Do we need gem labs?

There is a lot of current chatter, especially in the US, about the inconsistency of diamond grades from different gemlabs. Every few years someone does an experiment sending one stone to several labs to compare the grades. Without fail, each time this experiment is performed the results are the same…grades all over the place.   Sometimes they are close with only a slight variation between labs.   Other times, especially when international labs are included, the results are all over the board with several grades of difference.

This is nothing new. The industry usually responds by reminding us that are no accepted standards for diamond grading and no industry entity to oversee and enforce any standards that might exist. While this is true, it is not the real problem. The problem, as I see it, is a lack of education and confidence among dealers at every level. This has created a dependency on laboratory grading reports.

Let’s take a moment to explore the functions of a major gemmological laboratory. Most labs perform three basic services: research, stone identification and quality grading. Many of them offer educational opportunities as well. The big money for labs comes from generating reports on coloured gemstones and diamonds. Typically there are two basic kinds of report: Identification and Grading. Of the two, the identification report is the one that is vital to our industry. Our customers need to know exactly what they are buying, including any treatments that may have been performed on the stone. This is pure, fact-finding science that often requires the advanced tools and training a lab can provide.

The identification report is the one that is vital to our industry

The identification report is the one that is vital to our industry

A grading report is not science nor is it a fact. It is merely an opinion. All too often dealers will “shop” a stone at several labs (or even the same lab) until they get the opinion they want. The stone never changes but the grades and subsequent prices can change drastically. Some labs are known to have softer standards and this in turn brings them more business.

I say it’s time to stop the madness! We need to wean ourselves off of grading reports and have the courage to have our own opinions. Educate yourself and you will have no need to buy someone else’s opinion. If you claim to be an expert… act like one. If you want your customer to have confidence in you, you must first have confidence in yourself. Coloured stone dealers, including those that specialize in coloured diamonds, understand this. Most of the coloured stone reports that I see from labs cover only identification, treatments, and sometimes origin. I rarely see a coloured stone grading report. Even coloured diamond reports usually just show origin of colour and treatments, not colour and clarity grades.

Of course we still need the labs for research and identification, but I’d rather they keep their quality opinions to themselves. I think it is time to return to selling beauty and not specifications. We need to have confidence in our own judgement. After all it is our money and reputation at stake, not the lab’s. Let’s get back to romancing the stone instead of just reading the report. Sell the stone, not the paper.

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