poses to those who come into contact with it in the future.
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."
The Chanthaburi Connection:
The Case of the Mysterious
"The degree to which gems are treated has spun out of control.. (Some new procedures) don't just enhance the stone, they design it beyond what nature intended.", a U.S. gem trade professional
About 250 kilometers southeast of Bangkok, not far from the Cambodian border, lies the town of Chanthaburi. Chanthaburi is a center of world trade in colored gems, primarily rubies and sapphires. (Both ruby and sapphire are of the gem species corundum. Red corundum is classified as ruby, all other colors are called sapphire.) It is estimated that 50% to 80% of the world's rubies and sapphires pass through Chanthaburi to be sorted and treated. There they are sold to wholesalers who polish the gems and sell them to retailers and jewelry manufacturers around the world. Thus, whatever happens in Chanthaburi affects the world gem market.
In late 2001, the gem markets of Chanthaburi were suddenly flooded with a very rare orange-pink sapphire called a Padparadsha. Wholesalers immediately began buying the Padparadshas at prices as much as ten times the going rate for regular pink or yellow sapphire.
With the sapphire market thrown into turmoil by the unexpected influx of Padparadshas, a suspicious gem industry wondered, "Were the Padparadshas natural, or were these low-quality sapphires that had been treated to look like the rare and expensive ones?"
In the gem industry it is acceptable industry practice to heat imperfect gems to enhance their color and appearance. These treatments began in Chanthaburi more than 30 years ago, when technology allowed stoves to burn at temperatures as high as 3,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Today, at least 90% of the rubies and sapphires sold worldwide are heat-treated.
Contemporary treatments involve not only heating but also using additives. For example, processors add titanium to colorless sapphires to create rich blue hues. They also conceal fractures and cavities by filling them with baser materials. Such treatments are controversial because they can be used to mislead the customer about the quality of the gem. Ethical dealers will disclose such treatments each time the gem material is sold (trader to wholesaler, wholesaler to jewelry manufacturer, manufacturer to retailer, retailer to consumer).
When the "Padparadshas" of Chanthaburi hit the wholesale market, no such disclosure was made. Indeed, many international laboratories subsequently appraised them as genuine. However, the Gemological Testing Center of American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) was suspicious because all the stones they examined had uniform color penetration. Most natural stones have uneven color zones. Gemologists there also noted that the color did not penetrate to the core, suggesting that color had been applied. It turned out low-quality stones had been diffusion treated with beryllium to mimic the rare Padparadshas.
Wholesalers who bought the fake Padparadshas paid about $4,000 a carat, 10 times what the stones were worth. Retailers could wind up paying $15,000 to $20,000 per carat, because the markup for color stones is much higher than for diamonds. The high prices are passed on to the consumer.
New technologies and the expanding gem market encourage more and more processing of gems to imitate rarity and high quality. Gem treatments have, as one industry expert put it, "spun out of control," and so has the variety of scams. A consumer buying high-priced, purportedly rare, gems should always have the quality verified by an experienced gemologist.
FOR AGENTS & UNDERWRITING
Natural Padparadshas are very rare in nature and are priced accordingly. Such high-priced jewelry should have two appraisals describing the jewelry and verifying its quality. At least one should be from a graduate gemologist who is also a Certified Insurance Appraiser (CIA)?.
For colored stones, it is essential that the appraisal be written by a gemologist experienced with colored stones. Most jewelers deal primarily with diamonds, and even a trained gemologist may have little experience with colored stones. Note that several labs passed on the bogus Padparadshas before one lab discovered the fraud.
All treatments not part of the usual processing of the gem should be disclosed on the appraisal. A trained gemologist will be able to identify treatments that should be disclosed.
If a gem is not treated, that should be specifically stated on the appraisal. A treated stone has only a fraction of the value of an untreated gem of similar appearance.
Radioactive Gemstones Circulating in Asia
By James Mclean
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Hundreds of dangerously radioactive gemstones are circulating in Asian markets and some have found their way into finished jewelry, Bangkok gemologists told Reuters.
Tests conducted by radiologists in the Thai capital showed radiation levels in some stones were more than 50 times the U.S. safety limit and could cause health problems, including cancer.
"It is most likely that the stone has been bombarded with neutrons in a nuclear reactor," Bangkok's Center for Gemstone Testing said in a recent warning.
The concerns center on batches of a popular semi-precious stone called a "cat's eye" that are believed to have been irradiated to change their color from yellow, when they are worth a few hundred U.S. dollars per carat, to an unusual chocolate hue priced at thousands of dollars per carat.
