April 1999


Emerald Dilemma:We're Not in Kansas Anymore

Fans of The Wizard of Ozmay recall the scene when residents of the Emerald City sang to Dorothy and her group as they approached: "You're out of the woods, you're out of the dark, you're out of the night ..."

Unfortunately for jewelers on the front line trying to explain emerald treatments to consumers, they've left Kansas but aren't in the Emerald City yet. What they need is simple guidance in conveying the news that not only are most emeralds treated, but the gemstone community can't always identify the proliferating number of fillers or determine how stable each is.

I found myself particularly struck with this thought after listening to a debate among gem dealers and gem laboratories during the AGTA GemFair in Tucson. Even though it was progress to get the various labs together to explain how they're trying to keep up, the debate was academic for most retailers in the audience. A jeweler turned to me when it was over and said, "This is why I don't sell emeralds anymore. They're up there discussing fine points, while I still don't know what to tell my customers that won't land me in legal trouble."

For now, the scientific work of categorizing the various fillers and testing them for durability (and several other factors) rests primarily in the hands of researchers at the Gemological Institute of America, who are conducting a major study of the issue. Dr. Mary L. Johnson's fascinating lecture the next day at a GemFair seminar broke the news the research is yielding more questions than answers. So it may be awhile before we have conclusive answers.

In the meantime, what if you included a statement such as this with each emerald sale: "Virtually all emeralds are treated with fillers that enhance their beauty and soften their natural inclusions. Because of amazing strides in technology, many new treatments are coming onto the market, some of which haven't been used long enough to know their long-term durability. For this reason, we advise that you return your fine emerald to us for inspection once a year. If the treatment destabilizes, we will re-treat or replace the emerald promptly." Then, as long as your suppliers can assure you they're doing everything they can to sell you emeralds with the most stable fillers on the market, hopefully you'd have very few returns anyway.

When I showed this sample statement to our resident gemologist and Senior Writer Robert Weldon, however, he pointed out not all dealers can remove bad fillers completely and replace them, which means you could find yourself buying replacement emeralds for your customers. That's a difficult position to be in because an emerald's inclusions make it hard to find a like gem, not to mention it's an expensive practice that may be an unbearable burden to you.

Is my proposed statement practical and will it protect you? I tried to frame it keeping in mind that consumers say they are mostly OK with gem treatments as long as they're informed and assured their jeweler will take care of any problems. How are you resolving this difficult issue? Please e-mail me, write or go to our Web site (professionaljeweler.com) and click on Brainstorm. There's got to be a yellow brick road around here someplace.


by Peggy Jo Donahue

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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