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01 july 2019

michael_krzemnicki_xx.pngDr. Michael S. Krzemnicki, PhD, Director of the Swiss Gemmological Institute SSEF, in an interview with R&P told about the activities and plans of one of the world's leading Gemological laboratories specializing in scientific research of diamonds, precious stones and pearls.

Please tell us a few words about SSEF.

The Swiss Gemmological Institute SSEF is one of the world’s leading gemmological laboratories, focusing on scientific testing of diamonds, gemstones and pearls. We are a part of the Swiss Foundation for the Research of Gemstones (SSEF: Schweizerische Stiftung für Edelstein-Forschung), that was founded by trade organisations in 1974 and works independently on a scientific basis. It is structured as a foundation under the aegis of Switzerland's Federal Department of Home Affairs. The function of the laboratory is to analyse precious stones and issue test reports for diamonds, coloured stones and pearls. As a Swiss non-profit foundation, SSEF's mission is to carry out gemmological research, offer gemmological courses covering latest developments in our field and offer independent gem testing services to the international trade.

What is the secret of your success story?

Our dedication to scientific research is an important foundation to our expertise and reliability in diamond, gemstone and pearl testing. We have contributed to a number of important developments in gemmology since 1974. We remain committed to pursuing research projects in collaboration with universities, laboratories and companies to advance gemmological knowledge. Research findings enrich the gemmological courses we offer and have largely contributed to our expertise as one of the leading gemmological laboratories in the world.

What kind of services are offered by SSEF?

Our services focus on testing high-end coloured gemstones, diamonds and pearls. SSEF provides independent expert advice in the field of precious stone analysis to a wide international clientele. This includes the detection of synthetics and treatments in diamonds and developing instruments to test melee diamonds used by the Swiss watch industry. We offer treatment detection and origin determination services for gemstones to clients, jewellers, traders and auction houses, both loose and mounted in jewellery. We are also leading in research and the testing of natural pearls. As the number of gemstone mines and treatments continue to grow, and the prices for gemstones continue to rise, there is increasing demand for independent and scientific testing of gemstones in the trade. Through our continuous research in collaboration with leading international research institutions we seek to remain at the forefront of diamond, gemstone and pearl issues.

What are the standards used by your laboratories to evaluate diamonds? Are they national or international? What kind of certificates does SSEF issue?

The Swiss Gemmological Institute SSEF tests the nature and treatment status of diamonds but does not issue appraisals of value for diamonds. The Swiss Gemmological Institute SSEF was founded by UBOS - the Swiss Jewellery Trade Association which is member of CIBJO - The World Jewellery Confederation. As such, SSEF grades colourless diamonds (Diamond Grading Report) according to the CIBJO diamond grading standard. This international diamond grading specification is a normative reference of the CIBJO Diamond Blue Book and it is published in its entirety as a Publically Available Specification PAS 1048 (see: ). It’s also important to note that SSEF is the custodian of the CIBJO Diamond C1 master set, and it has since served as the source for colour master sets used by diamond grading laboratories around the world.

For fancy coloured diamonds, we issue a Gemstone Report. This will report on the colour authenticity of the diamond, on its colour grade and optionally its clarity grade. SSEF does not grade synthetic diamonds. We also offer Gemstone Reports and Test Reports for gemstones, pearls and gems in jewellery.

What kind of equipment does SSEF use?

SSEF uses a wide range of scientific equipment for testing. Many of these instruments we have developed or optimized to ensure we remain at the forefront of testing of diamonds and other gemstone materials. Here a few examples for diamonds specifically. In 2000, we were the first lab to identify HPHT treatment in type II diamonds. In 2014, SSEF unveiled the ASDI instrument (Automated Spectral Diamond Inspection), the first industrial scale automated solution for keeping synthetic diamond melee out of the supply chain.

ASDI stands for Automated Spectral Diamond Inspection. It is a device which can analyse and authenticate very large quantities of colourless melee diamonds at a low cost. It was the first such industrial automized solution brought on the market in 2013. Image credit: SSEF

Since then, our pioneering device has inspired many other instrument manufacturers and today the diamond trade needs help in deciding which machine is reliable, efficient, and fittings its needs and financial means. To address this situation, the Diamond Producers Association (DPA) decided to evaluate these machines - Diamond Verification Instruments – on the basis of their reliability, accuracy and efficiency. The campaign is called "DPA-Project Assure". It delivers awards to participating manufacturers and provides full testing reports of each instrument on the DPA-Project Assure website. It is worth saying that testing and reports are conducted and delivered by a third-party company that is totally independent from the diamond trade. In April 2019, this testing company came to SSEF and tested the ASDI machine which passed the tests (the report will be uploaded on the DPA-Project Assure website in the upcoming weeks). We are proud to be a DPA Project-Assure partner.

ASDI can uncover colourless synthetic diamonds, both HPHT and CVD grown, as well as colourless HPHT-treated diamonds at high speed and reliability. Image credit: SSEF

More recently, we used advanced Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS) to separate natural diamonds, CVD and HPHT synthetic diamonds, and better understand the formation mechanisms of these. As treatments, new mines and synthetics further progress we strive to develop technology that allows us to ensure that we can identify the diamonds, gemstones and pearls that pass through our lab and thereby support the trade and strengthening consumer confidence in our industry.

What stones are preferred by customers - small but high-quality stones or big ones but lower quality?

The Swiss market and our clients focus on high-quality stones. This also applies to important quantities of melee diamonds that are used by the Swiss watch industry.

How high is consumer interest in lab-grown diamonds?

Consumer interest in Switzerland for synthetic diamonds seems to be slow, compared to the US or other markets. SSEF does not grade synthetic diamonds but we carry out a lot of research on CVD and HPHT synthetic diamonds.

Many believe that it was the new edition of the US Federal Trade Commission’s jewelry guides who has changed the attitude towards laboratory diamonds. What do you think about that?

The last edition of the FTC guide and the way JVC communicated about it was a source of a great interest for industry media. We are very involved in CIBJO’s work and are convinced that correct nomenclature and disclosure is required for the industry to maintain consumer confidence.

What are your plans for the nearest future?

We are actively working on a number of research projects that include synthetic diamond detection and diamond treatment detection. We are also developing technology for assisted diamond grading. We were the first gem lab to carry out radiocarbon age dating and DNA fingerprinting of pearls and corals and this is something we want to expand. Finally, we are pursuing our research work on origin determination of coloured gemstones using advanced techniques such as our in-house GemTOF. We strive to share the results of our findings with members of the trade and would encourage those interested in learning more to read our annual Facette magazine, visit our website and take a course at SSEF.

Alex Shishlo, Editor of the Rough&Polished European Bureau in Brussels