Rough Dealings; Secret Weapon

This is a story of some rough dealings. It discloses Three Rules of Rough Dealings – and a Secret Weapon for rough evaluation that you probably don’t even know you already own.

I’m sure this has never happened to you, but a ian “gem dealer” contacted me via Internet, offering to ship some stones for evaluation.  What followed was a great attempted scam using exemplary scam materials and a skillful parceling of rough. So, I decided to do this page.

I do not usually bother to do detailed evaluation work unless goods appear useful and the asking price seems within reason. However, an insanely unreasonable asking price of $6,500.00 inspired me to examine these parcels in detail.

The first parcel was represented as “Emerald” – a total of 27 stones, weighing a total of 15.35 grams:

gemstone rough nigeria

Of this material, 11 pieces, weighing a total of 7.61 grams are “specimen” or “junk-grade” (no lapidary usefulness) green beryl:

nigerian emerald
The actual color of these roughs is WAY less blue / WAY more green than the photo – which is a clue to that “secret weapon” tool I’m going to tell you about…

There were 12 pieces, weighing a total of 6.59 grams are “commercial” grade green beryl suitable for producing tiny accent stones of low value. The left half-image shows the color the camera saw, the right half-image is closer to the color the eye saw:

nigerian emerald rough

There were 4 pieces, weighing a total of just 1.15 grams (average size only 0.3 grams) have good color and clarity, and would produce nice, but very small stones. Again, the left half-image shows the color the camera saw, the right half-image is closer to the color the eye saw:

rough nigerian emerald

The 25 pieces referenced above are the material qualifying to be called “green beryl” and account for 54% of what was represented as “emerald”. So, what about the other 46%?

11 of the stones, weighing a total of 8.44 grams are properly classified as “Aquamarine”. They are all of reasonable color, but small (average size of 0.8 gram) and all have cracks. They will cut commercial melee and nothing more. While the actual color is more green than this image, it isn’t by much:

aquamarine faceting rough

So, 30% of the parcel represented as “emerald” is really Aquamarine. What about the last 17%? Here’s a photo of it, showing about the color it appeared to the eye:

rough tourmaline

These 8 pieces of material, averaging 0.6 grams are TOURMALINE. Seven of the 8 pieces are totally junk grade, unsuitable even for cabochon cutting. The final one stone, weighing 0.5 grams would facet a very small stone. (Are you starting to figure out the secret weapon yet?)

When we look at a photo of the entire parcel again, we see how the (very small) stones of good color and clarity fool the eye to suggest the color and clarity of the entire parcel is better than it is. Most of the stones in this image appear far less green / more blue than they appear to the eye:

nigerian faceting trough

Adding junk-grade Tourmaline serves two purposes:

  1. It padding the weight and sizes
  2. Enriching the apparent color of the entire parcel

Adding the (light-colored) Aquamarine serves three purposes:

  1. Padding the weight of the overall parcel
  2. Adding some stones that look larger and clearer
  3. Conducting or reflecting the color of the darker bits of beryl and green tourmaline, making the entire parcel look more attractive at first glance

What put me wise to the scam?

Inadvertent use of the “secret weapon” – the “smart phone spectrometer” everyone already has. Mine is a regular Samsung Galaxy phone. You see, the imaging chips in phones have different spectral response than your eye. For instance, the “blue” stones in this image appear only slightly bluish-GREEN to the human eye under the same lighting:

facet rough scam

To the naked eye, the two obviously misfit stones actually blend right in. But, the camera sees them quite differently. (Other than white-balance, I didn’t manipulate this image at all.) Just looking through the camera made these odd-balls stand right out. Go back to the previous photo and look carefully at the photo of the full parcel and you’ll see almost all the Tourmaline stands out as distinctly different.

I subsequently tested the phone-view for things like separating 
Aquamarine from Topaz. The results were not definitive or 
consistent enough to call it an electronic parcel-picker's 
filter (like the low-tech ones Hanneman sells). But, it's 
very available and takes almost no time to check-out...

Once the individual roughs came under scrutiny, both the surface striations and the strong dichroism gave it away immediately – and made the ID pretty obvious.

