Stressed out diamonds, stressed out setters

Hi All,

I had a couple of alarming reports from local goldsmith friends
this week regarding diamonds that cracked during fairly routine
procedures. One was a 2 ct. round VS diamond that allegedly
cracked when steamed. The other was a 1.51 ct. round that
cracked when quenched (a no-no but the goldsmith says it was not
very hot). And my shop had one that a gless extended about 3 mm,
apparently due to pressure applied when a prong was pulled over,
very normal pressure. These were all at three different shops.

My one friend took his quench damaged stone to a local gem lab
because he was sure it was fracture filled. It was not, but
under a polarascope internal stress was very evident. The
diamond lab guy said that had he looked at the stone prior to
setting under such an instrument the stress would have been
obvious and he could have taken extra precautions. His error was
to quench the stone, but normally it would have survived. The
other fellow steam cleaned a room temperature ring and that
cracked the center stone, that was really a freak situation to
have a diamond crack from such a mild thermal shock. And then
ours, we set a round diamond in a platinum, six prong head just
as we have thousands of times before and an inclusion grew, this
was not so freak but still unusual.

I contacted a couple of people about this, one was a large
retail customer of ours, someone I consider an expert diamond
guy and a large diamond cutting firm in New York. Both said that
this was something that they were aware of. The
cutter/wholesaler in NY said that he always checks his rough in
this manner before cutting. He said that almost all of the
diamonds that where going to crack due to stress would do so
during the cutting process, because that is when the are
subjected to the most heat and general abuse. He said that this
is an everyday concern for cutters. He also said that a gless
expanding can happen when stones bang into each other in a stone
paper, and that I should not be surprised. The retail diamond
buyer said that he had seen a large VVS diamond drop 8 inches
onto a glass counter and break into two pieces. I encouraged him
to check for stress before purchasing, because when I get it the
diamond has already been sold to the customer and it is much
harder to tell them it has a stress problem than to never sell
it in the first place.

That brings me to another issue, which is should the setter have
to pay when the diamond becomes damaged due factors beyond their
control, or for that matter factors within his/her control. I my
opinion and practice the answer is absolutely no. There is no
way a person who is not selling the diamond, who is only
charging less than $100.00 and making far less, can be held
financially responsible for the stone that may cost many
thousands of dollars. The person making the lions share of the
profit should take the loins share of the risk. If the seller
would split the profit of the diamond sale with the setter each
time that would be different. If a customer of mine tried to
stick me for a $4000.00 diamond that I was only charging $30.00
to set, I would pay him and never do his work again, I could not
afford to. Your customers need to trust that you are very
skilled, that you are taking every precaution possible, and that
sometimes things are just accidents waiting to happen. Its just
a numbers thing, every so often you are going to have something
bad happen, you need to discuss this with customers upfront and
not wait for a problem to talk about it. Both of the guys I was
talking about paid for the stones out of their pockets, I
couldn’t believe it. I did not pay for mine, and my customer did
not expect me to. There should be a standard in the industry
that unless you do something really stupid, the person profiting
from the sale of the diamond pays for its damage. Just my

Mark P.

Mark P. has touched on a very interesting problem. Is there any
kind of insurance that would cover this kind of situation?
(either for the customer or for the jeweler).Anybody out there
in insurance??? >D<

should the setter have to pay when the diamond becomes damaged
due factors beyond their control?? What you and I might
understand–since we know more about diamonds and the risk are
different from what the courts will probably do. I have taught
a class on this issue andto put it simply–unless there is a
conract/agreement (in writing) to limit someone’s liability–the
courts will probably rule against the setter/jeweler or whoever
was holding the diamond when it was damaged.


Again, we see the importance of a good jeweler/customer
relationship. Both between the setter and the merchant ant the
merchant ant the retail customer. A few years ago, I had the
unfortunate experience of setting a retail customer’s 5ct. rbc
diamond in a simple 4-prong setting. The customer returned a few
days later to complain of a visable flaw on the girdle near one
of the prongs. After some investigation, my customer learned
that the stone had a natural cleavage at that exact location when
sold however, it had grown somewhat to the point of being
visable with the naked eye. As to it having been caused by
pressure or thermal shock, I’ll never know. We all know the
risks in our profession and while I agree that the person making
the most profit should be at least partially responsible for the
risk, it does not make the setter feel any better when these
things occur. We, as bench jewelers must always be on guard,
especially when working with very expensive menchandise, to
forsee all possible situations and avoid them when we can. There
are some times however, when “excriment occurs” and you have to
learn what you can from the experience and move on. I don’t think
that there is any more risk when dealing with natural material
than there ever was. It’s the treatments that make me nervious.


