An Open Letter to David Federman, Editor-in-chief, Colored Stone.
By Richard W. Wise, G.G.
David Federman, I just finished reading Joel Arem’s article Ending Diffusion Confusion in the current issue of Colored Stone together with your editorial titled Some Badly Needed Science. You have written so many open letters to the gemstone industry I thought I would try my hand at writing one to you. Given your reception of my January letter to the editor, I decided that the wisest course was to publish my opinion here.
First question; who is confused? For over a year you have repeatedly published your claims that tourmaline, topaz and tsavorite are being diffusion treated with little backup up of those claims other than your “long simmering suspicions” and the unsupported evidence of one man while many experts in the gemological community have been saying that the evidence presented to support those claims is just plain wrong. You state:
“Was there a better way to test James’ conjecture? I think so…It’s called experimental gemology.”
I find it ironic that you are suddenly calling for “experimental gemology.” I agree with your call, but let’s, just for a change, accurately define our terms. Gemology is a science so when you say experimental gemology you are really talking about experimental science. Well David, experimental science proceeds inductively from a series of hypotheses to a conclusion based upon the testing of those hypotheses. Are you the the same David Federman who has published no less than three previous editorials in this same magazine announcing not the possibility, but the actual use of diffusion treatment in tourmaline, topaz and garnet? Were you mistaken? In your 1/27/09 edition of CS Gem Mail you state:
“James has spent months conclusively proving that variations of the chemical process once known as “bulk diffusion” used to turn plentiful Madagascar corundum into so-called “padparadscha” sapphire are now being used on numerous other gems.”
“Conclusively proving”? Is that a hypothesis or simply a conjecture? Now I certainly agree that you are neither a scientist nor a gemologist so I suppose you are not bound by your own call. Since your January article you appear to have done some homework---you have learned the three basic types of diffusion: lattice, grain boundary and pipe. First you called it lattice (bulk) diffusion, then it was grain boundary; pity you didn’t do a bit more research before you wrote those unfortunate editorials. Are you now admitting that your statement quoted above or your statement to me in an email response to my first letter to the editor, was a mistake or was that declaration merely experimental, to wit: “Cross-species diffusion is now an established reality.”
Do I detect a bit of waffling? Has absolute certainty given way to doubt? Conjecture is defined by to The American College Dictionary; as “an opinion without sufficient evidence for proof.” Has Mr. James’ conclusive proof been demoted to mere conjecture? Has your self-declared “epochal crisis” been reduced to what you are now pleased call “documented but still unclassified observations of gemologists like James”? If these observations are unclassified, what is it that they document? Do you mean that something is happening here but you don’t know what it is? That didn’t prevent you from characterizing those unclassified observations as gemology’s darkest hour (1/27/09). The fact is that experimentation has been ongoing and no conclusions had been reached and you knew it. I guess you just couldn’t wait and Mr. James proved to be a much more reliable source of fodder for the screaming headlines and hackneyed hyperbole that that has become your trademark.
You point out that “some gemologists took to calling single-crystal diffusion by a name reserved for polycrystalline diffusion---‘grain boundary diffusion’:” Have you forgotten who named that dog? Let me remind you, it was Robert James. That was indeed, as you say “unfortunate”, because it means that when he spoke about the grain diffusion of mono-crystalline gems like tourmaline, topaz and garnet, the afore-mentioned Mr. James was not only confused, he was talking nonsense.
I read Dr. Joel Arem’s article aimed at Ending Diffusion Confusion with interest. He does an excellent job of explaining basic science. Unfortunately when he gets into the meat of the matter he begins to stumble. Arem states, incorrectly, that the dialogue within the industry has focused on terminology rather than substance. He forgets his own call for “real science” and assumes proof not in evidence, namely that the phenomena described by James at his Tucson seminar is some mysterious form of treatment. I, along with several of the scientists present, have consistently maintained that James so-called evidence proved nothing at all, and that basic disagreement, not terminology, was and is the focus of the debate within the gemological community.