A 30-carat radioactive cat's eye set with diamonds in a finished ring was discovered recently at a jewelry fair in Hong Kong, jewelry executives said.
"When it was placed in front of a Geiger counter (radiation detector) we literally leaped back. The machine was just screeching every time the ring went near it," said Jon McDonald, an editor at a local jewelry media firm who witnessed the ring being tested.
Tests recently conducted by laboratories in Bangkok on one 3.5-carat stone showed radioactivity levels greater than 52 nanoCuries per gram (nCi/g). The U.S. safety limit is one nCi/g, and the legal limit in Asia is 2.0 nCi/g, gemologists said.
"This is dangerous, it could make your skin cancerous and destroy white blood cells," said Bandhong Wangcharoenroong, director of the radiation measurement division at Thailand's Office of Atomic Energy for Peace.
Several hundred carats of the stones were thought to be circulating in
Bangkok but the problem was region-wide, said Ken Scarratt, director of the Center for Gemstone Testing.
"The biggest problem is in places like Indonesia and Japan. In Indonesia a gem lab there has seen hundreds of these stones coming through," Scarratt told Reuters.
"The lab in Indonesia said boxes full of these stones were being brought in for examination," Scarratt said.
The center's statement said: "The industry, particularly in Thailand,
Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan (where most of the stones are thought to have circulated) should have all cat's eyes of an unusual color checked for radioactivity immediately."
Dealers believe low quality cat's eyes from Orissa in India were being
exported to Indonesia for radiation enhancement and sold on from there.
"We can say with our hands on our heart that the evidence we have at this time from the questions we have asked, from the people we have spoken to and stuff volunteered to us indicate that Indonesia is the center of this problem," Scarratt said.
But an Indonesian jewelry industry official in Jakarta said he doubted his country was the source of the radioactive gemstones.
"Indonesia buys a lot of gemstones from Burma, Thailand and India but to my knowledge there are no labs here to treat gemstones," said the official, who declined to be identified.
"There are laboratories to test gemstone quality, but there are no labs to treat gemstones," he told Reuters.
He said irradiating gemstones was done elsewhere to increase their value and one of his colleagues had discovered such stones in Thailand a couple of years ago.
"My friend used to buy gemstones from Bangkok until he came across
gemstones exposed to radiation two years ago," he said. "Since then he has stopped buying gemstones from Bangkok."
Tests suggested the stones would not be safe until the turn of the century and should be kept in lead containers until that time, Scarratt said.
Meanwhile, worried Thai gem dealers were buying up radiation detectors, distributors said.
"Most of the people doing business in Thailand have very little knowledge of the radiation in the stones. I hope we can help educate them," said Monta Chaiyabal, managing director of industrial monitoring equipment distributor Duwell Intertrade Co Ltd, which sells Geiger counters.
"I know that the stones are radioactive for people, and it is dangerous for people maybe to wear it," she said.
June 2000 issue of JCK:
Are Treatments Killing the Romance of Gems?
A long-time gemologist says gem treatments have gotten out of hand so much so that the future of the jewelry industry is threatened.
By Stuart Robertson, G.G.
A specter is haunting the jewelry industry, the specter of treatments. Consider these excerpts from recent lab reports on ruby, sapphire, emerald, and pearl: "Indications of thermal enhancement, artificial glassy residue present in fissures." "Indication of diffusion treatment present." "Clarity-enhanced by artificial resin, determined through Raman investigation." "Treated natural pearl with evidence of artificial color modification." These are hardly the kind of poetic utterances one usually associates with "romancing the stone."
The unique character inherent in so many crystals, the slight secondary hue in a Burmese ruby, the intricate web woven of "silk" trapped inside a Burmese sapphire, is being eradicated. The very features that contribute to the beauty of an individual gem are being burned away, leaving a stockpile of homogenized stones that imitate fine quality but will never stir passion in the hearts of dealers who know the truth. Rarity, the trait that made fine gems so alluring, has practically disappeared.
Treatments everywhere. Enhancements do serve an important function. Tanzanite, for example, owes its color entirely to heat, and the gem is accepted throughout the industry without much talk of disclosure. Using a little heat to drive out the slightly greenish modifier in an aquamarine or to purify the red in a ruby is certainly legitimate, and adding oil or Gematrat to diminish some of the clarity characteristics in an emerald is perfectly acceptable.
Today, however, nearly every colored gem and pearl sold has been treated in some way, often to an extent few people?even jewelers themselves?realize. The degree to which these gems are treated has spiraled out of control, threatening one of the cornerstones of the industry, the mystique of the "natural" gemstone. Today's thermal treatment doesn't simply enhance a gemstone, it redesigns it.
