South Africa. The De Beers monopoly of 102 years has come to a close with the company’s privatization. The new consortium held by the Oppenheimer family, Anglo America, plc (mining conglomerate) and Debswana (De Beers/Botswana joint-venture) will now compete in an ever-changing marketplace. First up is a plan to select those sightholders who can better market De Beers diamonds as a consumer brand, changing the traditional distribution channels.
The prospect of deals with producers (like Russia) and maintenance of stable rough pricing will be challenges facing the new company as well as their control of two-thirds of the world’s diamond production.
China. With the new Chinese dominance of the cultured pearl market, the pricing of pearls has become trickier. Since the loss of native Japanese farm production, the Chinese have not only picked up the slack, but are producing huge quantities that now rival the original Japanese Akoya product. In fact, it is the same oyster being used in Chinese waters under the direction of Japanese experts. The pearls are grown at considerably less cost, then shipped to Japan for final processing where it becomes arguable who is the producing country.
So now, China is producing not only an assortment of freshwater pearls – from baroque to round, but saltwater pearls of all qualities, driving prices down as large quantities flood the market.
The latest technological breakthrough in gem enhancement – the “Yehuda” treatment for diamonds is sure to spark controversy throughout the industry, as these enhanced stones filter into the marketplace and cause concern over their disclosure and evaluation.
The treatment developed by inventor Zvi Yehuda of Israel is not unlike modern emerald oiling in that a foreign substance is forced into surface fractures to stabilize and enhance appearance. In emerald, the material is an oil, but in the Yehuda process, a glass-like substance is introduced under extreme pressure. Since the substance replaces air within the stone, the inclusion becomes much less visible to the naked eye, – and virtually invisible if its refractive index approximates its host
Although some secrecy surrounds the process itself, the effect can be readily observed by the trained gemologist.
Microscopic examination may reveal the flow structure, trapped bubbles and an overall crackled texture, or characteristic flash. The filler’s color may also be darker than the host diamond.
These factors cause great concern to those involved in the evaluation of such diamonds. Stones tested by both the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and American Gemological Laboratories (AGL) showed many graded higher in clarity when filled. Should appraisers grade on the treated appearance or try to “backtrack” to the prior condition? If the filled material imparts color (tests reveal commonly one grade lower than when untreated) how do we judge the new product?
In fact, color causes its own grading problems. The nature of the process and type of inclusions being altered often creates a “directional” color in the diamond. A single specimen appears to grade differently depending upon the angle of observation.
What the “big guys” say
The stance of the GIA is to currently refuse evaluation of Yehuda-treated diamonds. AGL advocates the development of a system to grade such stones realizing that conventional techniques are stretched to the limit and require modification to accommodate these stones.
Jewelers have their own problems. Although Yehuda-treated diamonds are accompanied by a disclosed pledge for the dealer when returned from their treatment facility, Diascience, INC. in new York when the diamonds change hands, the disclosure aspect often gets lost in the shuffle and may be sold as untreated. A retail customer not made aware of this fact has recourse when the truth is known and the reflection is certainly upon the jeweler, not their suppliers. And, the unaware bench jeweler repairing an article with such a treated diamond may unknowingly release the filler material through the heat from their torch, returning the diamond to its original condition. What will the diamond’s owner say when it is returned to them?
Since the Northwest market is not yet familiar with these diamonds, this is the time to investigate the issues raised and form a basis for evaluation. As the major appraiser of fine jewelry in this market, NGL is in the process of forming a policy concerning these diamonds. We welcome your opinions on this issue and will publish some of those comments as well as our findings in future issues.
As you are aware, diamond prices have increased considerably over the past twenty-four months. What you may not have noticed is a change in the availability of goods and standards to which they are cut.
Recently the U.S. dollar lost ground in the world market. Since the Central Selling Organization (CSO) transacts all diamond parcel sales in U.S. dollars, this decline has given the U.S. less buying power while increasing buying power abroad. To equalize this effect, the CSO raised rough diamond prices.
The significance of this phenomenon in the U.S. market is clear. We pay more for diamonds while finding the selection meager to say the least. U.S. jewelers are finding it difficult to swallow these increases creating strong resistance throughout the country.
Diamond cutters, to regain from plummeting profits, have started cutting to retain more weight from the rough crystal. as a result, we are seeing “lumpy” stones with unusually thick girdles. Good to very good proportions seem to be tossed by the wayside.
Although this solution does offer those sought-after size points (i.e. 1.00ct, 0.50ct, etc) at a reduced price, some beauty is sacrificed. In addition, it should be noted that these stones appear smaller due to a smaller diameter. From an appraiser’s standpoint these “lumpy” stones cannot be valued the same as a properly cut diamond of similar quality. In some cases we are seeing as much as 25%-30% deduction in per carat price.
Some experts argue that these lumpy stones could become a standard. I, for one, appreciate the unique beauty of a well-cut diamond and would hate to see the industry accept these “inferior” cuts as a standard. If enough people in the industry demand better cut diamonds, we may see a reversal of this trend. For now, these lumpy stones are a reality and the bottom line is you are paying more for less.