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Over the summer I have come across various examples of unusual minerals; and much of it was in it’s natural crystal form or aggregate. Of course I have seen a good deal of faceted rarities and exotics as well over the past 3 months, but nothing was as quite as strange as a 15+ carat gem someone showed me in August. At arms length away, the stone appeared to be pure black in color, opaque, with a high polish but a resinous luster. At this point, I thought to myself… well good for you, you have a nice chunk of poorly crystallized carbon (black diamond), and for a split second I was trying to imagine how I would pull off being excited by this stone. But upon an initial look at the stone, even without a loupe I knew that his was not a black diamond at all. My interest was piqued at this point, and I louped the stone for the tell tale micro breaks in the surfaces of black diamonds. There were none in this stone. The heft of the stone was far too much to be a diamond, I knew that right away as well. Without performing a specific gravity test on it, I knew that it was far more dense than a diamond would be of that size. I finally asked the gentleman “Ok, what is it?” He replied: “Thorite.” At this point I was shocked for two reasons: 1) I have never heard of anyone faceting thorite and 2) why would you want to in the first place?

For those who may be unfamiliar with this material, thorite is a rare nesosilicate of thorium (yes… that’s right, Thorium). Upon first glance at its composition, one might be able to conjure up feelings of shock I felt upon hearing its name… (Th,U)SiO4. It is in reality the most common Thorium mineral (as common as that is I suppose). It usually occurs in granular pegmatites, but can can occasionally form crystals. It is always strongly radioactive. Webmineral.com lists the mineral as having an estimated mRem/hr exposure of 0.421 per gram if held in your hand for 1 hr (if the stone is set in a ring, it’s on your hand). This was about a 15 ct. stone so 15 cts / 5 cts/gram = 3 grams , therefore 3 g Thorite x (0.421 mRem/hr per 1g Thorite) = 1.263 mRem/hr exposure from this particular stone. While this might not be a lot of exposure if you’re just picking it up to examine it, I’m not sure I’d want to expose myself to it for say 8 hrs/day a few days per week (and if you put it in a pendant due to it’s lack of hardness, that’s even better – now you’re exposing your more sensitive neck/chest area). Prolonged exposure to any radioactive source like that, especially in the same place on your body day after day doesn’t appeal to me. The source of this piece was Burma, and I listened its owner explain that there is a developing market for exotic/super-rare pieces among collectors. I explained that I considered materials like painite, benitoite, jeremejevite and taaffeite to be exotics/super-rare and also beautiful — as well as non toxic and definitely not radioactive. When asked if he had any luck selling any of it (priced at a little over $100/carat), he said not as of yet. In my personal opinion I can see why… it’s not a pretty stone (just solid opaque black), its very soft (4.5 on the Moh’s scale), it’s radioactive (which you have to disclose), and its $100/ct… I can think of many types of stones in that price range that are infinitely more attractive, more durable, and more practical than Thorite. Hey… you know Uraninite (UO2) forms black crystals too… how much more exotic would that be? Get a grip.

I’m Back!

Sorry for the disappearance over the summer. I should have tried much harder to update, and I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen again. Currently, I am working on the Diamonds and Diamond Grading course through GIA, after having completed the courses necessary to gain the AJP credentials over the summer. I’m hoping to get some laboratory time in here pretty soon… that would be nice. I’ve encountered some interesting material over the summer, and had some interesting conversations which I will discuss in a few postings immediately after this one.

De Beers announced its amended production for CY2006 (from the February 9, 2007 figures). The company produced a record 51.13 Million carats in the 2006 calendar year. This was a 4.3% rise from 2005, and constitutes a world record for diamond production. The Diamond Trading Company (DTC), which is a subsidiary of De Beers Consolidated Mines, LTD; has announced its second highest profit year ever, reflecting that $6.15 Billion worth of rough stones were sold through DTC for De Beers. The DTC was set up by De Beers to handle rough diamond sales on behalf of De Beers for that parent company, and was part of De Beers answer to the world spotlight on its one time monopoly. The $6.15B figure does not reflect the sale of the 2006 production, but rather a smaller percentage of rough stones that were sold by DTC for De Beers, keeping in mind that most important and large stones are kept off the market.

