Enhancement Agonies

May 1998

Gemstones & Pearls:News

Enhancement Agonies

Wrestling with the ins and outs of fillers

Concern about unstable or unreported emerald treatments have scared some retailers away from the gem in recent years. Still others joined the exodus from emeralds after an exposé on "Dateline NBC" and several well-publicized court cases late last year.

No doubt about it, retailers have to understand these treatments and discuss them intelligently with in-creasingly sophisticated and wary consumers. They have to be able to answer questions about a treatment's durability and stability and make it part of their disclosure policy so customers know what they're buying and how to care for it. "I always put myself in the consumer's position," says Daniel Sauer of Amsterdam Sauer, a Brazilian retailer. "I want to know what I'm buying and I don't want my stone to change."

The Swiss Foundation for the Research of Gemstones in Switzerland (known by the acronym SSEF for its German name) has been investigating and classifying emerald fillers for over a decade, says director Henry Hänni. Identification of fillers is at least 90% possible for cedarwood, epoxy resins, wax, Canada balsam and other fillers via FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared and Raman) spectroscopy, he says, even when different fillers were used to treat a single stone. Identification of decomposed or aged fillers is not always possible by any method, he says. SSEF gemstone certificates provide separate slips of paper identifying fillers. As a result of the congress, SSEF will now place filler information on the certificate itself. "This is full disclosure," Hänni says.

The Gemological Institute of America doesn't identify fillers because there are so many – known and unknown – says Mary Johnson, manager of research and development at GIA's Gem Trade Laboratory. GIA is conducting a major study in which nine known fillers combined with emeralds from various sources are examined. Results are expected soon and will be published in Gems & Gemology, GIA's quarterly journal. Pending the GIA study's results, the Colombian Emerald Dealers Association agreed at the congress to reject the use of palm oil (an epoxy resin) in favor of cedarwood. As an alternative to cedarwood, emerald customers who prefer another treatment, such as Canada balsam or the Groom-Gematrat treatment, could have those done, depending on individual preference. GIA's Gem Trade Laboratory does acknowledge the need for more consumer information on reports. "It is a message we are taking back to our headquarters," said GIA President Bill Boyajian. GIA doesn't offer colored gemstone grading now but may at some time in the future.

Ken Scarratt, director of the new lab the American Gem Trade Association will open soon in New York City, says the degree to which emeralds are filled – none, minor, significant – is also important information. "It is with great satisfaction that I go back knowing what the industry wants," he says.

by Robert Weldon, G.G.

Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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