GIA has banned 5 companies including India-based Cristy Gems for attempting to pass diamonds with fake inscriptions through the lab, as reported in this National Jeweler article.
This is only the latest publicized incident of attempts to “hack” GIA for weaknesses. Last May the laboratory recalled 500 diamonds and banned 4 companies after non-disclosure of a mysterious color-treatment which GIA still won’t discuss. And less than a year ago GIA suspended their sealing service indefinitely and halted duplicate report printing after fraud was uncovered.
Considering GIA’s proclivity to withhold information, should we be worried? How many attempted “hacks” are not being reported? And the really frightening question, how much fraud may be getting through? We are in a new age of technology, with many avenues for attack. But that isn’t the real problem here.
The elephant in the room is actually an 800 pound gorilla. In 1931 GIA was established as a single lab with senior graders committed to education and security. Now, 84 years later, the once-boutique laboratory has become an obese diamond-grading monopoly with nine locations, generating more than $180,000,000 per year.
Too many locations spanning too many continents create too many vulnerabilities, yet the river of diamonds pours in. Yesteryear’s godlike status spawned a monopoly and a catch-22 for producers who continue to saturate their locations, even in the face of fallibility. Now delays can stretch for months, seasonal graders produce inconsistent results, and brazen attempts at fraud raise procedural questions.
Cracks appeared in GIA’s foundation in 2005, when the “Certifigate” bribery scandal came to light. With GIA remaining silent the ensuing FBI investigation inconceivably produced no prosecutions, but the scandal did result in the resignation of president Bill Boyajian. In 2013 we were shocked again by the sudden resignation of president Donna Baker. Predictably (by now) there was no explanation by Baker or GIA. Those circumstances remain as mysterious as details of the color-treatment and 500 diamond recall from May.
Credit where due. GIA is responsible for the education of jewelry industry professionals everywhere, as well as a rich history of gemological research. Their school and gem trade lab served as “the world’s foremost authority” for nearly a century of expansion. But by morphing into a global machine, spread thin and bursting at the seams, today’s GIA diamond-grading service seems to resemble a faceless government-run necessity (think Department of Motor Vehicles) more than the precise research-laboratory of its founder’s vision.
This context is important for High Performance Diamonds clients. Like me, you may feel better about the choice to use AGS Laboratory grading reports, supporting our mission to ensure the greatest accuracy and consumer protection for diamond buyers. Like the GIA, the American Gem Society was founded by Robert Shipley in the 1930s. The AGS Laboratory was launched in 1996, duplicating GIA’s approach but adding a cut-quality component that GIA was missing. The AGS Laboratory has remained far smaller, with a single laboratory location, senior graders, absolute consistency and the world’s only scientifically vetted cut grading system. Their leadership is celebrated and has remained intact for decades; much like those who presided over GIA for its first 50 years.
All things considered, I suggest the AGS Laboratory of 2015 may better-resemble the pure research, education and grading body Mr. Shipley had in-mind when he founded both organizations nearly a century ago.