Author: David Federman

David Federman is a seasoned jewelry writer and editor with over 40 years of experience in the industry. As an award-winning Executive Editor and journalist, he has demonstrated expertise in various facets of the jewelry world, including gems, precious metals, jewelry manufacturing, gemology, and trade regulations. David has authored four books on gems, solidifying his reputation as a trusted authority in the field.

Remember those sappy 1986 headlines about a hulking 1,905-carat Idaho star sapphire supposedly purchased for $10 at a gem show and later found to be worth millions? In a nation where playing $2 lotteries earns millions, this serendipity saga had just the right air of long-shot plausibility to qull even the most hard-boiled and cynical of editors. Mainly because it involved gems. Alright, alright, you say, so media people are suckers for gem scams. Tell us something we didn’t know. OK, trade press people are just as easily bamboozled by dealer hype. Just look at how Israeli treater Zvi Yehuda…

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Likening the color of fancy yellow diamonds to that of the canary seems to have been around forever. But in all probability, the practice is little more than a century old. Even then, we can be sure that meanings of the word “canary” as a descriptive term for diamonds have shifted considerably. To start with, this finch-family member comes in two breeds, wild and domestic, each with distinctly different plumage colors. “Wild canaries,” the 1991 World Book informs us, “are dark green and olive-colored while “most tame canaries are bright yellow.” Thus you could very well end up arguing about…

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When London jeweler and author Edwin Streeter published the fourth edition of his book “Precious Stones” in 1884, he devoted a chapter to the momentous diamond finds in South Africa that had begun in 1867. Not surprisingly, these stones, discovered in the British Cape Colony, quickly became known as “Cape diamonds.” By 1911, when W.R. Catelle, a later London merchant of prominence, published his book, “The Diamond,” the term designated diamonds with a slight-to-pronounced yellowish cast. What’s more, indicated Perry Wagner in his 1914 book, “The Diamond Fields of Southern Africa, “Cape” had been a color classification since at least…

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It’s a shame that the word “semantics” doesn’t begin with a “c.” If it did, it might prove as powerful a pillar of diamond merchandising as any of the four famous “c” words: color, clarity, cut and carat weight. Nowhere is the transforming power of semantics in gemstone market-making better illustrated than with Argyle Diamond’s decision to sell its mostly brown stones as “Champagne diamonds.” Argyle, of course, was making a virtue of necessity. For centuries, brown diamonds have been shunned, forcing stones with this color to be described with scores of aliases, most of them color-names with proven allure—chocolate,…

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As poetry, this early 17th century quatrain lacks merit, but as a capsule summary of diamond fever, it has no equal: Your wife and children sell, sell what you have, Spare not your clothes, nay, make yourself a slave, But money get, then to Currure make haste, There search the mines, a prize you’ll find at last. The poem was written by a Portuguese businessman who around 1610 went to mine diamonds in India, then the world’s main source for this gem. From among India’s many diamond deposits, he chose one at Currure. After spending an amount equal to 45,000…

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When it comes to value based purely on measurable factors like color or clarity, gemologists point to the diamond world as a role model for a new rationalism. Fittingly, this rationalism shuns the romantic notion that stones are worth more due to suspected but hard-to-prove origin at a hallowed historic site. The diamond world, gemologists will tell you with the zeal of temperance workers, has sobered on the mystique of place. Yet when this new abstinence faced a major test in October 1990, it failed miserably. That month, Christie’s New York sold two D/VSI (potentially flawless) pear-shaped diamonds weighing 27.72…

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April 28, 1987 was already a historic day in jewelry auction annals before the sale of the stone—a 95-point purplish-red diamond—which made this date doubly famous. That afternoon at Christie’s New York, diamond dealer William Goldberg had paid $251,000 per carat ($148,000) for a 59-point purplish-pink diamond—twice, minus $3, the auction record of $127,000 per carat held since 1980 by a 7.27-carat pink diamond. When auctioneer Francois Curiel banged his gavel to close the bidding, the capacity crowd broke into boisterous applause. But Goldberg would have less than an hour to bask in glory because bidding for the most coveted…

