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May 2008

With the profit margins on GIA-certified stones being further squeezed between the price list and certificates, some dealers are going to other labs for grading. Sometimes they will send the same diamond to a few labs and see where they get the “best” deal.

Unfortunately, most other labs do not have the same high standards as GIA. Yet most consumers are not aware of this. They don’t know that the standards for grading nomenclature is not universal. (They have tried to standardize them and it’s never worked.) They don’t know that one diamond can have three different certificates.

And that’s the problem. By watering down the standards, and calling an I an H, and a highly included stone “slightly included,” the consumer is getting the bad end of stick. It is like calling a peso a dollar. There’s nothing wrong with a peso. It is just not a dollar. People must know what they are getting.

Labs protect themselves by putting legal language on the back of their documents. The GIA’s report says: “This Report is not a guarantee, valuation or appraisal and GIA Laboratory has made no representation or warranty regarding this Report.” The AGS report has similar language, and the EGL report says: “Since diamond grading is not an exact science, this report represents only the best professional opinion of this company. EGL is in no case responsible for differences which could occur by repeated expertise and/or use of other standards, norms, methods, or criteria other than chosen by EGL.”

That legal language is put there for the protection of the lab. But most consumers don’t read what the legal warnings on the back on the reports, as they don’t read most other kinds of “fine print.”

Because the consumer doesn’t know these differences, they are vulnerable to phony “deals.” The price difference between grades can be as much as 30 to 45%. Yet diamonds with very “generous” certificates are regularly sold on places like ebay and online, and consumers buy them sight unseen. And many are, quite frankly, not getting what they paid for. We are not saying the GIA is infallible (see the story on page six.) Or that people shouldn’t use other labs. But the disparity in the labs proves the limits of the so-called “commoditization” of diamonds.

When even the big grading labs say diamond grading is not an exact science, it is clear that diamonds that cannot be traded and bought sight unseen. There are limits to buying and selling by grades of numbers and letters.

We predict, in this tough economy, there will be more people opting for non-GIA-certed stones, just as they will likely start opting for non-branded diamonds.

But the consumer must be made aware, and has a right to know, whether or not the seller has examined the stone before it is sent to them, and whether the stone meets the minimum standards of color and clarity.

The consumer that just buys with a click of a mouse based on a piece of paper without the advice of a trained professional with years in the business is getting a the kind of bargain that can best be called “fool’s gold.” Only by having the diamond examined by a trained experienced expert can the consumer know they are truly getting what they paid for.

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