The following is an eye witness account of the day of the incident from New Jersey resident Kurt Cavano, owner of the Arizona Four Peaks Amethyst Mine. This narrative was not meant for publication, it was simply a note to friends. Thank you, Kurt, for allowing us to reprint this letter. Ed.
"To all my friends and family.
Thank you for all your calls and e-mails over the last 48 hours, and yes I am fine, at least physically.... I am very sorry I have not been able to reach out to all of you personally. The last few days have been trying.... For those who want the details of my day of personal hell, attached is a summary. Just the act of writing has been helpful....
My train pulled into the basement of the World Trade Center at roughly the same time as the first plane hit. Of course, none of us knew what happened except that the air in the basement was beginning to fill with a faint acrid smoke. I actually thought it was a fire in the brakes of the train, which happens occasionally. As I made my way up to the main level people were beginning to panic. As we were headed up on the giant escalators we could hear screams above us but everyone just looked at each other with that "What now?" look. At the top of the escalator people were running in all different directions. It was like a stampede that kept changing directions. One woman was screaming "It happened again, it happened again." "What happened?" I thought, as I still could not figure out what was going on. There were several people on the floor; one man was bleeding from his head and being attended by a security guard. The crowd changed directions and ran toward me. My best guess was that there was a mad gunman in the building. I figured running ahead of the crowd wouldn't be a bad idea, so I raced toward one of the exits keeping along the walls in case there was a gunman. I still had no clue what was going on but I was determined to get outside and thought I would find out later.
When I got out of the building, I couldn't believe my eyes; it was raining papers with burnt edges. Chunks of ceiling tiles and other stuff were hitting the pavement all around me; white powdery stuff was falling everywhere (ash, but I still had no clue....). Other junk and brown powder was lying all over the ground. I crossed the street to get out of the rain of junk and entered a crowd of thousands, all looking up. I turned around and saw for the first time, the top of the north tower totally engulfed in flames! I couldn't help but stand there and watch. It was surreal and I still had no idea what had happened.
As I made my way to our office, which is 2 blocks east, paper and ash were falling everywhere and the ground was covered with unidentifiable debris. The sky was dark from the smoke so I put on my sunglasses to keep the dust out of my eyes. About half way to my office someone said it was a plane that hit the towers. I figured it was a sightseeing plane and thought about how some careless pilot was going to make my commute difficult for the next few weeks. When I got to the front door of my building, I heard someone say that it was an American Airlines plane and I couldn't imagine how a commercial pilot would hit the twin towers. It must be a mistake.
When I went into our offices, which are on the top floor of our building, I went directly to the rooftop deck where we have an amazing view of the WTC. Just as I got out on the deck I saw the fireball of the second jet, as it hit the south tower! My colleagues said another plane hit the WTC. I only saw the fireball so I said, no it must have been just a secondary explosion. They said no, that it was a second plane.
It was only then that I realized what was happening and felt as if I would be sick. I stood and stared at the 2 fires in complete disbelief. I called home to tell Janet I was OK and explain the situation. She was back in New Jersey unaware that anything at all had happened.
Several staff members were now crying as everyone began to realize the enormity of the situation. Partly to get our minds off the fires and partly because it was the right thing to do, we all kicked into action. We started a phone chain to locate all of our employees and we put our disaster recovery plans into effect. We eventually determined that all of the staff were OK and knew that our production systems would be OK as they ran off site in a secure data center in New Jersey. We called and sent out emails to our customers and partners to tell them TradeCard was operational despite the problems.
I took a break and went back up on the deck to endure the rain of ash and see how the fire was going. Several of the staff members were running in saying there was a third plane. Because of the smoke you couldn't see anything in the sky but there was a tremendous noise that sounded like a jet engine just overhead and then it stopped. As soon as the sound stopped you could hear the screams of thousands of people as they ran towards our building. I looked up and saw the south tower was gone and a giant wave of thick brown dust was billowing down the street engulfing the running people. We all ran for the door and just as we got inside, the dust hit. It was as if it was night again as the sky was black and the windows were completely covered with dust. Shortly thereafter the fire alarm went off and we were told while there was no fire in our building, but for safety, we need to evacuate down to the basement.