I’m also testing a SCIO to see how useful it is for differentiating rough gems. Here’s a set of scans showing several of the Tourmaline plotted against several of the Beryl. The differences are pretty significant and distinctive:emerald rough scan with scio

Our evaluation of the “Emerald faceting rough” parcel was very interesting, if disappointing. THREE CLUES about both some of the quick-rip-off methods in the marketplace:

  1. addition of junk-grade stones to boost parcel weight
  2. careful assembly of parcels with selected sizes, colors, and qualities, including use of low-grade-color but high-grade-clarity – along with the opposite – low-grade-clarity but higher-grade-color – so that together they lead the optimistic person to buy
  3. substitution of other, and less-expensive, but natural gem materials to boost the parcel weight

FOUR LESSONS:

  1. Sorting of parcels contents is really necessary.
  2. Scrutiny of individual stones is really necessary.
  3. Applied knowledge of dichroism and crystallography is really necessary.
  4. A simple cell phone photo may offer an important clue to look harder.

Now, let’s look at the Sapphire parcel.

There are 26 total stones, weighing a total of 11.74 grams:

faceting rough sapphire

Do you think this parcel looks pretty good?

Here’s the break-down: 14 pieces, weighing a total of 6.42 grams is junk/melee grade. What is suitable for cutting will produce 3mm or smaller stones of low-grade (strong gray secondary) color. Several of these stones were also quite sleepy:

faceting rough sapphire from nigeria

We also had 7 pieces, weighing a total of 2.67 grams is slightly larger. Some of it will cut up to a half-carat, but much is of questionable clarity and with significant grey overtones:

rough sapphire

And, there were 4 pieces, weighing a total of 2.53 grams (average size 0.6 grams) will cut reasonable Parti stones in half-carat-plus sizes:

rough sapphire

These would be worthy stones that I would buy – if not for the competence/integrity/honesty problems already demonstrated.

Finally, one piece of the “sapphire” parcel stood out:

rough scapphire scam

It was the prettiest color of cobalt blue (way prettier than this photo), and it demonstrated no dichroism (it proved to be singly-refractive). This was the clue that it was Spinel – which led to a more careful examination, disclosing some suspicious fracture patterns. Yet closer examination revealed the curved growth lines found only in Vernuil synthetic:

rough sapphire scam

We see the same methods applied in this parcel as the “Emerald” parcel, with very similar CLUES that it’s a scam:

  1. addition of junk-grade stones to boost parcel weight
  2. careful assembly of parcel with selected sizes, colors, and qualities so together they lead the optimistic person to buy
  3. substitution of synthetic gem material to boost the parcel appearance

FOUR LESSONS:

  1. Sorting of parcels contents is really necessary.
  2. Scrutiny of individual stones is really necessary.
  3. Applied knowledge of dichroism and crystallography is really necessary.
  4. Follow anything that’s not right with great suspicion and scruitny.

When we combine both of these parcels with a grossly-inflated asking price, we can peer into the attempt at psychological manipulation. The total of only the useful material shows:

1 piece of facet-grade Tourmaline weighing 0.5 gram
4 pieces of green Beryl totaling 1.15 grams
4 pieces of decent parti Sapphire totaling 2.53 grams
7 pieces of commercial grayish-blue Sapphire totaling 2.67 grams

This is a total of 6.85 grams of useful (but not large, nor high-grade, nor exciting) material for the total price of $6,500.00 US dollars – or only $948.90 per gram.

The dealer, as always was “hoping it will be a start of a long business relationship.” We wonder at the strategy of sending Aquamarine and Tourmaline claiming it as emerald, and sending synthetic Spinel claiming it as Sapphire…

Six Things to Remember:

  1. Always sort the rough according to size and quality, studying and evaluating and pricing each portion of a parcel separately.
  2. Scrutinize every piece of anything of significant price.
  3. Don’t get excited. If you feel excitement, you’re probably about to make a mistake. Walk around for a bit – if not just walking away.
  4. This is really the only way to prevent your brain from fusing the elements into a combined
  5. Learn and apply crystallography.
  6. Remember to use all the tools at hand.
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