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Grain Boundary Diffusion in Tourmaline


Grain Boundary Diffusion in Tourmaline;
The Epochal Crisis, Part II; A Tempest in a Tabloid:

An Open Letter to David Federman, Editor-in-chief, Colored Stone.

David Federman, I just finished reading Joel Arem’s article Ending
Diffusion Confusion in the current issue of Colored Stone together
with your editorial titled Some Badly Needed Science. You have
written so many open letters to the gemstone industry I thought I
would try my hand at writing one to you. Given your reception of my
January letter to the editor, I decided that the wisest course was to
publish my opinion here.

First question; who is confused? For over a year you have repeatedly
published your claims that tourmaline, topaz and tsavorite are being
diffusion treated with little backup up of those claims other than
your “long simmering suspicions” and the unsupported evidence of one
man while many experts in the gemological community have been saying
that the evidence presented to support those claims is just plain
wrong. You state:

“Was there a better way to test James’ conjecture? I think
so…It’s called experimental gemology.”

I find it ironic that you are suddenly calling for “experimental
gemology.” I agree with your call, but let’s, just for a change,
accurately define our terms. Gemology is a science so when you say
experimental gemology you are really talking about experimental
science. Well David, experimental science proceeds inductively from a
series of hypotheses to a conclusion based upon the testing of those
hypotheses. Are you the the same David Federman who has published no
less than three previous editorials in this same magazine announcing
not the possibility, but the actual use of diffusion treatment in
tourmaline, topaz and garnet? Were you mistaken? In your 1/27/09
edition of CS Gem Mail you state:

"James has spent months conclusively proving that variations of
the chemical process once known as “bulk diffusion” used to turn
plentiful Madagascar corundum into so-called “padparadscha"
sapphire are now being used on numerous other gems.”

“Conclusively proving”? Is that a hypothesis or simply a conjecture?
Now I certainly agree that you are neither a scientist nor a
gemologist so I suppose you are not bound by your own call. Since
your January article you appear to have done some homework—you have
learned the three basic types of diffusion: lattice, grain boundary
and pipe. First you called it lattice (bulk) diffusion, then it was
grain boundary; pity you didn’t do a bit more research before you
wrote those unfortunate editorials. Are you now admitting that your
statement quoted above or your statement to me in an email response
to my first letter to the editor, was a mistake or was that
declaration merely experimental, to wit: “Cross-species diffusion is
now an established reality.”

Do I detect a bit of waffling? Has absolute certainty given way to
doubt? Conjecture is defined by to The American College Dictionary;
as “an opinion without sufficient evidence for proof.” Has Mr. James’
conclusive proof been demoted to mere conjecture? Has your
self-declared “epochal crisis” been reduced to what you are now
pleased call “documented but still unclassified observations of
gemologists like James”? If these observations are unclassified, what
is it that they document? Do you mean that something is happening
here but you don’t know what it is? That didn’t prevent you from
characterizing those unclassified observations as gemology’s darkest
hour (1/27/09). The fact is that experimentation has been ongoing and
no conclusions had been reached and you knew it. I guess you just
couldn’t wait and Mr. James proved to be a much more reliable source
of fodder for the screaming headlines and hackneyed hyperbole that
that has become your trademark.

You point out that “some gemologists took to calling single-crystal
diffusion by a name reserved for polycrystalline diffusion—‘grain
boundary diffusion’:” Have you forgotten who named that dog? Let me
remind you, it was Robert James. That was indeed, as you say
"unfortunate", because it means that when he spoke about the grain
diffusion of mono-crystalline gems like tourmaline, topaz and
garnet, the afore-mentioned Mr. James was not only confused, he was
talking nonsense.

I read Dr. Joel Arem’s article aimed at Ending Diffusion Confusion
with interest. He does an excellent job of explaining basic science.
Unfortunately when he gets into the meat of the matter he begins to
stumble. Arem states, incorrectly, that the dialogue within the
industry has focused on terminology rather than substance. He forgets
his own call for “real science” and assumes proof not in evidence,
namely that the phenomena described by James at his Tucson seminar is
some mysterious form of treatment. I, along with several of the
scientists present, have consistently maintained that James so-called
evidence proved nothing at all, and that basic disagreement, not
terminology, was and is the focus of the debate within the
gemological community.