While we were packing and headed down, the second tower collapsed and the building was again hit with a barrage of dust, wind and debris. We packed our briefcases and started down the stairs to the gym in the basement. It was crowded with other tenants but there were TVs, so for the first time we got to see the TV coverage of the whole scene taking place outside. After seeing the TV, it became clear that it might be days or even weeks before we could get back in the building. We convinced the building management to let us go back up and pack more of what was needed to run remotely for a longer period of time. Two trips up and down the 12 flights carrying stuff was more than my old knees wanted, but we got quit a bit of what we needed. While I was upstairs I opened the door to the deck. A full half-inch of soot and ash now covered everything and this was up 12 stories!
We waited in the basement for more than an hour to let the dust clear and besides, where would we go? The trains were not running, the tunnels were closed, the only way to get anywhere was on foot. Eventually we were told we must evacuate the area so we soaked rags in water and to shield against the dust and headed out. It was good we waited because the dust was manageable and if we had been caught outside when the towers collapsed, who knows.... My 70-block walk from downtown to Penn Station at 34th Street was actually quite amazing. By walking through downtown I could see the size of the area that was covered with debris. It was incomprehensible. It felt like I was in a war zone. Hundreds of people with rags around their heads walking through the smoke and the only sounds were that of fire and police sirens. Since a lot of the dust from the collapse had settled, the main problem was the smoke that burned your eyes and nose and the debris on the street. When I got north of Canal Street and out of the smoke it was like it was a different day, the sky was clear, the streets were clean but everyone was still walking. Weirder still was seeing all the pedestrians walking over the bridges and the over-flights of fighter jets. Every 10 blocks or so I would stop to look back at the smoke but it wasn't the smoke that was so amazing, it was the changed skyline.
The two buildings that were the most prominent feature of the place that I have worked for over 20 years, the buildings that I had always used as my compass points when navigating the streets, were just gone. When I see the reports on TV of what's left of the neighborhood where I have spent most of my working life, I am still in disbelief. The stores, restaurants, shops, and buildings are all gone, reduced to rubble.
A note of hope and a testament to the true nature of New Yorkers, were the people who had set up water coolers on the street to aid the weary walkers. The friendly people were everywhere and they were every color and nationality imaginable. I eventually made it to Penn Station and caught a train home. I was one of the lucky ones! The area my office building is in is cordoned off by the National Guard, so I will be working at home for a while.
The good news is that my staff and I are all OK, our systems are up and running and we are in business. We are an "Internet company" after all, so I guess we should be able to run things remotely for a while. The bad news is that many of our friends and business associates are still unaccounted for and there is little we can do but hope and pray.... Kurt"
|Mogok: Valley of Rubies and Sapphires|
by Ted Themelis
A and T Publishing, Los Angeles, CA, USA
270 pages, 2000, $89.00
"Many important Mogok rubies and sapphires are currently in the possession of oil-magnates or in the collections of the world's wealthiest gem connoisseurs."
A large portion of this book deals with the history of Burma. What really struck me is how the more things change, the more things stay the same. Although no one is really sure when gemstones were first discovered in Mogok, the constant is the world's insatiable appetite for these revered gemstones. Nations and groups in and around Mogok have always fought for control of the mines. The West has always desired these Mogok gems. Sometimes trading with the Burmese is profitable, but many times it is not. The ruby mines were often seen as the personal treasure chests of the rulers of Burma. If a large stone was found, it immediately became property of the present ruler. In 1893, a 10% tax was instituted on every stone sold to a foreigner. In 2001, a 10% tax is levied on all exported gems. Foreigners were also historically forbidden from ever seeing the Mogok mines and were often led on wild goose chases. With a few minor exceptions, foreigners still cannot buy gems in Mogok.
The Looting of the Mandalay Palace
in 1885, the British and Indian armies occupied Burma. You can read in painstaking detail how this was accomplished and how many of the goods were probably smuggled out of the palace. In exile, King Thibaw used his Burmese gemstones to finance his extravagant lifestyle. Many of these rubies ended up in European and American collections.
