GEM LASER DRILLING:
The Next Generation
Say a diamond has a visible inclusion of some foreign material. The supplier uses a laser to drill a small channel to the inclusion, pours in some acid to bleach the inclusion, and the gem looks better, clearer, prettier. What's wrong with that?
Laser drilling of gems has been around for some time. The treatment improves the appearance of a lower-quality stone, making it more attractive to the naked eye and more salable. However, its value is still that of a low-quality stone. Under a jeweler's loupe (10-power magnification), the drill holes have been obvious.
Until now. A new drilling technique is able to make a channel only 5 microns wide — about 1/16 the width of a human hair. A jeweler using a loupe and standard grading procedures would miss the treatment altogether. He'd assess the diamond as a high-quality gem.
This startling development is bad news for consumers and insurers of diamonds. It means that unless the treatment is disclosed by the supplier and then the jewelry manufacturer and then the retailer, the laser-drilled gems could be priced far beyond their worth.
Laser drilling has always been controversial in the jewelry industry. While most ethical jewelers agree that gem treatments should be disclosed, there is disagreement over whether laser drilling is a "treatment."
Diamond cutters and dealers argue that drilling is an integral part of the manufacturing process and should be considered no different from faceting or shaping the stone. Diamonds are routinely put through an acid wash for external cleaning, and they say injecting acid into a channel is no different. They see laser drilling as just another way to improve the stone's appearance.
Some jewelers, however, will not even carry laser-drilled diamonds. They consider lasering to be a treatment done to conceal a flaw. The flaw is still there, and the new technique makes the treatment much more difficult to detect. Unless the drilling is disclosed all along the selling chain, the consumer (and the insurer) could wind up paying very unfair prices.
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has been closely studying the new laser drilling technique as it has developed over the past three years. Detection of the treatment, said one researcher, relies on thorough microscopic examination and a familiarity with the appearance of the damage left behind by laser treatment.
How many jewelers will recognize this treatment? Most jewelry retailers are not gemologists. Most retailers do not have the equipment necessary for thoroughly examining stones. And most appraisals received by insurers are not written by gemologists. Such "appraisals" are worthless in the face of new technologies that are increasingly successful at camouflaging low quality in gems. If such treatments are not recognized and disclosed on the appraisal, insurers will pay far more for a replacement than the stone was worth.
Insurers must insist on appraisals from Certified Insurance Appraisers™, jewelry professionals who are graduate gemologists, trained in appraising for insurance, and who take seriously their responsibilities to the consumer and to the insurer.
FOR AGENTS & UNDERWRITING
A laser-drilled diamond is worth less than an undrilled gem with the same appearance, so disclosure is crucial. However, not all retailers have the equipment and training necessary to detect laser drilling, especially the latest techniques. Some retailers may not even be aware that they are selling drilled stones.
Closely associated with laser drilling is fracture filling. In this treatment, a channel is drilled to the fracture so it can be filled with a foreign material that improves the gem's appearance. (Read Fracture Filling for a more detailed discussion.) This treatment should also be reported on the appraisal, since a fracture-filled diamond is worth significantly less that a natural one of similar appearance.
Your best move is to insist on an ACORD 78/79 appraisal, prepared by a Certified Insurance Appraiser™. A CIA warrants that the jewelry has been examined in a gem lab and that the appraisal contains full disclosure of treatments, including laser drilling and fracture filling.
Since the GIA is most familiar with recognizing the new laser-drilling techniques, get a GIA certificate for all high-quality diamonds.
For a claim on a damaged diamond, have the stone examined by a CIA™ in a gem lab.
Read the appraisal carefully for mention of gem treatments, such as laser drilling, fracture filling or "clarity enhanced" (a term for treatments such as laser drilling or fracture filling).
If the original stone was laser drilled or fracture-filled, it can be replaced with a similarly treated diamond, thus reducing loss costs.
If you are ordering a replacement for an untreated diamond, require the jeweler to guarantee that the replacement stone you are given has not been treated.
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