How does one define "too much treatment?" Here are three examples: Heating bicolored corundum once to make it red and a second time to repair its fractures, all to be able to call it "fine ruby." Bleaching, dyeing, and waxing akoya pearls to produce brightness and overtones seldom found in nature. Heating amethyst until it becomes something else (citrine).
Corundum conundrum. Once upon a time, enhanced gems were worth less than unenhanced. But between once-upon-a-time and today, the entire focus of enhancements shifted. Richard W. Hughes, author of Ruby & Sapphire, says the catalyst for this change was, in part, the geuda sapphire. The geuda is a milky grayish to extremely pale blue corundum that's virtually worthless. It was used as gravel to line the bottoms of small fishbowls in Sri Lanka, where the material originates, until miners and dealers discovered that exposure to heat transformed these crystals to a fine Ceylon blue color. Hughes was studying at the Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences under Henry Ho when he saw his first geuda. "I can remember the confused look on Ho's face when I asked how much less they would be worth after treating. Ho just looked at me and said, "Now they are worth more.' "
Thus began the mass treating of corundum. Treaters soon began to experiment on nearly everything, including stones that could stand on their own. Corundum of virtually all origins was heated, even material from places such as Burma. At this point the trade made a crucial error. According to Hughes, "Treated stones were accepted and sold as completely natural, with no distinction made between treated and naturally colored gems. Things had gone too far." Swept up in the excitement of creating a sustainable source of marketable gems, few stopped to consider that without the ability to segregate the natural from the treated, it would be the natural, and all it represented, that would suffer.
The troubling case of rubies. Technological advances in the last quarter- century make it possible not only to alter color but also to heal the crystal. Mong Hsu rubies are a case in point. By using temperatures that reach the melting point combined with flux compounds, today's treaters can repair fractures and heal fissures in inferior material, radically altering the appearance and quality of the material. The process does leave diagnostic inclusions, but initially these can confuse gemologists, leading to misidentification.
As information trickled out about the degree to which ruby crystals from Mong Hsu are altered, segments of the industry sought euphemisms (e.g., "inadvertent byproduct of heat treatment") to use in disclosing the resultant flux-like inclusions. But a 1995 article in Gems & Gemology (by A. Peretti, K. Schmetzer, H.-J. Bernhardt, and F. Mouawad, Spring 1995, pp. 2-26) makes it clear that flux inclusions are no accident: "According to information obtained in Bangkok, some commercial Thai laboratories use a two-step procedure to heat treat Mong Hsu rubies," the article states. "First, the samples are heated, without the use of a borax, to remove the violet core. Then, the rubies are heated in a borax container to fill fissures and thus enhance apparent clarity."
John Koivula, chief research gemologist at the Gemological Institute of America, suggests that the stuff appearing in healed or repaired fissures and as a residue on the surface of some Mong Hsu rubies may not be glass. It may be remnants of inclusions and impurities from the ruby itself, which were forced toward the crystal's surface through fractures and fissures while in molten form. He equates this with lava flowing out of a volcano during an eruption.
C.R. Beesley, president of American Gemological Laboratories in New York, agrees that this partially explains the repaired fractures, but he doesn't think it's the primary factor. "The borax works to facilitate the repair, so whether the fractures have been filled with a foreign material such as glass or a material equating synthetic ruby is not yet understood," Beesley says.
Hughes questions whether the nature of the repaired fractures is relevant. "The issue is not really the residue, which is often microscopic, but the fact that before treatment these rubies are severely fractured, and after treatment these fractures are gone," he says.
Slamming the door on disclosure. The response to concerns about treatments has been perverse. Instead of seeking greater awareness and demanding enough information to enable jewelers to detect treatments, the industry has taken the opposite tack. Disclosure is still based on what can be detected, and the major gem associations have lowered the standard of detection. They've decided, in effect, that if a filling isn't visible at 10x magnification, it doesn't exist. For example, here are two definitions from the American Gem Trade Association's Gem Information Manual:
Filling. The filling of surface-breaking cavities or fissures with colorless glass, plastic, solidified borax, or similar substances, which are visible at 10x magnification. This process will improve durability [and] appearance and/or add weight.
Heating. The use of heat to effect desired alteration of color, clarity, and/or phenomena. (Residue of foreign substances in open fissures is not visible under properly illuminated 10x magnification.)
How will the market interpret this? Is the industry prepared to accept the undisclosed fracture filling of diamond when not visible above 10x? As Beesley suggests, the 10x standard "sends the wrong message. It simply isn't a matter of being visible at 10x and not at 9x. What does a fracture-filling look like at 9x? The issue is one of fracture-filling, period."