Burma Ruby Mines (BRM)
After the British annexed Burma, a syndicate of British speculators received a concession for the Mogok mines. They floated the BRM stock in 1889. When you read the account of this Initial Public Offering (IPO), you will see amazing parallels to the present day dot.com bubble. Despite the risky nature of mining a precious resource in a far away land, the Burmese mines were often profitable, sometimes paying dividends of 17.5%. What hurt the ruby market was the creation of synthetic rubies in 1908. This caused a panic and many jewelers refused to sell any rubies at all. The Burma Ruby Mines dissolved in 1925.
Second World War
During the Second World War, Mogok was occupied by the Japanese. After the war, gem trading increased as the Chinese and Americans took control of the area. American military personnel started buying star rubies and star sapphires.
Burma became an independent free nation in 1948. The 1947-1962 period was considered the Golden Era of Mogok gem mining. Native mining methods were used and gemstones were traded freely. Foreigners were allowed into Mogok to mine and trade gems.
Politics and General Ne Win
The 1962 coup de etat by General Ne Win closed Burma off to the rest of the world. He nationalized businesses, took over the banking industry, and led the country into self-isolation and socialism. The Burmese held their assets in anything but the kyat (the Burmese currency). Sound familiar to the current situation in Burma? Rubies and sapphires escalated in price and foreigners were banned from Mogok. In 1969, the Burmese junta took control of the mines and made possession of gemstones illegal! Some enterprising miners still dug tunnels underneath their homes to search for gemstones. Many revolutionary groups, the Karens, Shans, Kachins, and the Burmese Communist Party, were involved in illegal gem production and smuggling. In 1972, gemstone prices spiked due to the devaluation of the kyat. This may help explain why ruby and sapphire prices continue to escalate today, even given the current worldwide recession. To the Burmese, a devaluated currency means hold your money in stones, not kyat. According to economic theory, the prices of Burma goods should decrease with a declining currency, instead the opposite is the reality. In 1976, the Burmese government created the Myanmar Gem Corporation to revitalize gem mining and marketing. They initiated the twice yearly auctions of gemstones with high reserves. Instead, most goods were smuggled to Bangkok. Today, the Myanmar Gem Enterprise (MGE) controls the gem trade. During the late 1970's and early 1980's, the Burmese government was constantly fighting the Burmese Communists over Mogok. Then in 1988, the Burmese military SLORC took control of the country.
Since 1997, the State Peace Development Council (SPDC) has controlled the country. In 1990, in an effort to combat rampant smuggling, the Burmese government approved 159 joint-venture projects. The government was to receive 50% of the profits. By 1998, mechanized mining had become predominant in Mogok and there were over 1200 mining sites. Mogok was opened to foreigners in 1996 and closed in 1999.
For some reason, I always imagined Mogok was a town of about 50,000. According to Themelis, the permanent population is about 400,000, and it reaches 1/2 million in the dry season. Mogok is inhabited by a large and diverse group of ethnic peoples. The average mine worker in Mogok only makes $13 per day. However, this is significant compared to the average annual income of $300 in Burma. There is little wealth in Mogok despite the fact people spend their lives mining and being involved in gem trading. Most people live modestly and every family has a gem collection. These collections are not for sale and are passed from generation to generation. Quite often these collections are hidden under Buddhist altars and are only sold in times of dire financial distress.
Interestingly, satellite dishes are everywhere in Mogok. It costs $5000 to have a cellular phone, and the Burmese have no real government mail service. All gemstone deals are consummated in US dollars, not the Burmese kyat, because the kyat is not a convertible currency. There are some interesting sections on life in Mogok, with special attention paid to tattooing, smoking, games, sport, food, festivals, and movies in Mogok. This section is replete with fascinating photographs.
Many large gem dealers give gold, silver, and gems to earn merit in Buddhism. Some have given enough money so 20-30 pagodas can be built to their memory.
Astrology, numerology, and palmistry are important aspects of Burmese life. The Burmese also believe in karma. If a gem breaks while it is being cut, it is seen as the result of something done wrong in a past life. If a Burmese sells a stone for a profit, it is seen as the result of doing something right in a past life. Astrological calculations are often used to determine when to sell an important gemstone.