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The diamond market is the gem world’s last bastion of prissiness about gemstone treatment.Whereas colored stone dealers have faced such facts of life as heating, irradiation and impregnation and pearl dealers long ago made peace with culturing, diamond dealers still seem to be grappling with the realities of enhancement. A case in point: irradiated diamonds. No specialist in fancy (natural) color diamonds will buy or sell stones known to have been irradiated—although these stones have been marketed for more than 40 years. As a result, irradiated diamonds are pretty much segregated from the mainstream and are sold exclusively by a…

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Till recently, the most one could hope for color-wise from a pink diamond was a shade reminiscent of cotton candy or bubble gum—then only as long as the gem stayed loose. Once mounted, stones usually went from pink to pinkish. Because fancy pinks tended to lose their looks when set in jewelry, they were of interest mainly to collectors. All this changed in the early 1980s when Australia started to produce deep pinks that held their color when used in jewelry. Suddenly, the diamond world was seeing fancy diamonds with hues that inspired comparison to raspberries, even red grapes—whether set…

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Late in the 1970s, when ads hawking emeralds for $5 apiece started appearing nationwide, gem dealers weren’t sure if these dull, opaque stones with their mottled, dusty sage-brush color should be called “emerald” or “beryl,” emerald’s family name. Now, long after the $5 emerald campaign has joined the annals of schlock, experts begrudgingly call these stones “emerald” because they contain chromium, a greening agent that renders beryls emerald. This gemological verdict didn’t improve the standing of the source of these fish-tank stones: Brazil. Ever since Brazil became the breadbasket for commercial emerald in the early 1960s (emerald was first discovered…

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Until recently, it wasn’t easy being green for any gem except emerald. Things began to change when tsavorite came on the scene in the early 1970s. Thanks to sponsorship by Tiffany’s, this East African green garnet set a second standard for green gems. Being cheaper than emerald certainly helped tsavorite break the color barrier. But lower price alone can’t explain tsavorite’s impact. After all, lots of other green gems like tourmaline and peridot were far cheaper than this garnet. No, the gem had to boast more of an edge over emerald than price. And it did: better clarity, brilliance and…

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Next time you feel like cursing the IRS, think about life under Mogul rule in India. Until these Moslem nomads, descendants of the Mongols, conquered a big chunk of the country’s northern part in 1526, it was customary for potentates to tax the country’s farmers, the main source of tax revenue, at around one-sixth of their output. However, by the time the Mogul empire encompassed two-thirds of India a century and a half later, the state’s take had jumped to as much as one-half. Such levies fattened a lot of coffers, both those of the occupiers and those of cooperating…

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You’ve heard of Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher who taught that everything in the material world is a more or less imperfect copy of its original, ideal form stowed in eternity? Well, let’s suppose he had sold gems on the side. And let’s suppose he’d received a parcel of top-grade emeralds from the Sandawana mine in what is now Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia). How close to the ideal, or archetype, would he have thought these stones? As close to perfection as emerald gets. That’s why Sandawana emerald, discovered in 1956, quickly reached cult status among dealers and has never waned since…

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When in the early 1980s researchers at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) unveiled a system to classify the breeds of red garnet—pyrope, almandine and spessartite—gem markets greeted the news with cheers. Bronx cheers. Why, dealers wondered, make all that fuss over stones that rarely cost more than $10 per carat—regardless of type. “I can’t take R.I. [refractive index] readings on all the red garnets, in my inventory,” says Dick Greenwood, A.F. Greenwood Inc., New York, “so I take a wild guess and send them out as whatever they seem to be.” Maybe GIA’s painstaking garnet research would have been…