“Thus, James’ advanced testing proves, as Dr. Piretti and Dr.
Kiefert have pointed out, exactly the opposite of James’ contention.
Concentrations of manganese and iron in tourmaline prove that the
color is natural.” (GemWise: Drama in The Desert… )

Dr. Arem further states:

“Robert James also offered photographic evidence of a new
treatment process being employed to enhance the color or
tourmaline, precious topaz and tsavorite garnet.”

I attended the Tucson presentation and although James did offer
photo-micrographs depicting what he called grain boundary diffusion
in tourmaline, he offered absolutely no images showing any sort of
treatment in tsavorite. James did make the claim that they were
being treated, but he offered nothing beyond the logically contorted
argument that there mere presence of larger tsavorite in the market
suggests that it must be treated. When I queried him on that point,
he told me he had a report from a German lab, back in his hotel room.

Dr. Arem goes on to consider visible halos around some of the growth
tubes in the tourmalines photographed by James. He failed read
either John Koivula’s article in G&G or Dr. Mary Johnson’s article
posted on the AGTA website that pointed out that those halos were the
result of naturally occurring radiation. Was this due to an overly
zealous concern with terminology or is he confused? He goes on,
echoing James, to offer the quaint but untested hypothesis that
irradiation “might” somehow expand the size of tubes creating a
passageway for enhancing coloration.

And finally what according to Dr. Arem is the real culprit here. Is
it one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse or one of the three
types of diffusion. Well, turns out it is neither. Arem dismisses,
one by one, each of the three types of diffusion as the cause of the
still unproven treatment and reaches the final startling conclusion.

“In all these cases, the mechanism of coloration appears to be a
simple variation of dyeing.”

Dyeing, not diffusion? What a revelation! That certainly justifies
all those blistering headlines and all the talk of “gemological end
times”. A simple variation of dyeing! Still, Dr. Arem didn’t quite
get it right. While reaching for this conclusion, he never asks one
simple, obvious and very important question. No one has denied that
the delightful crud is colored red and brown. Cuprian tourmaline is
normally heat treated. Heat up naturally occurring reddish brown
lateritic clay that is caught in surface breaking growth tubes and
you get, you guessed it, dry encrusted crud. Why, then, would anyone
want to artificially widen those growth tubes then pack that ole crud
into those tubes and make inclusions more visible in a gemstone like
cuprian tourmaline and in the process, dramatically reduce the gem’s
value. Dr. Adolph Piretti did however pose the question: “Why would
anyone want to turn a green tourmaline brown?” What sort of
enhancement is that?

Yes, David Federman, your premature, irresponsible, overheated
statements were, in the end, little more than a tempest in a
tabloid. What was badly needed in this case was restrained,
responsible journalism but we got you instead. “Long simmering
suspicions” are no substitute for facts. The science is now rolling
in like a series of waves breaking against the shore and with each
new verified conclusion, the hyperbolic sand castles you built are
being slowly washed away leaving nothing behind but sand.

Robert James has some excuse for his conduct. He is just a good ole
boy from Texas trying to grab the brass ring of fame along with a
little barbecue and sign up a few students, but people expect more
from Colored Stone, that is, they used to. You, on the other hand,
have been around long enough to know better. You studiously avoided
asking the hard questions and you knew where to go and who to ask.
Serious objections were raised, you knew about them, you choose to
ignore them? Even your hand-picked expert couldn’t completely avoid
the facts. Your “new order of mutant minerals” was it just old
fashioned dyeing or just a byproduct of heat treatment? Thanks David,
for ending the confusion.

Those hollow self-righteous feder-rants you so gleefully doled out
hurt a lot of innocent people, miners and dealers whose only sin is
trying to make an honest living. To those miners and dealers together
with the gemologists and research scientists you so blithely
dismissed as part of a cover up, you owe a sincere apology. Not that
they will ever get one. No, the self-righteous are always the first
to find fault with others but last to recognize their own. You will,
no doubt, continue to sit up upon your high-horse and preach down to
the industry. The only thing that has changed is that your
credibility is shot and David, no one will be listening.