The 10x standard was implemented to address the legitimate concerns of retailers, who are becoming increasingly liable for enhancements, which are becoming increasingly difficult to detect. But for disclosure to be meaningful, it must reveal the nature of the treatment and the extent of alteration. Actions that suggest jewelers are hiding something only strengthen the public's suspicion that jewelers aren't trustworthy. Setting a 10x standard for detection may do exactly that.
Disclosure first. It's been clear for some time that meaningful disclosure cannot be based on detection. As new techniques for treating gems continue to outdistance methods of detection, it's obvious that disclosure needs to come early on, at the treating stage in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Brazil, or wherever the gems originate.
Unfortunately, as the industry continues to focus its efforts on detection, disclosure remains noticeably lacking at the crucial treating stage. John "Bear" Williams of Bear Essentials, Jefferson City, Mo., warns, "If we remain on the current course, the trade will find it necessary to have a report for every stone. The market should be careful to avoid getting to that point, because the reports will add to the price, but not the value, of the stone."
Lazare Kaplan International recently used the detection-before-disclosure argument to justify the secrecy surrounding the company's decolorized "Pegasus" diamonds (now marketed under the name "Bellataire"). Elly Rosen, an appraisal consultant, creator of the Internet-based Appraisers Information Network, and JCK's appraisal columnist, points out the major downside to this approach: "Given an understanding of what can be done to alter the appearance of gems today in what is, at least initially, an undetectable manner, we might soon have no way of setting a line between natural and synthetic," he says.
The notion that you don't have to disclose what you can't detect comes with a price. Warns Rosen, "We might be rapidly moving into an era where we have to say to consumers that we just don't know anymore, and it must be assumed that all gemstones, including diamonds, have been altered."
Can jewelers ethically encourage consumers to pay two months' salary for a product they admittedly know so little about?
If the industry wants a level of treatment that guarantees enough supply to fill any level of demand, then it must commit itself to meaningful disclosure. It can begin by rejecting the idea that treatments have been performed for hundreds or thousands of years. Such flimsy historical arguments form the backbone of much of the disclosure literature produced for the trade.
Here, for example, is a line from a consumer brochure designed to "educate" retail consumers about ruby treatment: "Although modern-day heating involves use of sophisticated furnaces and computerized control systems, the technique is not all that far removed from the one Pliny wrote about." It's doubtful Pliny ever saw a ruby heated to its melting point or one whose internal structure had been redesigned.
"Today's dramatic face-lifts are a far cry from the subtle changes of the past," says gemologist Richard Hughes. "We are reaching a situation today where the products produced through these processes nibble at the edge of synthesis, rather than belonging in the realm of the natural."
As technology advances, so does the industry's ability to improve the appearance of gem materials far beyond levels found in nature. Today, if you're selling a gem that's untreated, you'll have to prove it. And if nature's gems are pushed out of the marketplace, they're likely to take their rarity, romance, and history with them.
Stuart Robertson, a Graduate Gemologist, is research director and gemstone editor for Gemworld International Inc. in Northbrook, Ill. He also has experience as a sales associate in a retail jewelry store.
Beryllium Diffusion Coloration of Sapphire
A summary of ongoing experiments
John L. Emmett and Troy R. Douthit
Brush Prairie, WA
Wednesday, September 04, 2002
Information from the AGTA-GTC
Dr. John Emmett is a member of the AGTA-GTC Board of Governors and is a preeminent researcher into the physics and chemistry of corundum.
The following is a summary of the data collected by Dr Emmett and his co-worker Troy Douthit concerning the recent bulk diffusion practices that were started in Thailand. The availability of this data and the ongoing experiments that will help in the future understanding of the bulk diffusion treatment of corundum has been made possible in a large part by an infusion of funds from the AGTA-GTC Research Fund. The AGTA-GTC Research Fund is split into various project headings and all funds donated for a particular project are spent on that project alone.
AGTA through it's President, Richard Greenwood and the tireless work of its Laboratory Committee Chairman, Jeff Bilgore, continue to support fully these very important research initiatives.
As more experimental data becomes available, this will also be published at www.agta.org.
Beryllium Diffusion Coloration of Sapphire
A summary of ongoing experiments
John L. Emmett and Troy R. Douthit
Brush Prairie, WA
In early January 2002, AGTA Gemological Testing Center issued an alert warning traders that orange sapphires enhanced by a new process in Thailand appeared to be diffusion treated. (Surface diffusion is the common gemological term for this process but we will use the more scientifically correct term - bulk diffusion.) Evidence of this was a layer of orange color concentrated at the surface and just below the surface of stones, with that layer exactly conforming to the shape of the cut stone.
