Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Drama In The Desert: ISG Seminar---A Dry Hole!

Drama In The Desert: ISG Seminar--A Dry Hole:

by Richard W. Wise, G.G.

The much ballyhooed "Epochal Crisis" never quite materialized at the International School of Gemology's "Let the Science Speak" seminar held February 6th at the Arizona Hotel. In a rambling presentation, ISG President Robert James
back-pedaled on some of his previous statements and presented the results of advanced tests that contradicted his own theories.

The silence was eerie. It was painful to watch. Thanks to Colored Stone Magazine's drum beating, the talk was attended by a who's who of gem scientists. James' attempts at folksy humor fell flat. The scientists sat quietly and listened to the presentation of evidence. After the presentation, they politely applauded, asked few questions and filed out, leaving Robert James' reputation as a gemologist in a heap of smoldering ruins.

In a series of internet broadsides last September, James made sweeping claims that large amounts of Mozambique cuprian, as well as other tourmaline, were being subjected to copper diffusion treatment. Recently he c
ast his net wider, suggesting that what he now calls Grain Boundary Diffusion, is being used to improve the color of not only tourmaline, but garnet and topaz as well.

Goop In The Tubes:

The presentation centered on what James called "goop in the tubes." Hollow growth tubes are a characteristic tourmaline inclusion. What James finds telling is the fact that in some Mozambique tourmaline, these tubes are filled with a yellow-red substance that James cannot identify. In a previous GemWise blog, serious questions concerning these claims were raised by John Koivula and Christopher Smith, questions that James failed to address. In a significant variation on last September's theme, James has now backed away from his claim that the filling material is copper. In fact, he carefully avoided using the term copper diffusion throughout the lengthy talk.

James showed slides showing what he calls diagnostic "footprints" which prove treatment. However the footprints he finds in topaz do not in the least resemble the "footprints" he finds in tourmaline. His tourmaline slides showed straight growth tubes; his topaz slides showed a spider web of tiny lines. He presented absolutely no proof of diffusion in tsavorite garnet; he simply suggested that the appearance, in the past decade, of tsavorite over two carats is ominous. He never explains how that relates to his diffusion theory. Last September, he claimed he discovered that undisclosed amounts of synthetic tourmaline were being sold, but now admits that he was wrong. (image right: large chunks of tsavorite rough from a 2007 strike at the Scorpion Mine, Voi, Kenya, that yielded several stones above 10 carats. Courtesy: Tsavorite USA)

The conclusions drawn from the advanced testing promised last September conclusively demonstrated that James understands neither the characteristics of his test material, nor the diffusion process itself. According to James, LA-ICP-MS testing (commonly called laser ablation) conducted by Evans Analytical showed differing concentrations of manganese and iron in the tourmaline samples tested, with higher concentrations toward the center of the specimens. James suggests that this is another "footprint" left b
y the treatment process, and fails to note that the characteristic color zoning in tourmaline is the result of compositional differences within the stone. For example, higher concentrations of manganese produce richer pink zones in tourmaline. In a later Q&A session, when the soft-spoken Dr. Adolf Peretti, former head of the Gueblin Lab and President of the GRS Lab in Bangkok, told him flat out that varying concentrations of elements are characteristic of natural tourmaline, James suggested that Peretti's test samples had been altered by diffusion. (photo left: Gemology 101, a natural "footprint" crystal cross-section: pink color zone caused by concentrations of Mg. in the center of the crystal. Similar images exist in the literature going back 150 years)

How Diffusion Works:

Diffusion is the word currently bandied about, but what is it, what does the term mean? Let me share with you an analogy suggested to me by one of the world's leading authorities on the use of diffusion treatment in gemstones:

Consider a dollop of blue ink dropped into a glass of water. The ink will slowly diffuse throughout the water, eventually turning the water a uniform light blue. Ion diffusion, or deep diffusion, works exactly the same way. Diffusion moves from higher to lower concentrations. Just as the ink does not remain concentrated, outside substances such as Beryllium and copper, when introduced into gem material, spread out and diffuse throughout the material. The ions do not concentrate as James suggests--concentration is the result of slow natural crystal growth and results in zones of color, a common trait in tourmaline. Thus, James' advanced testing proves, as Dr. Piretti and Dr. Kiefert have pointed out, exactly the opposite of James' contention. Concentrations of manganese and iron in tourmaline prove that the color is natural.