Diamond World, GIA Reports on Pink Tubes in Tourmaline:

Johnson, M. L. The Complicated History of Mozambique Cuprian
"Paraiba-like" Tourmalines

Saeseaw, S. The Potential for diffusing Copper into Tourmaline,
Preparation for initial experimentation:

Wise, R. W. Copper Diffusion, Is It Gemology’s New Worst Nightmare,
Part II:

Richard W. Wise, G.G.
Secrets Of The Gem Trade:


Dear Mr. Wise,

Diamond World, GIA Reports on Pink Tubes in Tourmaline: 
Johnson, M. L. The Complicated History of Mozambique Cuprian
"Paraiba-like" Tourmalines 
Saeseaw, S. The Potential for diffusing Copper into Tourmaline,
Preparation for initial experimentation: 
Wise, R. W. Copper Diffusion, Is It Gemology's New Worst
Nightmare, Part II: 

As someone who is somewhat familiar with the issue, I feel compelled
to respond. Your masterful rhetoric cannot obscure the fact that,
what you doing is not addressing the issue, but simply attacking the
messenger. ( classical Ad hominem attack ).

The list of references that you provided, does nothing to address
the issue as well.

Let’s take the first one on the list, the GIA report. Excerpt

“Since radiation is the cause of pink colour in tourmaline, the
presence of these features should not be attributed to any type of
intentional diffusion, but rather to the influx of radioactive fluids
in their post-growth environment,” said GIA Laboratory Chief
Gemologist John I. Koivula, one of the study’s authors.

So we have blue-green tourmaline with pink-colored growth tubes.
Areas around the tubes displays classical diffusion pattern,
indicating that radioactive liquid was filling the tubes at one time.
Irrespective of that such phenomena was never documented prior, the
GIA issues an opinion that causes are natural, rather then
artificial. This is a sheer nonsense. GIA has no foundation to make
such a conclusion. If the exposure to radioactive fluid is natural,
as GIA suggest, there would be more pronounce areas of exposure on
the surface of the crystals. Natural processes cannot target such an
exclusive areas as tiny growth tubes.

The second reference on your list, by M. Johnson, offers a theory of
natural origin of magnetic residue observed on stones in question.
However, the theory fails to explain, why when material is bought
directly at mining location, the residue is absent, but invariably
present when material is bought from the dealers.

If process is natural, it should be present when material is bought
at mining locales.

The third reference is simply a summary of steps in preparation for
an experiment.

It sheds no light on the issue whatsoever. I am not sure why did you
bother to include it at all.

I also do not understand why you failed to mention that oblation
spectrography tests, on stones in question, reveal extremely high
concentration of Manganese and Iron which should not be present in
these quantities. Instead, you decided to concentrate your ire on use
of term “grain boundaries”. It is quite obvious that the author of
the study means “unit cell”, and term “grain” is quite acceptable in
this context.

In conclusion, since you failed to provide links to the original
articles, I shall fill the void, Here they are:

Leonid Surpin


Cocktail party voodoo vs. science

Thank you Mr. Wise!

Our trade has always been plagued by bad science, bad nomenclature,
and snake oil salesmen masquerading as learned men. To begin with
"Gemology" as practiced by the likes of George Rossman or Kurt Nassau
is geochemistry, atomic physics, mineralogy, optical mineralogy,
petrology, thermodynamics, etc not “Gemology”, take a quick perusal
of the catalogs at Cal-Tech, The School of Mines, Idaho, Montana,
North Dakota, New Mexico, VPI, MIT, Chicago or any of the worlds
other top universities producing geo-scientists, chemists and
physicists and you’ll observe that “BSc, MSc, PhD, Gemology” are
noticeably absent.

Day one, Geo 101, Idaho, 1980, Dr. George Williams, made a statement,
“if you survive this program and actually go out into the world to
practice as a geologist beware of absolutes, don’t say them, and
don’t believe them because they will kick your ass”. That statement
is as true today as it was nearly 30 years ago. Sadly, far too many
who write or publicly pontificate to our trade do not adhere to this
simple truism.

