(excerpts from pages 193 - 200)
The million dollar emerald crystal: About 10 years ago, a single six sided prismatic crystal weighing about one kilogram, fairly transparent and a good emerald green colour, was offered for a million dollars to a rough buyer. The conditions of buying were not ideal since this was at a remote village in Zambia. The buyer was a regular buyer and had vast experience in purchasing all types of emerald rough. Negotiations went on for about a week with no deal being made. It suddenly occurred to the buyer that the seller never brought the specimen in daylight hours and absolutely refused to release it for a more thorough examination. This made him suspicious and since rough buying is a lot about one's instincts, he decided against the purchase, even as the price kept dropping. Another buyer was not as cautious. He thought he was getting a bargain at half the price and ttriumphantly returned to his country. Imagine his dismay when he realised that the specimen was none other than a large rock crystal quartz which had been sawn off at both ends, then roughed up and with a little bit of mica and mud looked like an emerald crystal. An internal cavity had been filled with a green pigment which suffused the entire crystal with a pleasant green colour!
Synthetic ruby dug up from the mining areas: Orissa in India is known for a number of different rough gemstones. As it rose into the limelight so did the frauds. The most popular was the nexus between a miner, a gem dealer and a person from the administrative circles. The miner would offer to sell rough ruby with the condition for authenticity being that the buyer accompanied him to the digging area and watched as he recovered the ruby rough. Something along the lines of- “buy fresh vegetables directly from my garden, Sir”. Needless to say, synthetic ruby specimens (pre-fashioned to appear as natural) had already been buried into the ground earlier. The miner then digs up the rough with much excitement and advises the buyer not to trust him but to get it checked with a knowledgeable gem dealer. Enter the gem dealer who confirms the natural status and advises the buyer that to take the rough lot safely out of the area he should make a payment to the local person. Once this is done, the buyer returns to Jaipur to manufacture and sell his goods. Then reality steps in with a GTL identification report stating the synthetic origin!
My favourite example is the composite emerald rough: This has already been written up in the earlier chapter on synthetics. Since it in context here, we just wish to recount it. A light green beryl was sliced at one end and a drill hole made within the crystal. A glass rod with green adhesive was placed within the drill hole and the sliced cap was stuck to close the opening. The crystal was then randomly covered with mud and black mica to make it look the real thing. The overall effect was of a deep green emerald with natural inclusions, but with a tantalising glimpse of a clean portion within the crystal, which could yield an emerald of exceptional quality on cutting. This crystal was then mixed into a parcel of medium grade natural emerald rough. Needless to say that the trader bought the parcel on the assumption that he would make a fortune on this one piece. Imagine his shock and dismay when he sliced off the cap of the crystal! It brings home the singular fact that when buying rough, be educated and trust your intuition.
And there is pricing...
In the mid 1980s, a group of jewellers from Jaipur had gone to Geneva to buy emerald rough. At the office there was a long queue of Zambians waiting to sell rough. One of the jewellers, Mr. Yogi Durlabhji spoke about one lot of about ten thousand carats which was offered to them at five hundred dollars per carat. According to him “the goods looked like they were below five dollars a carat. With such a discrepancy of thought, what sort of offer does one give?” One of the other jewellers who were with him said “give an offer of two and a half dollars per carat”. They made the offer and after one solid hour of negotiations, the lot was purchased at two dollars sixty cents per carat!!! There are numerous stories of fantastic prices asked and equally fantastic low offers made. This was the norm three decades ago. In recent times, with companies controlling mines, pricing of gemstone rough have stabilised to a great extent, though there are still some good bargains out there. This is more so in countries where new deposits are being located and no form of organised mining or governmental controls are yet in place.
And then there are smart tricksters...
The two hundred carat+ diamond: We were once invited to visit a city in the south of India, where apparently a gentleman had a large diamond rough, shaped like an egg, of exceptional clarity and colour. We reached there with our equipment and were taken to this house where the specimen was brought by the owner and his resident astrologer and handed over to us with much ceremony. One look was sufficient to tell us this was no diamond, but we had to keep up appearances and look professional. So we did our part with equal pomp - placed it carefully on the polariscope - we got an anisotropic reaction. Then, we examined it for over half an hour with the microscope - one iridescent fracture and a classic non-miscible liquid inclusion. We concluded saying that we needed to examine the specimen again the next day, since we were all tired. We thought that was it, but no, we were then taken to another room where a video recording had been set up. The stone had been very cleverly shot in various lighting and backgrounds, on a rotating pedestal, and we were then subjected to a half hour discourse on the many nuances that a “diamond of first water” changes its colour as it is rotated, That was enough for us. We left saying we would let them know in the morning. We then informed the person who had taken us there that it was nothing but a topaz and most definitely not worth Rs.50 crores. However our ordeal was not over. In the morning, we were woken up early saying they had something to show us. Back we were taken to their house where we found that a large number of people were gathered on the terrace with a table in the centre and seating all around. We were made to sit and the so called “diamond” was placed on the table. We were then told that the really classic effects would be observed as the rays of the early morning rising sun would fall on it and reveal the truth. That was it; we gave the sun ten minutes and then walked out. Another lesson learnt – the more elaborate the story, the greater the lie behind it.
And then there is ignorance...
In early 2008, I (SF) was offered moldavite rough for sale. Since I already had some specimens, I informed the seller that this was the man-made moldavite from China. Once again - deaf ears, all I got for my pains was “You can call it what you want, I know it is natural because I bought it at the Hong Kong fair.” Hooray for the 2008 HK fair!
One could write volumes on the many stories, some funny, some heart rending and others just typical of our trade. The few we have mentioned is to give an aerial view of the situations one might have to deal with while buying rough gemstones.