This sent gemologists scrambling to find the precise cause of color. Initial reports suggested a number of possibilities, but further studies have revealed that such stones are colored by bulk diffusion, with beryllium (Be) thought to be the primary causative agent.
Early observations of the surface conformal color layers in the pink-orange Madagascar sapphires indicated to us that the likely cause was the bulk diffusion into the stone of light elements such as beryllium, magnesium, or calcium (or perhaps lithium, sodium or potassium) and we so advised both GIA and the AGTA-GTC staff. These light elements substituting for aluminum in the sapphire lattice often create what is known in the scientific literature of corundum as "trapped-hole color centers". The trapped-hole color center in corundum causes a yellow coloration. This yellow coloration superimposed on a gem with a pink body color appears as orange. In colorless stones it appears yellow, but a very different color of yellow than is created by iron impurities.
At the February 2002 GILC meeting in Tucson, we discussed the coloration caused by trapped-hole color centers and the observations that some light element had obviously been diffused into the stones. At that meeting, Shane McClure of GIA presented data that indicated enhanced beryllium concentration in the colored layer. This does not occur naturally - it is an induced result.
Following the Tucson Show, we initiated a set of experiments by diffusing beryllium into a wide variety of sapphire types. A discussion of these first experiments entitled Understanding the New Treated Pink-Orange Sapphires can be found at www.palagems.com/treated_sapphire_emmett.htm. We have continued to conduct additional experiments and summarize the combined results here.
Our initial experiments used natural chrysoberyl from Madagascar as a source of beryllium, as it was our surmise that this new Thai process was discovered with the accidental inclusion of chrysoberyl in a parcel of sapphire being heat treated. Chrysoberyl is commonly found in parcels of sapphire from Madagascar. In the initial experiment we conducted two types of diffusion. The first was diffusion from a molten flux, as we judged this would most likely approximate Thai practice. Beryllium was added to both borate and phosphate fluxes by the addition of 2-4% chrysoberyl powder by weight. The stones were coated with the flux and then heated for 25 hours in an oxygen atmosphere at 1800°C. For the second type of diffusion, 2-4% chrysoberyl was mixed with high purity reagent grade aluminum oxide (sapphire) powder, and the stones imbedded in the powder. In this case the stones were heated in an oxygen atmosphere for 100 hours at 1780°C. The sapphires used for these experiments were pink and pale yellow from Madagascar, Songea sapphire, the "colorless" Sri Lanka sapphire that results from heat treating some types of geuda material, and high purity synthetic colorless sapphire.
These experiments reproduced both the complete range of colors and diffusion phenomenology that are observed in gemstones which are in the marketplace, plus a few more colors. We observed little differences among fluxes. The flux-processed stones show well-defined surface conformal color layers, while the powder-diffused stones are colored nearly completely through. This is, of course, because of the longer diffusion times in the powder experiments. As a result of these experiments, we have obtained a rough estimate of the chemical diffusion coefficient as being 100 times that of titanium or magnesium, or about 1/100 that of hydrogen for these conditions.
While these experiments were fairly definitive in the sense of showing that beryllium diffusion into sapphire was a key element in the new Thai heat treatment process, several questions remained. To determine if some of the impurities in the natural chrysoberyl or in the flux were important contributors to the final result, a new series of experiments was undertaken. In these experiments the chrysoberyl was replaced with high purity BeO (beryllium oxide) powder. Thus 0.8% BeO was added to high purity sapphire powder and the stones imbedded in the mixture. The stones were then heat treated for 33 hours in an oxygen atmosphere at 1780°C. The results of these experiments were the same as the earlier experiments using chrysoberyl, that is, all of the padparadscha, orange, gold, and yellow colors were produced. We then conducted the null experiment in which a similar group of stones were imbedded in pure sapphire powder without any beryllium compound. The stones were heated in the same way at 1780°C for 33 hours with the result that no color changes were produced. Thus it is quite clear that the beryllium diffused into these stones in an oxygen atmosphere is the single causative agent in the color changes.
The colors that are produced by the diffusion of beryllium into sapphire are primarily caused by a broad and strong absorption band in the blue region of the spectrum which produces a strong yellow coloration. This type of coloration is known in the scientific literature as a trapped-hole color center and similar coloration could, in principle, be caused by other divalent elements such as magnesium diffused into the stone. To determine if diffusion of magnesium into the stone could be a factor, we added 2% high purity MgO (magnesium oxide) into the high purity sapphire powder in which we imbedded a similar group of sapphires as in the experiments described above. The stones were then heated at 1800°C for 100 hours. There was no induced coloration in the stones. This is consistent with what we would expect, since the diffusion rate of magnesium into sapphire is extremely low. However, magnesium does produce yellow coloration where it occurs naturally in sapphire, and synthetic sapphire grown with magnesium doping also becomes yellow when processed at high temperature in an oxygen atmosphere.