Another interesting point is how women dominate gem trading in Mogok. They can often be seen driving in their Toyota Land Cruisers and talking on cell phones, while their assets are safe offshore in US dollar accounts in Singapore or Switzerland.
You can read the fascinating story of U Hmat, the ruby king from 1841-1916. Another interesting story is told about Albert Ramsay, a New York gem dealer who visited Mogok in the 1920's. Find out why he threw all the rubies and sapphires he had bought into the river.
There are basically two gemstone trading markets in Mogok. Open air markets exist in and around the area. As a general rule, low quality gemstones are traded here. Depending on the time of day, these markets change locations and are primarily dominated by Burmese women. The asking prices for these gems are astronomical, and buyers counter with equally unrealistic low bids. Sometimes, it can take days or weeks to consummate a deal. The really fine Mogok gems are only seen in private homes. Only buyers with the financial ability to pay high prices for top goods are allowed entrance.
Of course, the intention of every Burmese cutter is to save weight, not maximize brilliance or symmetry. A Burmese would rather have one 2-carat ruby than two brilliant and symmetrical carat-sized rubies. Although these "native cuts" often look primitive, the Burmese are extremely skilled at hiding gemstone problems with their cutting. The gems are cut on machines that look like a combination sewing machine and exercise bike.
Important Rubies and Sapphires
A fascinating section relates to notable rubies and sapphires. You can learn about the Gem of the Jungle, as well as the 100.3 Delong Star Ruby which was once stolen by Murph the Surf from the American Natural History Museum. The best story is about a 47 carat crystal which was first believed to be a spinel. The book has exquisite photographs of the various stages of the gem being cut. The stone eventually turned out to be a 25.55-carat, gem red ruby.
This book is not an intense gemological treatise. I have touched on only a few aspects of its content....there is a great deal more of interest. This book is meant to be enjoyed and to enlighten you about Burma. It will give you a unique historical perspective. Further, if you cannot, or have no desire to, visit Burma, owning this book is the next best thing. You can see exactly what it is like from the abundant photos. The book is almost a travelogue, with original maps for a trip from Mandalay to Mogok. This is an ideal publication for anyone who collects Burma gemstones.
You can purchase this book on-line at Amazon.com.
The new yellow tourmaline mine is located right on the Malawi-Zambian border in Africa. It is 14 hours from Lusaka, the capital of Zambia and 3 hours from Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. The mining area is called Tumbuku, hence the name of the owners - The Tumbuku Mining Company. It is an open pit alluvial mine in a river valley. No feasibility studies of the area have been conducted and therefore the future potential of the mine is unknown. Production could stop tomorrow or last for a significant time. Currently, the mine is producing about 200 kilos of rough yellow tourmaline a month. Approximately 2 kilos of the production are gem quality, or the yield is about 10%. Of the finished product, about 95% are below a carat and 5% above a carat.
Tourmaline is an interesting group which encompasses several minerals with similar chemical compositions and atomic structures. Tourmalines show the greatest color variation of any gemstone, and even include gemstones that are bicolored and tricolored. Tourmalines are known for their complex crystal structure and chemistry. All tourmaline crystals begin as colorless. The colors are created later by a myriad of trace elements. Magnesium is primarily responsible for the yellow color in the new tourmaline. This yellow tourmaline is 7-7 1/2 in hardness and does not tend to chip or break. Its luster is glassy and it has a high degree of transparency.
When the rough arrives from Malawi, many comment on how it is the only rough in the world that "smells good". Say what? The tourmaline is often extracted from the mine encased in a black material, which must be removed. Interestingly, the mine owners discovered one method by which this could be accomplished is to boil the rough in water with lemon juice. Consequently, not only does this material look like lemon, it also smells like lemon! The process does not alter the color, the citric acid simply dissolves the black alkaline exterior. The Tumbuku Mining Company now has employees whose sole responsibility is to procure and squeeze vast quantities of lemons for the boiling process.
The new canary tourmaline is not irradiated, but most are heated. Heating drives out the brown secondary colors and makes the yellow look crisper. However, the process is difficult because much of the material is filled with black needle-like inclusions. When the rough is heated, these black inclusions have a tendency to crack the crystals. The goods are only heated up to a relatively low 700 degrees. If heated too quickly, the material also fractures. The entire process takes about 1-3 days. The result of this heat treatment is an electric yellow color.