De Beers also signed an 8 year with the Namibian government which is a 50/50 joint venture for Namibia, now known as the Namibian Diamond Trading Company (NDTC). In addition De Beers has continued an existing contract with Botswana for 25 more years, and has established the Diamond Trading Company Botswana (DTCB).

Even in light of recent heightened awareness of conflict stones by consumers worldwide, the world has reaffirmed that it has an unquenchable desire for diamonds. As of 2007, De Beers guarantees that 100% of its diamonds are conflict-free stones. The De Beers Group of Consolodated Mines, LTD., publication to this effect can be found here.

China and India have shown strong demand and sales growth, as well as continued growth in the US market. It is interesting to note that in the Asian markets, consistent demand for top quality diamonds is growing, particularly in the D-F color range and IF-VVS clarities. Historically Asian markets have always been a place to sell top quality diamonds for top dollar year in and year out.

It’s interesting to note that the DTC only showed a net profit of $730 Million on the books for 2006. This figure is for the entire sales year of rough diamonds for the DTC, but does not include De Beers umpteen joint ventures such as De Beers LVMH, which is a venture between the diamond cartel and Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton SA. The most visible ties with this partner can be seen through the De Beers retail locations. This small venture which Nicky Oppenheimer – Chairman of De Beers – has said it has barely even begun the process of building, reported nearly the same amount of net profit in a 6 month period…. 2 years ago…. when it sporadically advertised the venture.

Worlds 15th largest diamond found in 2006.

The “Lesotho Promise”, a 603 Ct. perfect D color stone found at the Letsing Mine in 2006 is the world’s 15th largest rough diamond found.

I apologize for not updating as regularly lately as I had said that I would.  I went to the Charleston, SC show this past weekend, and was unfortunately highly disappointed with the turnout of dealers and the lack of high end gem material, although I picked up several extremely nice mineral specimens for my personal collection.

On the upside, I will be attending the MASSIVE show in Franklin, NC this Thursday.  It is a wholesale only show, and requires proof of a resale tax license in the gem/jewelry trade for entrance into the show event.  In addition you have to get a wholesale dealer badge at the registration booth.  This has been beautifully arranged 🙂 …thank you… you know who you are!  This will be my first Franklin show, and I have heard great things about the event, which has a reputation of 3rd only to the international Tucson show event.

After the Franklin show I will be updating more frequently, and will finish my mini-series on ethics and appraising.

The United Nations today, removed the “blood diamond” label from Liberia, in recognition of the Kimberley Process. The Liberian president admits to using diamonds in the past for years to fund wars. Liberian rough diamonds were banned in the gem trade since 2001, along with Sierra Leone, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Guinea. “Blood diamonds”, or conflict diamonds, in 2001 constituted for more than 4% of all diamond sales worldwide, which translates to hundreds of millions of dollars per year in sales. Today, due to the U.N. Kimberley Process, conflict diamonds constitute less than 1% of sales annually. A more detailed report can be found on CNN.

Rough Diamonds from Sierra Leone.

Last week on Palmetto Gemology, I began to establish a working foundation from which to further build this series. I hope that I have made it easier to understand how appraisals can vary so much due to the room for human error or differences of opinions.

This week I would like to focus on explaining what a customer or gem owner should expect from the process. Perhaps John and Laura Ramsey (husband and wife, and both are world renowned in the field), have said it best. Their perspective is that the consumer expects that “an appraisal, is an appraisal”, due to our culture which is rich in assembly line products and leads to an assembly line mentality when it comes to valuations.