Industry writer and James acolyte David Federman has been warning for months that James' presentation would spark what he terms as an "epochal crisis" in the gem trade. Abandoning any pretense of objective journalism, he has written three articles praising James and ignoring prominent scientists such as John Kiovula, Richard Hughes, Christopher Smith and Ted Themelis who profoundly disagree with James' methods and conclusions. In the current Colored Stone, Federman says we are living in "gemological end-times." What did all this apocalyptic rhetoric amount to? What James actually presented was mostly old, largely discredited information that although full of sound and fury, flies in the face of science and logic and proves his own theory to be totally false.


There was definitely more action at the gem shows, but then gems are the major reason most people are here in Tucson during this two-week period. Most dealers I interviewed said that sales exceeded their expectations, though they didn't say what those expectations were. All signs point to a tough year ahead. As dealer Chris Johnston pointed out, its a Darwinian crisis, and as usual, the strong will survive.

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Anonymous said...

My jaw dropped when I read RJ's response to Dr. Adolph Piretti on the element concentrations. Is he totally unable to recognize any data/information that does not conform to his conclusions? Science proceeds from data to a result, not by deciding what result one wants and going searching for data...

Anonymous said...

I am happy someone is asking questions about treatments.
I am at the point where I am considering just buying synthetics.
That way one knows for sure if it has been messed with or not.

That the cookers are so far ahead of the labs is not a good thing for consumer confidence.

Richard W. Wise said...


Piretti, like most of the scientists present, was not interested in trying to explain basic scientific principles to Mr. James, who made it clear he wasn't interesting in entertaining any evidence that did not agree with his own.

In my later conversation with him, he simply said the James conclusions did not make sense. "Why", he asked, "would anyone want to turn a blue tourmaline yellow?"


Alain van Acker said...

Hi Richard,

I shrug at what he comes up with next to draw attention to himself. Such a shame that populists always find strong support in the mass.


Richard W. Wise said...

Formerly Anonymous,

You are right, someone should be asking about treatment. We need proactive gemology, but what we don't need is a knee-jerk gemology.

Buy synthetics?, I don't much blame you, but I guarantee you that if everyone started buying a certain type of synthetic, they became rare and the price went up, someone would start trying to fake those as well maybe figure out a way to make naturals look like synthetics, its all about the money.

I think its easy to forget that the people involved in mining tsavorite, for example, are people just like you and me, they have wives and kids and they have dreams. When someone makes charges about their product without proof and is believed, those people get hurt.

I have been all over the world and visited many mines and I have met some of these people, their work is hard and dangerous, they make a living but they aren't rich. For some of them selling a gem stands between them and starvation. I think throughout this debate, it is important to remember that.

I have met Robert James twice, once outside the hotel just before his lecture and then the next day at AGTA. I took him to task over his tsavorite charges. He seemed surprised to hear that larger tsavorite had been found at more than one location in Tanzania (see the current issue of Intercolor, The ICA magazine). He then told me he had a copy of a report from a German lab that was diffusion treating grossular garnet. I asked him the name of the lab, he didn't recall, but promised to send me a copy of the report. Stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

Thank You Mr. Wise for your report on his seminar . In this time of ecomonic down turn its really sad for the miners and the mine workers who were put under a cloud of suspicion because of what one person said , alot of money was lost due to this. You can't hurt the mine owners expect to have job teaching people gemstones if you dont know whats going on in the buisness .
Sad times

Anonymous said...

It looks like some at the ISG have found your post, Mr. Wise... here is what one "follower" of RJ had to say:


Wow... sounds like they're ready to drink the Kool-aid. Shocking how such a cult of personality has risen up. If he ends up being right about x, y, or z... he'll be right about it. This sense that he's some sort of larger-than-life savior with a unique line on the truth... it's a little scary.

Anonymous said...

To anyone that cares,
I was at the seminar that Rober james conducted. Maybe he is not a professional public speaker but it is not fair to conclude that there is not truth in his findings. It was never discussed that Mr. James tried to work with the GIA and AGTA in his scientific studies and they declined and now there is backlash. Many industry leaders agree with his finding Robert James is not required to disclose all his findings to anyone. The truth will come out and there will be backlash just like the Andesine issue. I can not help that you and R.J. have disagreements but your serious disrespect is uncalled for.
IT SEEMS THAT MANY OF THE INDUSTRY WOULD RATHER ROBERT JUST SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP. ***The public knows two much***. All that has changed and everyone in the industry needs to get over it.

confused observer and student said...

So, the bottom line on this seminar in Tucson is that nothing has been proven. Is that correct? Without definitive proof of exactly what is being done, how is anyone to take Mr. James seriously? Further, the newsletter he shot off today didnt exactly help his cause, in my opinion that is. It was a cheap shot at someone who probably didnt deserve it. Again, in light of stuff like that how does one take him seriously?
Thank you.