“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.” (GemWise: Drama in The Desert…)
Dr. Arem further states:
“Robert James also offered photographic evidence of a new treatment process being employed to enhance the color or tourmaline, precious topaz and tsavorite garnet.”
I attended the Tucson presentation and although James did offer photo-micrographs depicting what he called grain boundary diffusion in tourmaline, he offered absolutely no images showing any sort of treatment in tsavorite. James did make the claim that they were being treated, but he offered nothing beyond the logically contorted argument that there mere presence of larger tsavorite in the market suggests that it must be treated. When I queried him on that point, he told me he had a report from a German lab, back in his hotel room.
Dr. Arem goes on to consider visible halos around some of the growth tubes in the tourmalines photographed by James. He failed read either John Koivula’s article in G&G or Dr. Mary Johnson’s article posted on the AGTA website that pointed out that those halos were the result of naturally occurring radiation. Was this due to an overly zealous concern with terminology or is he confused? He goes on, echoing James, to offer the quaint but untested hypothesis that irradiation “might” somehow expand the size of tubes creating a passageway for enhancing coloration.
And finally what according to Dr. Arem is the real culprit here. Is it one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse or one of the three types of diffusion. Well, turns out it is neither. Arem dismisses, one by one, each of the three types of diffusion as the cause of the still unproven treatment and reaches the final startling conclusion.
“In all these cases, the mechanism of coloration appears to be a simple variation of dyeing.”
Dyeing, not diffusion? What a revelation! That certainly justifies all those blistering headlines and all the talk of “gemological end times”. A simple variation of dyeing! Still, Dr. Arem didn’t quite get it right. While reaching for this conclusion, he never asks one simple, obvious and very important question. No one has denied that the delightful crud is colored red and brown. Cuprian tourmaline is normally heat treated. Heat up naturally occurring reddish brown lateritic clay that is caught in surface breaking growth tubes and you get, you guessed it, dry encrusted crud. Why, then, would anyone want to artificially widen those growth tubes then pack that ole crud into those tubes and make inclusions more visible in a gemstone like cuprian tourmaline and in the process, dramatically reduce the gem’s value. Dr. Adolph Piretti did however pose the question: “Why would anyone want to turn a green tourmaline brown?” What sort of enhancement is that?
Yes, David Federman, your premature, irresponsible, overheated statements were, in the end, little more than a tempest in a tabloid. What was badly needed in this case was restrained, responsible journalism but we got you instead. “Long simmering suspicions” are no substitute for facts. The science is now rolling in like a series of waves breaking against the shore and with each new verified conclusion, the hyperbolic sand castles you built are being slowly washed away leaving nothing behind but sand.
Robert James has some excuse for his conduct. He is just a good ole boy from Texas trying to grab the brass ring of fame along with a little barbecue and sign up a few students, but people expect more from Colored Stone, that is, they used to. You, on the other hand, have been around long enough to know better. You studiously avoided asking the hard questions and you knew where to go and who to ask. Serious objections were raised, you knew about them, you choose to ignore them? Even your hand-picked expert couldn’t completely avoid the facts. Your “new order of mutant minerals” was it just old fashioned dyeing or just a byproduct of heat treatment? Thanks David, for ending the confusion.
Those hollow self-righteous feder-rants you so gleefully doled out hurt a lot of innocent people, miners and dealers whose only sin is trying to make an honest living. To those miners and dealers together with the gemologists and research scientists you so blithely dismissed as part of a cover up, you owe a sincere apology. Not that they will ever get one. No, the self-righteous are always the first to find fault with others but last to recognize their own. You will, no doubt, continue to sit up upon your high-horse and preach down to the industry. The only thing that has changed is that your credibility is shot and David, no one will be listening.
Diamond World, GIA Reports on Pink Tubes in Tourmaline:
Johnson, M. L. The Complicated History of Mozambique Cuprian “Paraiba-like” Tourmalines
Saeseaw, S. The Potential for diffusing Copper into Tourmaline, Preparation for initial experimentation:
Wise, R. W. Copper Diffusion, Is It Gemology’s New Worst Nightmare, Part II:
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