By Richard W. Wise, G.G.
Over the past two decades we have seen the proliferation of the gemological laboratory. Ostensibly the function of these labs has been to provide gemological services that require a higher level of expertise and technology than that available to the average jeweler-gemologist and to “certify” the identity, origin and treatments, if any, done to a particular gem.
It is no accident that the growth of the gem labs has coincided with the booming market for colored gemstones. The labs have provided the credibility that has for so long been missing and made this rapid growth possible. The labs are not the only cause; the advent of aggressive marketing spearheaded by the television shopping channels has had a strong impact. We have entered the Age of Information; today education in the form of books, magazines and information provided by the shopping channels themselves has replaced the age old “keep em stupid” strategy that has for so long been favored by the industry.
Cuprite tourmaline from
Image: Paraiba tourmalines; origin: Brazil. The pear shaped gem (left) is the highly desirable Carribean Blue (image courtesy Pala International)
The standard scientifically accepted nomenclature for describing a gem is to use the species name followed by the variety and finally origin, for example, species: Corundum, variety: ruby, origin:
It is important to recognize that although the public is wisely demanding written assurances from gemological laboratories of type, treatment and origin of gemstones prior to purchase, these certificates, grading reports or whatever euphemism is used to describe them, come from dealers and it is the dealers and jewelers who purchase the reports and are, therefore the laboratory’s best customers. Laboratory reports have become defacto sales documents and labs are under pressure from the dealers to put the best spin on things. Just as the public has begun to trust the labs to "certify" and thus guarantee that a stone is what the seller says it is, the labs have begun to betray that trust.
Reductio ad absurdum; geography versus beauty:
Unfortunately uniformed buyers have reduced the appreciation of the qualities described earlier (see posts Pricing the Crème Part I & II) to the absurd pursuit of any gem with a desirable geographic pedigree.
This absurdity is the result of a very common market assumption that involves the logical fallacy of assuming the inverse. The proposition: All gem dealers are idiots may or may not be true but assuming the inverse: All idiots are gem dealers is both logically invalid and demonstrably false. Each of us knows at least one or two idiots who are not gem dealers. Likewise the proposition: All the finest rubies are from
Gems are all about beauty. They have no nutritional value; they won’t keep the rain off or warm you in winter. What does it matter where a gem was found so long as it is beautiful? The fact is there are some very fine rubies found in other geographic areas and some really poor quality found in
The problem is, the market subscribes to this fallacy and geographic pedigree does affect price. Returning to cuprite tourmaline, the
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Richard W. Wise is a goldsmith and gemologist and is president of R. W. Wise, Goldsmiths, Lenox, Ma. Gems & jewelry available at: www.rwwise.com . His critically acclaimed book, now out in paperback can be reviewed at www.secretsofthegemtrade.com.