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Standardization of Diamond Grading

What it means to the trade
Why it is beneficial to the trade and the consumer

For as long time, 1967 to be more exact, I entered the family jewelry business. Since then I have been exposed to diamond trading, grading wholesaling and retailing. From cutter, to dealer, to retailer and to the consumer, the communication of a diamond’s quality is one of the most important parts of the entire jewelry business. This said, the trade is well aware of the shortcomings of the status quo. We rely on diamond grading reports, but understand the rather erratic nature of how these documents, related devices and human graders provide physical measurements, UV fluorescence strength, color and clarity grading.

If you show a diamond to a dealer with a secondary lab report they will only buy it for one color and/or one clarity grade lower in value. Even if they agree with the report, they won’t trust it or even trust their own knowledge. They know that even the source of the most trusted diamond grading is inconsistent enough to have cost them before. Burn me once, shame on you, but burn me twice, shame on me. That’s just the way it is.

If the world was a perfect place, we’d have no problem with making a living or trading diamonds. It would be better for the international nature of the diamond business to have documents for diamonds that made them more readily tradable. Accurate documents measurements that held up to strict control, correct UV strength, reliable and accurate color and clarity grading all would contribute to stability and trust. For those who like to gamble, there are plenty of diamonds without grading documents or with old documents. It isn’t as if everyone will immediately appreciate the change that is possible today, but one must not be close minded about the potential to do more and better business, either.

For the past 14 years, I have been privileged to have played a small role as a consultant to a future industry leader firm. This relatively small but rather well funded firm is now bringing to the diamond industry a rather complete system which does the job of diamond measurement and grading for the vast majority of diamonds in nearly a fully automated way. All technological changes “evolve”. No technology is perfect upon its first delivery to users, but we are on the third generation of improvements by now and it is being deployed in labs and cutting facilities to improve diamond grading accuracy with increased speed and efficiency unlike any product in the marketplace. There still is a role for a gemologist in the mix, but the presently subjective nature of color, clarity, symmetry and fluorescence grading is virtually reduced to an occasional adjustment by a knowledgeable gemologist to correct minor error due to the complex possibilities in the odd stone. One can spend several million dollars to create machines to grade 97% of diamonds and many more millions to grade 98.5%. When the potential for a return on investment is not there, one must be realistic in just how much to spend to grade certain strange diamonds with technology. It becomes the chief gemologist’s role to grade or adjust for the small number of diamonds that a machine won’t grade perfectly. This is standard for all technology and not an excuse No one will build a device or system where it is impossible to recapture the investment unless they are a well funded, non-profit R&D facility. While we think we have these sorts of facilities already in the diamond industry, we must examine why little has been done by any of them to make the grading of diamonds more efficient, less time consuming and more accurate. Could it be that they have a vested interest in the status quo? Do you think their very best clients, diamond dealers, might just prefer to leave subjectivity as an excuse or a bargaining tool? This is something we should ponder.

How will the trade and consumer benefit from new grading technology? Do we ever question the desirability of honesty and accuracy? Few of us would deny that honesty and accuracy are laudable and noble goals. What consumer would not willingly give up fear and doubt and wish to replace these feelings with trust and assurance? What legitimate retailer would not wish to provide correct grading to their customers? How many retailers are being hurt financially today by dishonest or ignorant competitors who offer phony “certs” with pumped up color and clarity grades? How many honest diamond dealers are amazed at competitor dealers who flog loads of diamonds accompanied by phony documents? Who could fail to be amazed at the amount of lucrative business being done with these bad documents? It is very difficult for honesty to prevail when dishonesty remains so defiantly profitable.

Consumers would be surprised the degree of honesty and integrity prevalent in the diamond trade. No, it isn’t just honesty among a den of thieves. There is true integrity within the business, in spite of all that I have stated here. To clarify my point, I am saying there are some truly rotten apples in the business willing to use poor diamond grading as the means to their own ends, getting rich fast. There is nothing wrong with earning your riches, but the get rich fast approach is unfair to everyone.

Being early is a lot better than being late when it comes to being recognized for taking a positive stand for accuracy. There is no downside for being a leader when it is obvious that the status quo is a failed strategy for moving into the future.

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Thin is In: A Vendor’s Dilemma

The thin jewelry trend
Fashion is often influenced by the cost of production. With precious metal prices rising to record levels we have seen fashion take to a course where thinner and lighter is “fashionable”. It certainly is logical, but it is my belief we have reached and likely have passed beyond a reasonable limit to an extent on how delicate and light some ring mountings are to be made. While the comments I am about to make apply more broadly, I’ll just touch on a couple portions which seem to be creating frequent problems.