We have also been experimenting with the diffusion of beryllium into other types of natural sapphire. The sapphire of Dry Cottonwood Creek, Montana is routinely processed at high temperature in an oxygen atmosphere to develop yellow and orange stones. This coloration results from the presence of naturally occurring magnesium. Typically, about 10% of a mine run sample develops strong coloration in this process. We chose a group of stones that when processed, did not develop such coloration and thus remained a very pale greenish color. These stones, when diffused with beryllium, all became a strong yellow or gold color. We next tested a natural unprocessed sample of Rock Creek, Montana sapphire with the result that all stones developed yellow to orange coloration. Sapphire from Madagascar that was a very pale yellow also became yellow or golden with beryllium diffusion, as did the bluish and greenish stones from Songea. The "colorless" Sri Lanka sapphire which results from heat treating certain types of geuda also becomes yellow, gold, or orange with beryllium diffusion. Finally, we tested some of the greenish-yellow Australian stones from the Subera deposit with the result that all of the greenish overtones were removed and the stones became good yellows and golds.
It is quite clear that it is easy to change very low value sapphires into much higher value yellow, gold, and orange sapphires. It is therefore very likely that many of these sapphires have been introduced into the market in the last one to two years have been diffused with beryllium.
We are also examining beryllium diffusion into high purity, colorless, synthetic sapphire. Two types of synthetic sapphire are being used in these experiments. The first of these is Czochralski (CZ) grown colorless sapphire produced by Union Carbide corporation in 1992. The second material is very high purity sapphire grown this year by the heat exchanger method (HEM) by Crystal Systems Inc. The latter material is regarded as among the highest purity synthetic sapphire available in the world today. Both of these materials were imbedded in the same mixture of high purity BeO and sapphire powders as described above, and heated for 33 hours at 1780°C. Both sapphire samples were highly colored. Both samples exhibit broad strong absorption in the blue region of the spectrum which is similar to what we observe in the natural sapphire. However, in addition there is a weak absorption band in the red at 700 nm which shifts the perceived color from yellow to brown. Thus both samples are brown in color. In the case of the CZ grown sample, the brown coloration penetrated approximately 1.7 mm into the sample and exhibited a very sharp color boundary. The HEM grown high purity was uniformly colored brown indicating that the diffusion penetrated the entire sample which was 7 mm thick. The difference in diffusion rates between the two identically processed samples indicates that the inward diffusing beryllium is chemically reacting with some impurity in the CZ sample (and, probably, in all natural sapphire). It is likely that the impurity is tetravalent and thus titanium, silicon, and zirconium are possibilities. Of these, silicon appears to us to be the most likely. It is clear from these experiments that beryllium alone, unlike hydrogen, can strongly color sapphire.
Our experiments thus far have only served to provide an outline to the phenomenology of beryllium diffusion in sapphire. Much remains to be done to understand what is actually occurring at a microscopic level. To make further progress the following tasks must be undertaken:
Test many other types of sapphire for their reaction to beryllium diffusion.
Characterize the trace element composition for a wide variety of natural and synthetic sapphire types and compare their reactions to beryllium diffusion.
Conduct careful optical spectroscopy on the sapphires before and after beryllium diffusion to characterize the additional absorption bands induced by the beryllium, and correlate the parameters of the absorption bands with trace element chemistry.
Finally, we must develop a low cost easily conducted test for beryllium diffusion, for if we cannot do this, the market for fancy colored sapphires will be adversely affected by the Thai sapphire treaters.
We would like to thank the AGTA-GTC Research Fund for providing a large portion of the much needed funding for these and future experiments, Terry Coldham, Mark Smith, Joe Belmont, Tom Cushman, Rudi Wobito, Hans-Georg Wild, Markus Wild, Dick Hughes, Bill Larson, Roland Naftule, Dave Witter and Garth Billings for graciously supplying stones and other support for these experiments. We would also like to thank Ken Scarratt, Tom Moses, Shane McClure, and Wuyi Wang for the instant sharing of data they developed. A number of stimulating conversations with George Rossman are also greatly appreciated, as is information and data provided by Tobias Häger.
Copyright © 2003 AGTA
Feeling the burn from hot rocks
By Julian Gearing / Bangkok
A radiation scare hits the gem business
SOME THINGS ARE JUST too good to be true. Sahabudeen Nizamudeen, an experienced gem merchant, knows this. But the Bangkok-based trader ignored his instincts -- and ended up with a consignment of dangerously radioactive stones. He is not the only victim.