Every day is a slow news day in the gem/jewelry trade press, most
every subject has been beaten to death, and since all the trade
publications are platforms for advertisers the temptation to grab
onto something new, sensational or marginally interesting is I
suspect overwhelming. But if the story is written by a blatherskite
delivered in absolutes, masquerading as science then everyone is done
a disservice. And I do mean everyone all the way down both ends of
the line, consumers to producers. Just because it’s in print, doesn’t
make it true.

For example, I have long suspected that the Russians figured out a
way to turn andradite into demantoid, how else can you explain the
zeal with which they descended on Namibia buying up as much brown and
olive green andradite as they could get their hands on? (Refer to Dr.
Piretti’s comments on brown gems, Russians may be idiosyncratic but
they aren’t stupid) They never came back, so I also suspect Namibian
andradite won’t treat. However legitimate my andradite suspicions may
be I can’t prove it, nor has anyone else been able to, so for now it
stands as an unsubstantiated conjecture not a scientific absolute. If
I were to somehow secure proof, I would write a paper and submit it
to a blind peer review journal, an excruciating ordeal but a
necessity if I wanted to be taken seriously by my fellow scientists.
If I published my suspicions under any other circumstance I might be
presenting fiction as fact. I mean no disrespect to the trade press,
but it is in this matter of blind peer review that puts a gulf of
Cecil B. DeMille proportions between them and the likes of the
American Mineralogist or for that matter Gems and Gemology. We should
all pay far more attention to the likes of Mr. James and Mr. Arem and
Mr. Federman, when we can read their “academic” work in a peer review
journal. Before that happens their work should be consumed in the
context in which it is served up, a support mechanism for the ad

In my humble opinion from this side of the ball there should be a
strict policy of disclosure by gem trade journal publishers to
differentiate between cocktail party voodoo and legitimate peer
reviewed science, think of it as the journalistic equivalent of the
surgeon generals warning:

WARNING: this might be bovine fecal matter but it’s a good read so
enjoy it.

Thanks again Richard, that was a damn fine letter.

Chris Johnston, BSc. Geology, Idaho
PO Box 354
Omaruru Namibia


Mr. Wise,

Sometimes the devil is in the details. Here’s hoping you won’t mind
Dr. Arem’s resume being posted for all to see

Joel Arem, PhD, FGA, FCGmA:

  -Earned a Bachelor of Science in Geology from Brooklyn College 
  -Earned a Masters Degree in Geology from Harvard University 
  -Earned his Ph.D. in Mineralogy from Harvard University 
  -Is a Fellow of the Gemological Association of Great Britain 
  -Published: "Rocks and Minerals" (1972 Ridge/Bantam; 1992
  Geoscience Press) 
  -Published: "Man-Made Crystals " (1972 Smithsonian Institution
  -Published: "Gems and Jewelry" (1973 Ridge/Bantam; 1993
  Geoscience Press, 2nd ed.) 
  -Published: Discovering Rocks and Minerals" (1991 Publications
  -Published: "Color Encyclopedia of Gemstones" (1977 Van
  Nostrand-Reinhold; 1987 Chapman & Hall, 2nd ed) 
  -Teaching Fellow: Geology Department, Harvard University 
  -Crystallographer, Department of Mineral Sciences, Smithsonian
  Institution, Washington, D. C. 
  -Founder and Curator: National Synthetics Collection:
  Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 
  -Currently Science Editor for Colored Stone magazine 

  ..and a long list of articles, professional memberships, and
  more accolades than we have room to list.



At the risk to be repetitive.

Whether or not tourmaline, topaz, and tsavorite are treated is a
serious issue and deserves attention.

We have an observations and experiments conducted by one party. His
work is available for anybody who cares to read it. I have provided
links in my previous post on the subject.

Posting resumes and attacking the messenger is not helpful. It only
underlines the weakness of the opposing side and gives more
credibility to the proponent of the argument. So if anybody have
something to contribute, than do so. So far there have been no facts,
no counter-arguments. Only resumers and personal attacks.

Leonid Surpin