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It has been more than four years since Louis Spaulding Jr. last found a mineral specimen or gem rough of consequence at America’s only full-time spessartite garnet mine in Ramona, Calif., near San Diego. Still known as the Little Three Mine (a name given it by the three men who discovered it in 1903 and worked it until 1912), the mine has been Spaulding family property since 1950. Like most California spessartite mines, the Little Three has known dry spells before. But this dry spell has become a drought. Spaulding recently had to sell a collection of fine natural blue…

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The world of phenomenon gems was dealt a severe blow when Sri Lanka’s deposit of “blue-sheen” moonstone ran dry around 1988. Suddenly, jewelers were without the feldspar moonstone’s family name—that best displays the special color-play effect called “adularescence” for which this gem family is most known. Fortunately, the blow was softened by the discovery of a fellow feldspar in southern India. Unfortunately, the trade has been calling the new material “rainbow moonstone.” Right church, wrong pew. According to Swiss geologist/gemologist Dr. Henry Hanni, the first scientist to have done extensive chemical analysis of the species, the Indian gemstone belongs to…

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Around the turn of the century, miners extracting copper at various sites in Bisbee, Ariz., tunnelled into cavernous rooms whose walls were lined with malachite in layers as much as four feet thick and whose roofs were dotted with stalactites of this green, patterned mineral. What happened next was like a scene from a mineral lover’s worst nightmare. Only in this case, the scene kept repeating itself, as if trying to change its tragic, inevitable outcome. To no avail. Time after time, the copper-rich malachite was crushed and smelted for its metal content. Miners who knew the importance of what…

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Ask the average jeweler which variety of opal is the most prized in the world and chances are pretty good you’ll get the right answer: Australian black opal. But don’t ask which kind is the next best. The answers you’ll usually hear—Australian semi-black or boulder opal—are wrong. Jewelers can be excused for not knowing the runner up in value terms to black opal. Unless they’re connoisseurs, they may never have heard of the world’s second most valued opal. Called black crystal opal, it’s also from Australia. But unlike, say, boulder opal, which is a distinct variety of this gem, black…

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During the 1980s, when the Japanese pushed black opal prices to levels beyond the reach of nearly everyone but themselves, far-less-expensive boulder opal came on strong in America as a substitute. Then, during the withering world recession of 1991-92, when the Japanese also balked at the high cost of black opal, this alternate variety came on even stronger in Japan. In both countries, there was no other choice—other than assembled stones such as opal doublets, or lab-grown such as Gilson opal. Detractors of boulder opal don’t care much that this gem is the only all-natural option for those who want…

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It took gem-oddities specialist Lowell Jones five years to accumulate the greatest modern-day collection of fine abalone pearls—and just five seconds to lose the 3,000-piece assemblage, worth $3 million, to thieves in New York early in 1988. Soon afterward, Jones returned to the few remaining American continent pearl-retrieval areas, mainly ones along the coast of Southern California and the shores of Mexico’s Baha Peninsula, trying to duplicate his feat. But after a year, Jones was ready to call it quits. Who could blame him? During a trip to Mexico in February and March of 1989, he found a meager 140…

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Like Babe Ruth, a fine pitcher who switched to playing outfield and became a far greater hitter, John Latendresse is a master of both mound and plate in his chosen field: pearls. Undoubtedly America’s most famous natural pearl dealer of the latter part of this century, he may wind up being even better known as a pearl culturer by the beginning of the next. No one has dubbed him this yet, but Latendresse stands a good chance of becoming this country’s Kokichi Mikimoto (the father of Japan’s pearl culturing industry). Don’t get the wrong idea. Being the Mikimoto of America…

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Can an all-nacre, non-nucleated pearl from a cultivated salt-water oyster or freshwater mussel be called natural? Gemologists will answer this question with an emphatic “no.” When pressed for reasons, they will argue that any pearl taken from a nucleated mollusk, even one that grew by accident, must be classified as cultured. But evidently the many Arab buyers who pay thousands of dollars for fine-quality, large-style specimen strands of these spontaneities think otherwise. If they represent interventions into nature, it is of a divine, not human, kind. “Arabs have never been comfortable with the idea of buying pearls that mollusks were…