In Jakarta's Gajah Mada Plaza, a jewelry store attendant pulls out two cat's-eye rings from a box. Both are health hazards. "We didn't know they were irradiated when we bought them," he says. As in Bangkok, hundreds of cat's-eye gems in a rare brown color have turned up in the Indonesian capital recently.
The way the shop assistant heard it, the stones came from a newly discovered mine in Africa. Jakarta gem expert Noni Noer scoffs at the idea. There would have been reports about a new mine before the stones appeared in the market, and she knew of none. Besides, the gems were all in the same hue -- a clear trait of having been treated. Other traders have been less suspicious, blinded perhaps by the prospect of getting a five-carat stone worth $6,000 for half the price.
Now, experts estimate that as many as 1,000 radioactive cat's-eyes may be in circulation, mostly in Asia, where they are most popular. News of the "nuked" stones has led to a spate of media reports highlighting the risk of cancer to unsuspecting consumers. Many traders insist, however, that the danger is exaggerated.
The saga began in July when Nizamudeen bought a set of 50 cat's-eyes from an Indonesian trader. Each was in a prized shade of chocolate, bisected by the characteristic light streak resembling a cat's slit pupil. The absence of flaws alerted Nizamudeen: "They were just too perfect." But he merely suspected a new type of heat treatment (stones such as rubies and sapphires are routinely "cooked" to intensify their colors -- and raise value).
To find out, Nizamudeen eventually turned to fellow trader Jeffrey Bergman, whose Gem Source company specializes in heat-treated gems. The dealers stood to make a fortune, if only they could figure out how it was done. A stone worth about $1,000 in a milky yellow color, for example, could command as much $5,000 if it is turned into a fetching golden brown.
But all conventional tests at the Bangkok Center for Gemstone Testing failed to reveal anything out of the ordinary, recalls Bergman. It was a week before anyone thought about radiation: none of the manuals suggested that chrysoberyl could be so treated. Traders apply the term cat's-eye to a range of stones showing the presence of fine, tightly packed fibers that make up the "eye." Chrysoberyl forms the most valuable variety. But with Nizamudeen's lot, nature had assistance. When testers turned on their Geiger counter, the gems sent the pointer bouncing off the dial. Says Bergman: "We all freaked out."
The center warned clients that "hot" cat's-eyes were being offered in Bangkok. Nizamudeen, who had already sold five of them, refunded his customers after informing them of the danger. That might have been the end of the story -- until a ring surfaced to destroy any idea that this might be a localized problem. Bergman had taken a Geiger counter along to the Hong Kong Jewelry Fair in September, concerned that the hot stones might have spread to other markets. Most gems tested negative. Then a visitor came by Bergman's stall with a large, 30-carat stone mounted in a man's ring. What followed prompted an international trade alert.
The ring registered radiation of 50 nanocuries per gram -- 50 times the U.S. safety limit and 25 times that for Asia. According to Banhong Wangcharoenroong of Thailand's Office of Atomic Energy for Peace, any level above two nanocuries per gram is potentially dangerous. At 50 nanocuries, he says, it could "make your skin cancerous and destroy white blood cells."
The radioactive gem scare has hurt a trade already suffering from Asia's economic slump. Though cat's-eye chrysoberyl forms a minuscule segment of the world gem market, dealers in Thailand worry that it could affect sales of other stones. Says trader Fred Mouawad: "I'm afraid people will think that gems like diamonds and rubies are radioactive too."
Irradiation has long been applied in the gem trade. Nearly 100 years ago, radioactive barium salts were already being used to turn diamonds green. These days gamma-ray tubes and linear accelerators are trained on stones such as amethyst, corundum and beryl to boost or alter their colors. Tourmaline, for example, is often converted from pale to deep pink and topaz from light to dark blue. The results usually bring a several-fold increase in profits.
Normal practice, though, has been to allow radiation to drop off to safe levels before releasing the gems. This may take a few hours, a few days or a couple of years, depending on the level of exposure. With the cat's-eyes, Bangkok gem tester Garry Du Toit believes "someone needed the money and wasn't worried about doing damage to others." The radioactive stones should have been kept in lead casing until the year 2000.
But where are the "hot" rocks coming from? Experts say the intense radioactivity suggests the cat's-eyes have been treated at a nuclear reactor. Compared to radiation from a standard gamma-ray source, "the difference is like being bombarded by ping pong balls and by steel bearings," says Thomas Moses of the Gemological Institute of America. Ken Scarratt, head of the Bangkok Center for Gemstone Testing, concurs. Sure, there are rogue traders around. More significantly, he says, signs indicate the involvement of a professional at a nuclear facility, government or private.