Ideal Yellow Tourmaline
Ideally, the color of canary tourmaline is vivid yellow with a light tone. You are looking for a pure yellow, or yellow with an attractive greenish secondary color. Yellow-brown is considered not as desirable and is marketed as golden tourmaline, as opposed to canary. These goods should be purchased eye clean.
Sizes, Shapes, and Prices
Most canary tourmalines can be purchased wholesale in the hundreds of dollars per carat range. The very highest quality gem yellows can reach over $1000 per carat. The largest canary yellow discovered to date is a 12.44 trilliant, the largest golden tourmaline, 23 carats.
The markets for this new material are manufacturers, wholesalers, retail jewelers, and collectors. These goods will probably compete directly with heated Ceylon yellow sapphire. The prices of canary tourmaline are approximately the same as Ceylon yellow sapphire in larger sizes and less expensive in melee. As a general rule, the canary goods are cleaner than Ceylon yellow sapphire. However, Ceylon yellow sapphire is more readily available in larger sizes. Of course, unheated Burma yellow sapphire is ultra rare and tops the yellow colored gemstone hierarchy.
This is a hot and "must have" stone in Japan. Recent gemological literature has sparked serious demand for the gem. The Japanese are purchasing all of the colors, including yellow, yellow-green, and even yellow-brown. They have always had an affinity for yellow and orange colors and this stone is no exception. Approximately 90-95% of the production goes to Japan, and the balance to the US market.
This gemstone will probably be sought after by collectors worldwide. What other colored gemstone can you find with the look of a fancy intense to vivid yellow diamond for a mere fraction of the price? This may be an interesting choice for collectors with limited funds, or an excellent diversification gemstone for clients with large portfolios.
FBI Arrests Three in Jewelry Purchase Scam
Three people were recently arrested in New York for allegedly attempting to purchase $500,000 worth of diamonds and jewelry with a counterfeit certified bank check. The FBI learned the details of the scheme through an informant. On July 31, the informant, whose role was to pose as a wealthy Russian, called the jeweler and set up a rendezvous at the Waldorf Astoria. The jeweler was told to bring specific types of jewelry and precious stones. The plan was to view the merchandise, ask the jeweler to leave and then return to the hotel in one hour when the fraudulent check would be exchanged for the jewelry. After the initial call to the jeweler, the perpetrators were arrested by FBI agents.
Australian Pearl Heist
An Australian man accused of receiving around $500,000 worth of stolen pearls is on trial in Western Australia. Jeweler Peter Zacharia is charged with receiving the gems in March, 1998 at a Perth hotel after they had been stolen from a remote pearl farm. The theft from the company, Broome Pearls, has been described as Australia's biggest pearl heist. Another man, 42-year-old Broome resident Tony Connelly, has been charged with stealing the pearls. The pearls have never been recovered.
$8 Million in Diamonds Stolen in Microwave
In the Netherlands, a 25-year-old man calmly walked out of the offices of Amsterdam's Gassan Diamonds carrying a box stuffed with uninsured diamonds. He had arrived at the office with the box at the start of the working day, saying it contained a microwave oven. Benno Leeser, director of the 56-year-old family-run firm said, "He came with a microwave in the box, but he left with the diamonds." The suspect, said to be a former army cook who had worked for the firm since April, has vanished without a trace.
New Jersey Gem Dealer Triple Murder
A 1997 incident ended in the slayings of three Bogota men over an alleged business dispute. The victims were Bogota emerald dealer Rajesh Kalsaria and his two friends, Ajit Hira and Bhushan Raval. Darwin Godoy, 23, was the central figure in assembling the criminals. Prosecutors stated Godoy introduced the plan's alleged mastermind, Dimpy Patel, to the triggerman, Miguel Suarez, and another convicted conspirator, Richard Morales. Godoy also served as a lookout outside Kalsaria's home on Oct. 23, 1997. Suarez killed Kalsaria and his two friends, Ajit Hira and Bhushan Raval, who unfortunately happened to be visiting that day. Suarez and Morales are both serving state prison terms, and Patel is scheduled for trial next month.
