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Real Graders Don't Drink Kool Aid

These tutorials and in fact our entire website grew out of our experiences as gem lab graders and exposure to different aspects of the diamond business.

The diamond industry is a secretive and complicated one. Probably the best way to really understand it is from deep inside. From the point of view of a gem lab grader. When you grade a diamond, all you want is to see the diamond get a fair shake and the grade it deserves. Not more, not less. However, the little grade you give out can impact the earning potential of that diamond sometimes by thousands of dollars. So in the process you learn much about the people bringing in these diamonds to get graded. Although the people submitting the stones are generally pretty well off, you get to see people from all walks of life. At their best and at their worst. And some of them will go to great lengths to get the grades they want...

Read the pages that follow to learn the true art, science and business of the gem lab industry. After many years, there is one funny thing that we've learned about human nature. It makes no sense, but it's true. Many people want to be fooled. It's in the genes. If a dishonest salesperson develops a rapport with a consumer, that consumer will trust the salesperson more than a lab gemologist who has nothing to gain by lying. Seen it happen over and over again.

Why?
They know the salesperson is biased.... Wants to sell.... At a profit.... They know the grader is independent (with some exceptions). They know the independent grader has no motive (with rare exceptions) to lie.... That as a grader who gets access to grade and analyze hundreds if not thousands of diamonds, many of them rather unique... clearly the grader has more know how than the salesperson.... Why not trust the independent professional?

The answer?
No idea whatsoever. But what is, is...

We've found the same to be true on the internet. We used to allow any Jeweler access to our sites and our consumers, figuring the cream would rise to the top. The harsh light of truth would prevail. Insert corny cliche here... But much to our dismay, what turned out is that the less honest the Jeweler, the more the consumers loved them. The more "hypey" and less scientific the "knowledge" that was "shared", the more it was believed. After some trying times and soul searching, we finally kicked out the worst offenders and are maintaining a tight control over our site and our vendors. What is left is smaller than it used to be, but the information is so much better quality...as are the vendors...

Of course people will still try to market themselves and the hype has even infiltrated Wikipedia. The Diamond entry is chock full of vendor-sponsored websites and propaganda. A lot of that "education" is totally false. We even posted in our forum how the IP Addresses discussing "cut" to the benefit of one vendor actually was logging on under multiple usernames at our site to cleverly push an agenda. But that didn't slow them down at all... Naturally it helps them that this very user is on the Wikimedia technical team, on the Wikimedia developer committee and a Wikipedia Administrator.

If you care about Wikipedia, you may want to inform the powers that be at Wikipedia about this situation of Wikipedia Spamming. The user is brilliant to be sure. A talented developer. But he hurt the integrity of Wikipedia, not to mention misinformed people who are trying to learn about diamonds. Since we wrote that post, one of his articles was removed for advertising. The Hearts and Arrows section still desperately needs fixing though. It is totally spammy and a distortion of truth.

If you are like the majority, at least from our experience, these diamond articles will be of no use to you. Move on to another site where you are given the spin, polish and marketing version of the truth you want to hear. There are plenty to go around... But if you are the rare person who likes to know the real truth, warts, scabs and hangnails... stick around.... We'll tell all... Or at least a lot :)

Where shall we start? Why not with an analogy to the fashion world?

Think of clothing. There is the science of clothing. Microfibers are reality. Cotton, wool. Manufacturing methods. Quality control. These are objective realities that can be discussed without relating to vendors. Without emotion. Without "sales talk".

Naturally each vendor will want you to believe that their clothing is the best. That's why they brand. But an expert will ignore the label, analyze the raw material, the seams, the sewing that went into it and determine the quality that way. They have their standard tools they might use.

At the end of the day, if it has a checkmark, that's cool. Nike spent a lot to make that mark mean something. The little horsey in a Ralph Lauren polo shirt stands for something. But there is the objective quality and there is the value of the brand.

The difference in the diamond world, is that branding isn't worth all that much. You may buy a ring from Tiffany. But once it's out of the blue box, the diamond is pretty much a commodity. Buying from Tiffany is like buying from Armani. You know it's quality. But unlike a Ralph Lauren polo shirt, you don't have a logo inside the diamond. At least not yet... So a beautiful unbranded diamond that costs a lot less can look just as nice...

If you think all this is a bad example, or an exaggeration of how things are done in this industry, take a simple example:

Hearts and Arrows. To a real gemologist, the hearts and arrow shapes are really no big deal. It is the easiest thing to tailor your cutting instruments to cut a perfect hearts and arrows pattern when looked at through a special viewer. The cutter may have to sacrifice some weight or other desirable features to achieve this, but it isn't "difficult" at all. There is little art to cutting a diamond that way. That doesn't stop plenty of cutters from trying to make it sound like they are going to all ends of the earth to cut this way.

We've worked with quite a few cutters, because when we would see a diamond at the lab whose clarity and yes, sometimes even color can be improved with sacrificing just a little weight, we would inform the client before finalizing the grade. If the client wanted the stone recut, we would mark it up for the cutter so he knows what to remove to improve the grade. And a cutter we know showed us exactly how easy it is to cut when the proportions are known. For ideal cuts you know the required percentages and for hearts and arrows patterns it's just a matter of symmetry. Much easier work than maximizing every aspect of the rough diamond... and it doesn't really require much thinking...

Other than branding or the romantic concept of hearts and arrows inside a diamond, it doesn't add real value, considering in daily life you will never see a hearts and arrows pattern. It's like the Nike checkmark except all you have is the knowledge in your head that it's there. Your friends won't see it on your finger...

While reading this, one thing is important for you to keep clear. We have nothing against the branding that goes on. In fact, we have great respect for many of the top brands who represent quality at every thing they do. If we wanted to sell diamonds, we would brand too and we'd make sure everything we sold was of high quality.

Our goal in this discussion is to separate the instruments that have gemological value from the ones that are for branding value. If we aren't concerned with the hype, why should you the consumer care? But if you do, that's fine too. As long as you know which part is real education and which part is just a "commercial".

For us, the gemological tools of the trade are more than enough to decide on a diamond's quality. The bread and butter tools include: The Sarin (and similar devices) that determines the physical dimensions of the diamond. The binocular microscope that helps identify and qualify inclusions. The color grader (Diamond Lite) to allow a repeatable viewing of color in diamonds using the same environment each time. There are other similar instruments available. UV Lamp and viewer to detect fluorescence in a diamond. Ultra sensitive scale to measure a diamond's carat weight. The loupe to make sure that the inclusions visible to the microscope are still visible using 10x monocular device. And the tweezer to hold the diamond (in a microscope there is a stone holder). There are a few others here and there, but they aren't usually necessary for the vast majority of diamonds. They are mostly used to detect treatments and deal with special circumstances...

As for cut, the best device to measure it is the human eye. You may like brilliance. Your fiance may prefer fire. You may like larger tables. She may prefer smaller ones. You may prefer the shape appeal of one stone, she may prefer the other. Even the labs have gone too far in trying to qualify cut. Other than AGS, whose entire existence depends on giving out a cut grade, the labs have resisted giving one out for years. There are many reasons, but the most valid one is that it is subjective. Cut encompasses too much to be based on lookup tables. That's like giving out a beauty grade on paintings. X amount of blue paint, Y amount of red paint, Z use of fine brushes, n use of that brush... Ah, now the painting is "Excellent" on the beauty chart. How ridiculous... More on this topic later on...

Most of the other devices mentioned by vendors and other websites to do the basics that are described above, are pretty much superfluous. A selling tool. So if you like that, learn all about it. But realize that hype is not what we focus on here or care about. So you can't learn much about those things at our site.

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