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Now hear this, now hear this: Lightning Ridge, Australia, the planet’s most celebrated source of opal since shortly after its discovery in 1901, is alive and kicking. Widespread reports of its demise were and still are, to put it mildly, premature. “It’s one of the biggest myths in this trade that Lightning Ridge has stopped producing to a significant degree,” scoffs New York black opal specialist Virginia Grant. Never have epitaphs for the Ridge, as insiders call it, seemed more out of place than at present. Since 1990, it has produced more opal than it did in the preceding two…

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To most retail jewelers, opal means Australia and almost no place else. Few know that America is thought of fondly as an opal producer among gem connoisseurs. Those who know of America’s role as an opal producer may have seen some of the beautiful black opals from Virgin Valley, Nev., that collectors regard as highly as stones from Lightning Ridge, Australia. Yet the fact that Oregon has for the past few years rivaled (some say outshone) Nevada as an opal producer is still pretty much of a secret, even in cognoscenti circles. And it isn’t because the state is a…

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No fancy color diamond collection is complete without a green stone. But since, next to red, green is probably the rarest of all natural diamond hues, most collections lack representation from the green portion of the diamond rainbow. Even when they do contain greens, the stones’ color is usually not a bona fide natural one—or at least not classified as such by a gem lab of stature. Needless to say, this is a rather frustrating situation for connoisseurs. And it arises out of the highly ironic fact that green, while among the rarest of natural diamond colors, is the commonest…

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In 1922, while extracting meats for fish bait from James River clams in South Dakota, John Latendresse’s father found a 7 mm pink pearl that was so beautiful he did what was then customary with fine specimens of this organic gem: He presented it to his fiancée in an engagement ring. “Pearls were as much the nuptial gem in those days as diamonds are now,” says Latendresse, a pearl farmer in Tennessee. “The jewelry industry seems to have developed amnesia about the close association of pearls with love and marriage.” Except for India, where Hindu brides still routinely receive pearls…

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The once small league of South Sea pearl farms is growing so fast one is tempted to think that growers have adopted an expansion system similar to that in American sports. Suddenly, pearl farms seem to have cropped up in every lagoon throughout the region. “A week doesn’t go by anymore without a new farm wiring us that it will be holding an auction,” said New York South Sea specialists Albert Asher days after the July 1992 edition of the Jewellers of America Show. Here, thank goodness, the analogy between sports and pearl farming ends. For while expanding the number…

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Although it gets so little respect from mainstream dealers it could be Rodney Dangerfield’s birthstone, smoky quartz boasts a small, fervent following among cutters and collectors. Even so, jeweler acceptance of this abundant brown gem remains what it has always been: an uphill battle. But, then again, uphill battles are something deposits of smoky quartz are used to. Literally. Since many deposits of this gem are found at high altitudes, quartz hounds often risk, and sometimes lose, their lives in dangerous pursuit of a gem for which they are usually paid pennies per carat in its un-hewn form. One of…

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When it comes to ruby, one word has long sufficed to summarize this gem at its best: “Burma.” Mere mention of the place still makes mouths water and pulses pound in anticipation of seeing the finest color known for this red corundum. Now ideal color and beauty in ruby may become synonymous with a second locale: Vietnam. In no time at all, name-dropping of this Southeast Asian country is so rampant that just prefacing the presentation of rubies with the fact that they are Vietnamese makes minds race with extravagantly high hopes. As with Burmese ruby, those hopes are often…

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Connoisseurs may glorify rare Kashmir sapphire with its soft velvety blue. Collectors may extol the hard-to-find Burma breed with its crisp royal color. And specialists in swank gems may laud the Sri Lankan variety for its cool, stately hues. But no one sings the praises of Australian sapphire, even though it was about the only variety known to the common man for nearly 30 years until Thai sapphire supplanted it as a market mainstay. Now it is unlikely anyone ever will. For Australia’s claim to fame was in the realm of quantity. Indeed, it was to bulk what Kashmir was…

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