The reality of this is of course, that no two stones are the same, as nature did not roll them off an an assembly line. This leads to the next obvious problem. Any local jeweler (or anyone for that matter), can give an “appraisal”. Simply because someone is a jeweler is not merit enough to take their word as gospel, as their guidelines by which they assessed the stone are unknown (the Billy Bob Gem Lab routine). If the consumer or gem owner chooses a gemological laboratory such as GIA, EGL, or AGTA, they gain a peace of mind in knowing that there is a standard and rigorous process that is followed each and every time a stone is submitted to one of these facilities. In maintaining strict protocols both in grading and in ethical standards, a “cert” from one of these institutions is regarded as an accepted and true analysis (whereas no one cares about the Billy Bob Gem Lab). From a consumer end, this helps to alleviate anxieties over how their stone will be graded.

I hope this helps in creating an understanding from the customer/owner’s end of the process. In a couple days I will begin explaining the process from the appraiser’s end, and then later in the week we will finally be ready to start getting to the meat of… what IS an appraisal. It may seem like this is being dragged out, but in order to understand what it is, we have to first examine preconceived notions and perspectives.

Wow, what a touchy subject… the valuation process of what a gem is actually worth right? Think again… The term appraisal means different things to different people, depending on their perspective to a particular matter at hand. There are three contestants in the game of appraising gemstones: the appraiser, the owner of the gem, and of course the gem itself. The gem itself is the only one of the three that does not change, and is not subject to varying opinions. The gem’s physical properties are all objective and factual in nature. Biases, differing opinions, and even more complex issues may affect an appraisal. Gem owners tend to focus on the “value” of a gemstone (yet another term that people use that they do not understand the meaning of). We will address the misunderstood issue of “value” later in this mini-series.

Let us first address the issue from the perspective of the gem in question. For this example I’ll use a round cut diamond… D, VVS2, 1.12 cts, 6.50mm x 6.44mm x 3.98mm, no florescence, thin faceted girdle… sure, we all know the deal, and we’ve already come to a preliminary mental judgement on the stone (yes you have). Stop… by allowing preliminary judgements on the stone, you have affected your scotoma in either a positive or negative manner. To arrive at any preliminary judgement at this juncture is counterproductive to what we’re trying to establish. The color, clarity, dimensions and other attributes do not change. It is what it is. In this particular case the grader felt that the diamond was of ultimate and perfect white color (a subjective grade depending on who grades it). For instance, if 100 graders had a stone in front of them (GIA D in color), would they all grade the stone identically (we would hope so), but this shows the room for human error right off the bat. Moving onto a more complex issue… Clarity… we have assumed the stone in question is a GIA VVS2 (the number of inclusions in the stone doesn’t change) … yet how many GIA graders (*ahem* don’t fail me for the sarcasm) , would vary on the grade of a single stone if it was passed around (again out of 100 graders). …What do they call the person who finishes last in medical school? He/she is still a doctor. Likewise, with the gemology field, they’re still a gemologist. I hope this provides food for thought and creates a foundation for what I hope to accomplish in this mini-series.