Godoy testified at length in the Suarez-Morales trial and figured to be the state's star witness against Patel. However, the deal soured earlier this year. After seeing Morales sentenced to only 20 years when his own deal called for 30, Godoy tried to renegotiate with prosecutors. But they refused, rescinding the offer and putting Godoy on trial. Jurors subsequently convicted him in June of murder, robbery, and conspiracy. Godoy was recently sentenced to life in prison, with no prospect for parole for at least 50 years.
Athlete's Stolen Jewelry
New York Giants rookie cornerback Will Allen was recently robbed in Syracuse, New York. The $150,000 in jewelry included a $120,000, 51-carat platinum and diamond bracelet, an $11,000, 13-carat bracelet, a $9,000 gold Rolex, and two diamond earrings valued at $10,000. In an alarming episode that would leave Allen uninjured but badly shaken, the three robbers surrounded Allen at his apartment door, sprayed his jacket with gasoline and threatened to set him on fire unless he parted with his belongings, including the keys to his Mercedes Benz. No one has yet been arrested. Allen said the value of the stolen jewelry was closer to $75,000.
Lapidary Journal, June, 2001
Sites To See
by Hazel L. Wheaton
A great site run by gemstone guru Robert Genis, president of National Gemstone (NG). Good information on grading and collecting, links to digital images from the Smithsonian's collection of stones, and an archive of the Gemstone Forecaster Newsletter, which Genis publishes."
Guru?....Gee, thanks, Mom! Ed.
Paul McCartney Engagement Ring
|Paul McCartney, the ex-Beatle, 59, gave an Indian sapphire engagement ring to former model Heather Mills. It is a large sapphire between two smaller diamonds in a gold band. Although it is difficult to tell simply from a photograph, the stone looks swindled (cut to appear larger than it is) and the brilliancy way too low.|
4-1-1 Nigerian Scam Hits Ireland
According to the Irish Bureau of Fraud Investigation, at least 20 Irish people have suffered major financial losses as a result of Nigerian-led fraud scams. The known victims are spread over four syndicates in various parts of Ireland and the total value of the swindled funds runs into millions of dollars. One group alone has lost at least US$5 million. Many Irish fraud victims remain secret about their losses because they fear the Irish tax collectors over "hot" money or simply due to embarrassment. One person gets involved and he unwittingly recruits his friends.
The Nigerian scamsters find names from sources such as electoral registers and databases purchased for the purpose. They target the victims through e-mail and traditional letters to invite investors to participate in a range of scams. The scamsters promise diamonds in return for "advance money" and claim connections with the Nigerian Central Bank or Nigerian government ministries. One scam centers around the death of a fictional Nigerian business person who was without relatives and whose substantial funds were dormant in a Nigerian bank account. Irish investors were tempted to part with their own money in order to eventually gain access to the dead man's millions.
A spectacular collection of jewels, privately owned for more than two centuries by the Nizams of Hyderabad, recently went on display at the Delhi's National Museum in India. The Nizams were once the rulers of the princely state of Hyderabad, which is now part of India. The value of the collection is estimated at US$3 billion. The main piece is the Jacob Diamond. It is the seventh largest in the world, almost twice the size of the famous Kohinoor Diamond in London. It is valued at over US$120 million. The last Nizam apparently found it by chance hidden in the toe of his late father's slipper, and from then on used it as a paperweight. Other important jewels include a necklace with 370 pearls, a diamond belt that weighs 640 carats, and rare Alexandrites. The Indian government fought a long legal battle to stop the collection from being sold overseas.
"CHANTHABURI, THAILAND -- A group of U.S.-based gem dealers have accused gem e-commerce giant Thaigem.com of misleading the public and violating Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations.
Taking their concerns to the press and, in some cases, the FTC, the small but vocal group claims Thaigem has been wrongly identifying valuable gems, using the term "flawless" to describe colored stones where it's not appropriate, enhancing the brightness of photographic images, and failing to disclose treatments for individual gems.
Thaigem, which is owned by Thaigem Global Marketing Ltd. in Chanthaburi, Thailand, has admitted to two identification errors, which it blames on the huge volume of business. It also announced in July that it would eliminate the term "flawless" from its gem descriptions. But Thaigem also dismisses its critics as small-volume dealers threatened by the competition.