In Bangkok and Jakarta, accusing fingers are being pointed in both directions. Thai-based gemologists reckon the source to be in Indonesia, where many of the perilous gems have originated. Dave Deepak, deputy chairman of the Association of Indonesian Gold and Jewelry Dealers, argues the reverse is true. The hot stones have been distributed via Indonesia simply because the country is ill-equipped to deal with them, he says. There are three gem-testing laboratories in Jakarta, none of which is geared to measure radiation levels.
Still, a number of Indonesian dealers believe the gems have been zapped in their own backyard. At the government-run nuclear facility in Serpong, west of Jakarta, director Hudi Hastowo dismisses suggestions that his reactor was involved in the scam: "It is not true." The Serpong facility has been used to irradiate topaz, he says, but that was for research. And there's no way the process could have been conducted secretly by errant staff. "Our security is meticulous," Hastowo insists.
The buzz about radioactive gems has brought plenty of publicity for Scarratt's testing center, not all of it welcome. These days, the gem expert is feeling the heat from dealers worried that the media attention will scare off more customers. "Enough has been said," says a depressed Scarratt. Nonetheless, he concedes: "Any trader who receives a cat's-eye will want it checked. And it is good to tell the public because some may be in circulation."
Attempts by officials and businessmen to gloss over the matter may prove counterproductive. The concern should be to ensure that the world knows about the danger and the gems removed from sale, Bergman argues. "If somebody turns up a year from now with cancer from wearing one of these stones, think of the damage it would cause the industry," he says. "We can't afford to keep this quiet." To do so would bring the credibility of the gem trade to rock-bottom level.
-- With reporting by Yenni Kwok / Jakarta
New Sapphire Treatment Still a Mystery
By Marlene A. Prost
The controversial treatment used in Thailand to produce padparadscha color in pink sapphire is a new process that may prove difficult to classify.
That is the preliminary conclusion of the Gem Trade Laboratory of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in Carlsbad, California, published on January 28 in the GIA Insider.
Spurred by concerns by a number of gemologists and dealers, the GIA spent several weeks studying 48 pieces of corundum in an attempt to identify the mysterious new process being used by gem heaters in Chanthaburi, Thailand. The process turns Madagascan pink sapphire pink/orange; green sapphires from Songea, Tanzania, orange; and purple-red Thai rubies orange-red.
The GIA's conclusions may not end the controversy that began last fall when large quantities of the treated, padparadscha-colored sapphire started appearing in Chanthaburi.
Thai-based suppliers and laboratories, including high-profile Thaigem.com, are promoting the padparadscha-colored sapphire as heat-treated. However, some American gemologists have been skeptical. Richard Hughes of Pala International of Fallbrook, California, was one of the first to warn that the treatment was not being properly disclosed.
"We do not believe it is a standard heat treatment. It is probably a surface diffusion treatment," said Hughes a week before the GIA report came out. The evidence is in the stones themselves, say critics. While heating causes the color to change throughout the stone, these sapphires have a rim of orange along the three-dimensional outline of the stone, leaving a pink core -- a classic sign of diffusion treatment.
However' the GIA's report says the treatment is something other than surface diffusion, in which the surface color of a stone is changed by infusing a new chemical element. One major difference is that in a few stones they examined, the orange layer penetrated more than half the distance to the center, while one stone was 80 percent orange.
Regardless of the method, it should be disclosed, the GIA stresses. Until more information is available, Gem Trade Laboratory identification reports will note the color zoning in all orange-colored sapphires.
Thais Defend Treatment
A coalition of Thai dealers, including the Chanthaburi Gem and Jewelry Association (CGJA) staunchly defend the integrity of the treated sapphire.
On January 28, the CGJA announced that tests conducted by the Gem and Jewelry Institute of Thailand (GIT) confirm the pink sapphires were subjected to heat treatment and not diffusion.
According to the GIT's report, their chemical analysis showed no unusual trace elements except for a high amount of iron (Fe³). "These chemical results seem to suggest that no color-causing elements, in particular the iron, were added to these stones during this new heat-enhanced technique," said the report. The GIT's results were essentially the same as the GIA's, although the GIA report called for more advanced testing for potential color-altering elements.
The CGJA release asserted that the process is simply heat-treating, nothing more.
Meanwhile, the uncertainty has left many sapphire dealers in limbo. Many, even those who have already purchased the sapphire under false pretenses, assert that they will not sell the disputed material until the controversy has been settled.
THE WALLSTREET JOURNAL 2003