Richard W. Wise said...

Robin Hawk posted the following:

A Fly On The Wall has left a new comment on your post "Tucson 2009, The View From The Desert":

It was great to finally meet you Richard - I have to agree with you on these Winza Rubies - exquisite!

I attended Ed Boehm's Seminar and he covered the Winza Region in it! Very informative!

Robyn Hawk
Tucson Gem Show - Live!

Sorry Robin, don't know why the software didn't like your contribution. Great blog, I highly recommend it.

Stewart said...

Interesting...I wasn't able to attend the seminar, I figured my money would be better spent in going to Thailand and going to Chanthaburi. I don't think I was disappointed at all.

It's interesting to see how quickly this has polarized the industry. I'm still pretty new in the gem field and Tourmaline is not my forte. So most of the charts and numbers I've seen have gone completely over my head. At least until I have a chance to learn more, I'm keeping an open mind. It's good to see other sides of the story as well.

What you industry insiders have forgotten over the years is that most people aren't even aware that there are treatments for gemstones. They assume they are all natural. I'm all for proper disclosure, and a more informed consumer, but the more people raise heck about possible treatments that can't be definitively proven, the more consumers get the wrong idea. Then everyone suffers, from the miners to the end dealers as consumers turn to other products to spend their hard earned cash on.

Consider it this way. What would you do if you heard that your favorite brand of peanut butter may or may not be filled with salmonella? You'd go buy something else right? You wouldn't take chances on any kind of peanut butter.

If we start telling consumers that their favorite type of gemstones may or may not be treated, they are going to go buy something else.

Full discolsure is necessary, but prove it to the industry's satisfaction before you take it public. That way you don't hurt the industry unnecessairly.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know which "industry leaders" agree with RJ. Can we have names of real people instead of some vague generalization? From the sounds of the comments that were made to Richard after the seminar, it wasn't any of the named industry leaders he spoke to.

One might ask oneself why the GIA and AGTA declined to work with him. Perhaps they didn't want to lend the weight of their reputations to someone they might consider to be more of a self-promoter than a serious research gemologist? I'm sure that Ted Themelis is regretting ever having corresponded with RJ, no one likes to be used. Why would any lab want to be subjected to the same?

Anonymous said...

While this might be off topic:

The thai gem "cookers" in Chantaburi are lite-years ahead of available and cost effective diagnostics which are able to definitively tell what they did.

They spend HOURS, comparing notes, seeing what works, and burning gem rough to see what enhancements they can get from different chemicals. It is not so much a science but at ART form. After living here 4 years, reading and speaking thai (well I might add), I still cannot be a party to what they talk about because I am "farang" (white-foreigner).

I seriously doubt anyone, who doesn't actually looks asian and can't speak TOTALLY fluent thai, and would ever catch a clue or know the information they have on the various gem treatment techniques they use.

In Chantaburi, the "cookers" are a class of gem merchants all their own. ..

Richard W. Wise said...


I note that in a recent post, ISG claims that most of the gemological community agrees with James' conclusions. The level of intellectual dishonesty here is appalling. Quite the opposite is true, I assure you. I see also that now that Ted Themelis has jumped ship, James is, once again, publishing old emails.

After the seminar I spoke with Richard Hughes, Lore Kiefert, Mary Johnson, Adolph Piretti and John Emmett as well as several competent but not so celebrated gemologists. John Koivula did not attend and I did not speak with Chris Smith.

Much of what they said was covered in my Copper Diffusion II, click on "serious questions" above. There was little new, that I covered in the post above.

I do have a few other quotes, but again no one had anything in the least supportive to say. I will post some of the conclusions in a future post. Now back to the cold and Massachusetts.

Alain van Acker said...

Stewart wrote:

Consider it this way. What would you do if you heard that your favorite brand of peanut butter may or may not be filled with salmonella? You'd go buy something else right? You wouldn't take chances on any kind of peanut butter.

I think that is the best analogy used so far.

Richard; I would to hear some of the quotes. Just for my amusement.


Richard W. Wise said...


Excellent analogy, you are quite right about the damage being done by
this sort of knee-jerk, take no prisoners approach to gemology.

I will be posting again soon. I read with interest the statements made by Ted Themelis.

I read RJ newsletter forwarded to me by another colleague. As for as I am concern, RJ does not deserve my reply or any respect whatsoever. He is trying to tell us about his invention of the hot water using all kinds of tactics. In conclusion, it does not serve any useful purpose to discuss any longer RJs research activities."

I am sure that Mr. James' supporters will try to slice and dice this statement every which way to attempt to prove that it is not an outright repudiation of James' results, after that will come the personal attacks.