The complaints came to a head last year when Thaigem posted a batch of what it termed "flawless" Paraiba tourmaline at surprisingly low prices -- for instance, $50 for just under a carat.
The posting stunned David Sherman, owner of Treasures of the Earth in Los Gatos, California, because his mine is one of the major producers of this rare, brightly-colored tourmaline. He bought $72,000 worth of the gems, only to discover after attempting to heat them that they were not from the original Paraiba mine.
"It was an honest mistake," Thaigem CEO Don Kogen told Colored Stone. "We lost a lot of money on [the Paraiba]. We didn't care, we just cleaned up that mess."
Thaigem gave Sherman a refund, and changed its product descriptions to read "Paraiba color" tourmaline.
In a second, unrelated case, Thaigem also conceded that they mixed up a batch of green tourmaline and chrome tourmaline. Mark Herschede of Turmali & Herschede Inc. in Sanibel, Florida, discovered the mixup when he paid $59 for a 4.85 carat green tourmaline advertised as a chrome tourmaline, which would be much more valuable. The appraised value of the stone on the accompanying certificate by the Chanthaburi Gemological Research Institute was inflated to $825.86, he said.
When Hershede confronted Thaigem, again, they conceded the error, offered to refund the money, and changed the product descriptions to "chrome-color" tourmaline.
Herschede, too, isn't satisfied. "What concerns me is what they're doing is just not right. You don't go around defrauding, or at least misleading, the public. When you issue a certificate, you have to be right. I don't buy that defense."
But the major complaint critics had was that Thaigem routinely described colored stones as "flawless" in its online catalog.
"Colored stones aren't supposed to be flawless...The FTC says you can't call colored stones flawless [unless the gem actually is flawless]," said Paul Dixon of PGR-Gem.com in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He cites a recent case where he bought a small lot of 20 rubies totaling 3.5 carats that were described as flawless on the site, and turned out to have visible inclusions. Dixon, Herschede, Sherman, and others believe that these were not simply isolated cases. They see a pattern of misrepresentation which, intentionally or not, results in misleading the members of the public who form about 60 percent of Thaigem's customer base.
Frustrated by the barrage of criticism, Thaigem executives on July 7 and 16 issued a lengthy press release addressing the most persistent complaints. One major change is that the company will no longer use the word "flawless." Although Thaigem points out that "flawless" is a common trade term, and is even used by competing sites, "we decided to take the high ground," said Linsell.
Thaigem has developed an alternate system for describing clarity where the highest rating is "clean" -- defined as free from inclusions -- and the lowest is "translucent," meaning that the light is scattered as it passes through the gem.
Regarding treatments, Thaigem said it has always told customers in its "terms and conditions" to assume that any internationally-traded gem has been treated. For information on particular treatments, customers are directed to either e-mail the company or to access the "Gemstone Discovery" section of the Web site, which reviews treatments in the general description of each gemstone. However, as of press time, customers were required to click through several layers of links to view this information, and there was no indication of how to access it from the lists of gems for sale.
Thaigem insists that it is not obligated to disclose treatments on individual stones in part because a "treatment's effect on a stone's value is subjective" -- referring to an FTC clause which states that enhancements need not be disclosed if they have no significant effect on a gem's value.
Finally, Thaigem fired back at its most vocal individual critics. "Competitors including Mr. Mark Sarosi, Mr. Mike Dixon, and Mr. Mark Herschede claim their motivation in attacking Thaigem.com is to protect uneducated buyers," stated the July 7 press release. "Such claims...are not only a direct slur on our professionalism but are also potentially insulting to the 40 percent of our customers who are undoubtedly well-informed trade members...In reality, the only conceivable motivation these sellers have in attacking our company is their own inability to compete on a global scale."
In the relatively new field of online trading, the ongoing dispute has forced the industry to ask: Who is in charge of trading in cyberspace? Who sets standards for Internet promotion? And can dealers rely on the FTC and trade associations to enforce standards for international companies selling on the World Wide Web? ..."
For comments, questions or price quotes E-mail NGC, Attn: R. Genis
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