Rings with 1.5mm shanks are thin and delicate. For many people they are way too thin to be durable. Added to this trend for thinness is the micropavé of many light items further reducing the metal content and therefore also reducing durability. A ring for daily wear takes an incredible amount of abuse in the normal routine of life. Add this wear factor to a light and overly delicate design with tiny diamonds plugged into a Swiss cheese of holes for holding these stones there is nearly nothing left to give the ring sufficient strength. These very delicate and beautiful rings are just going to give consumers problems sooner or later. Some folks may be very careful and dainty with their rings on, but most people are going to see trouble in their future with such pieces.

Historically, one of the things which gave rise to this fashion are some of the wonderful Art Deco and filigree items from the first 1/2 of the 1900’s. One must remember that these items mostly look so delicate and fine today because they were made heavy enough when new that they have worn away a good deal of their metal by now, but are still holding up. They were not so thin when new. And, the thin ones made for less money back then have worn out and been scrapped or rebuilt.

I am seeing bracelets too thin to be durable, earrings with friction nuts so thin that they won’t stay on the ear, micropavé and invisibly set diamond jewelry made so light that the items bend and the stones fall out. If you have insurance, you are covered for the loss of the diamonds, but normal wear and tear on jewelry is not covered.

My suggestion is to investigate and shop well to determine if a light, delicate item is really right for you. Using a 2 or 2.5mm shank will help the ring to stand up to normal wear. Using hand made or die struck components, which are more dense metal than cast components, also often increases hardness, and durability. The labor to make a slightly heavier item is truly nominal. Only the added metal increases the cost and while it will cost more, the jewelry will last a long, long time and frequently never give the owner any problem over decades of use.

Not to make light of what I see as a a tragic situation, but I see the chase for thinness in rings akin to the public’s mistaken attraction to the super thin fashion models who are about one tiny meal away from turning into dust. Just a little more body on both jewelry and models would not be a mistake……. (My experience is all with jewelry and unfortunately not with models, oh well.)

Vendor’s Dilemma
The vendor’s dilemma is to agree to sell an item which will not wear well over a long period of time, or sell what you request in spite of this reasonably clear knowledge. All vendors want and need your business. Some will always agree to make whatever you wish. Some may warn you and then make what you want anyway and a few will never agree to make a piece too light or too thin to hold stones well or to be less than durable. Let the vendor guide you and keep an open mind. We cannot go thinner and thinner still. We have reached that limit already. Fashion and common sense will head in the opposite direction at some point. Look for advice and listen to those things which your vendor suggests concerning daily use and wear and tear issues. If the vendor makes no mention of durability and thickness concerns, then you should ask. You may be glad you did.

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Who is David Atlas?

D. Atlas - Expert Gemologist

David Atlas’ resume

David S. Atlas, a noted jewelry and gem expert, celebrated 50 years of experience in 2017.  He has combined his real world and industry experience with education from his father, GIA, ISA, ASA, AGS and NAJA for over 5 decades to offer the best in jewelry consultation services, appraisals, and advice in the areas of diamonds, colored gems, precious metals, and jewelry.

David began his jewelry career in 1967 with his family firm, which was founded in 1898. He can assist you in making smart decisions when insuring, buying, selling, divorcing, and inheriting precious jewelry and gems. Minimizing insurance costs and taxes, while maximizing any potential benefits is the right course of action.

David S. Atlas offers technical, forensic services when needed, such as when there is a question of origin of damage, or differences of opinion which creates worry and concern. He is a consumer advocate offering experienced advice, service and discretion.

David is an Associate Director of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers. This is the largest jewelry only appraisal organization both in the USA and the world. He has also been the Chairman of Ethical Issues for this Association for over 20 years.  David created and graded all advancement Certification tests for NAJA until 2019.  As of 2020 all NAJA Education and testing has been converted to online learning.

You can see to the right side of this page that Mr. Atlas has undergone a full background check to increase public trust in his services and encourages all appraisers to do likewise.

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Appraisal Services

D. Atlas - Jewelry Appraiser

Insurance Replacement and Damage Claims

Divorce

Estate

Collateral

Disputed Valuation

Liquidation appraisals.

Independent Appraisals
Services for:  Consumers, heirs, trustees, dealers & retailers  by appointment. Call David Atlas, 215-385-0258 or email d.atlas.co@gmail.com

Appraisal review
We’ll look at appraisal and grading documents that are under dispute or doubted. With our years of experience and substantial time spent teaching appraising to fellow gemologists, we are qualified to render opinions on the appraisal products of fellow professional appraisers when the need arises.

Origin of damage
How and when did my diamond break? Was there inherent vice? Was my ring made improperly? What happened to the color of my emerald?

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Sample Appraisal Report
Click the image below to open a sample Atlas appraisal report.
Sample appraisal report icon

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Jewelry Consulting

D. Atlas - Jewelry Consulting

I know what I like, but I have no idea of how to get it. Who can I trust, or is there some way to better protect myself? Can these two items be taken apart and put together to form a new, modern piece which I could wear? Is this a real diamond? Is there a “problem” with this piece of jewelry?

David S. Atlas can assist you with the answers to these questions and more. 50 plus years experience, a trusted and noted expert in the field.