From my personal perspective HPHT is a four letter word. The acronym HPHT stands for High Pressure – High Temperature, and refers to an artificial process that some diamonds are subjected to in order to “reinstate their natural beauty”. Certain companies such as General Electric, have found an efficient process of turning natural Type IIA diamonds (no nitrogen present in the crystal lattice), that happen to have undergone turbulence or irregular pressure on their journey through volcanic pipes on their way to the earth’s surface, into colorless, pink, or even blue diamonds. Type IIA diamonds are the most rare diamond type, accounting for less than 2% of all diamonds mined. Originally, prior to HPHT treatment, these stones were mostly an undesirable yellowish brown color. HPHT can also turn Type IA diamonds (the most common diamond type), into green, yellow-green, or yellow diamonds after the process is complete. In a quick synopsis, HPHT subjects gemological imperfect diamonds to an ideal high pressure and high temperature setting that they never received in nature. This is the basis for a “controversy” between businesses who perform the process, the FTC, consumers, and oh yeah… gemologists. Thankfully the FTC has declared that any diamond subjected to HPHT has to have the process disclosed to the consumer. Unfortunately, this serves as little more than another platform to confuse most consumers on, since most consumers are not gemologists. Consumers tend to buy off of aesthetic appeal and emotion based decisions. Even informed consumers may not know a diamond has been subjected to the HPHT process, because the process is difficult to detect without costly equipment and proper training. Many seasoned gemologists have been deceived by HPHT (or have been intentionally set up by the GIA for training purposes *smile*). The bottom line, both personally, and from a gemology perspective, is that any stone that has been subjected to any artificial process – regardless of whether that process mimicks nature or not – is that the process should be disclosed to the consumer. The GIA has dedicated its time, finances, and efforts to not only detecting HPHT diamonds and noting them as such, but also to increasing awareness to consumers – and gemologists worldwide. It’s still a treated stone stupid… period.

Courtesy of Argyle Diamonds

Argyle’s natural rough diamonds are sorted at its Perth office where they are prepared for international sale by Rio Tinto Diamonds as an agent for Argyle Diamonds in Antwerp Belgium.

 

In the 76 year history of the Gemological Institute of America, it has never before certified the origin of any gemstone. The folks at GIA now offer origin reports on emeralds submitted to the process. The primary focus of the process, is to make the distinction in the market between emeralds originating from Colombia, and those of all other locations (i.e. – Brazil, Zambia). An extra fine quality Colombian emerald is valued exponentially higher than an emerald of equal quality from say… Zambia. The difference between $25,000+ per carat and $2,000 per carat can come down to solely origin.

Many at GIA agree that this is an unfair step, because it intentionally sets emeralds apart from other gemstones by focusing on their origins, and not the origins of other stones, simply out of concern for monetary value. It can only be safe to assume that corundum (varieties – sapphire and ruby) will be next on the list to certify origin for the same monetary value reasoning (Burmese ruby vs. Kanchanaburi ruby). GIA has confirmed it will be adding certifications of origin for other varieties throughout 2007. Scanning Google on the topic, I came up with a story on http://www.colored-stone.com which can be found here.

GIA Report of Emerald Origin

In September of 2003, around the timeframe of the ratification of the Kimberly Process by the United Nations, Wired Magazine (article is found here) decided to properly cover a blossoming area of the gemological field: lab created diamonds. They are not similar to diamonds… they are diamonds, both chemically and physically. Historically, Russian scientists have had the technology to produce gem quality diamonds, but never reliably or on any sort of a large scale operation. In fact General Electric produced diamonds decades ago for industrial purposes mostly, but the stones were always small (around 1/2 – 1 carat). That has now changed. Today everyone is getting in on the action – from the United States Navy Research Lab, to start up companies Gemesis and Apollo Diamonds, and they are producing large diamonds predictably and efficiently. The biggest use for lab created diamonds at this juncture in time seems to be not in the gem realm, but rather in the semiconductor world.

It is interesting to note how the leaders of both companies received personal messages people assuredly sent by DeBeers, stating that progressing with lab diamond technology is a perfect way to get a bullet in the head. At this time the ink on the Kimberly Process ratification was barely dry, DeBeers had already been publicly shamed – yet they were continuing with their typical show of force in a war that they know they are losing ground.

A little over 3 years after this story, it appears that the demand for lab created diamonds in the jewelry realm is very minimal. I regard this as a good thing, as it is easy to reproduce many gems that occur in nature and that are valuable, with great ease and relatively low cost. To the credit of many of these lab created gems, they are beautiful – even capturing inclusions and imperfections that would occur in nature, in the lab stone; but nothing compares to the beauty of something that took millions and millions of years to form, instead of something that took 3 days to whip up in a clean room.

Faceted lab created yellow diamonds from Gemesis — Identical chemically and physically to stones of natural origin.