Hi Mark. You raise some interesting points in this note about the
diamonds leading once again to my contention that most stones
should be removed from settings before working on the piece but I
am more intrigued by your question of responsibility. These
days many diamond sellers are working at profit margins not much
higher than what you make on a repair so asking them to take
responsibility is not really fair to them either. Obviously it
would be nice if all of our retail customers (and the insurance
companies that they buy insurance from) would assume
responsibility for something happening to their stones. We
always try to warn people about risks and have disclaimers all
over the place on our take in forms but the reality is that when
you take in a piece belonging to someone and say I will do what
you want for this price you are telling them that you have the
skills to work on their piece. Granted none of your examples were
proof of poor skill levels but the customer has the right to
expect that their piece will be handled appropriately. Often
none of this matters anyway because if a customer has gotten it
into his/her head that you are to blame for a stone breaking then
they will take you to court and sue the pants off of you. It
really doesn’t matter how the court decides either because in
today’s litiginous society it is so expensive to go to court
that it is usually cheaper to just replace the customer’s stone
regardless. Everyone out there should have read up on the Fred
Ward emerald case which is an extreme example of how bad the
courtroom issue can become. Ultimately if you don’t have the
financial resources to replace a customer’s stone you should not
be taking it in to begin with.

I have found that if I chip a stone that belongs to a
dealer(wholesale), I am responsible for the difference in the
value before and after it was broken. For instance, a 1ct that
recuts to a .92ct would lose value. Even a 1ct that recuts to a
.99ct would be worth far less in a D-IF. But, an imperfect 1ct,
recut to an inperfect .92ct, would be worth less of course, but
not much. Comprende?

Dear Daniel Spirer,

your cautionary letter was a revelation for this Australian
jeweller. While there has been a rise in litigation as the
immediate solution to a dispute, there are still many who
resolve their problems by arbitration outside the court system.
The most effective of these in Australia is the Jewellery and
Allied Trades Valuers Council.

Your final comment, “Ultimately if you don’t have the financial
resources to replace a customer’s stone you should not be taking
it in to begin with.” immediately precludes (I’d guess) 90% of
competent professional jewellery manufacturers, setters and
craftspeople. It seems that we are headed for a two class society

  • us and lawyers.

Thank you for the food for thought. Kind regards, Rex from Oz

Wow Mark, now that’s a string of bad luck! I am in total
agreement that the setter should not be responsible for breakage
out of his/her control. I make it clear in my price list that I
am not liable for emeralds, diamonds under the grade of I1 or
any treated stone! Clearly this absolves me from most settings
although if I deem any breakage to be my fault (probably at
least 90%) I replace the stone anyway. My experience is that
chain stores will expect you to be responsible for all stones,
which is why I now only work with locally owned high end
jewelers. The owners are professionals who understand the risks
and also understand that they are the ones making the majority
of the profit. I think if the goldsmith is not totally
comfortable in their relationship with the retailer, a document
should be drawn up absolving the goldsmith of certain
responsibilities for stones while they’re in their possession.
although obviously anyone who sonics a tanzanite is asking for
it - limits need to be in place for both sides. This is a
complex issue, I’d like to hear what the rest of you do.

  I make it clear in my price list that I am not liable for
emeralds, diamonds under the grade of I1 or any treated stone! 
Clearly this absolves me from most settings 


Have you actually consulted a lawyer on that? I would expect
that this is a “bailment for hire” situation, and I know that
providers have been held liable in some cases in spite of
disclaimers. A common case is the parking lot ticket which
disclaims responsibility for your car - they are responsible in
spite of the disclaimer.



In nearly 20 years of doing repairs (and more retipping than I
care to remember) I have never encountered the problem you
relate. I have retipped on many marquise diamonds both large &
small without problems. As previously mentioned, you must be
very careful of thin girdles, especially on marquise tips as well
as existing cleavages. I read someone’s idea of loostening the
side prongs previous to heating and this certainly can’e hurt. The
main cause of problems is the failure of salespersons to clean
and examine the stone(s) while the customer is still in the store
and pointing out any & all serious imperfections. ESPECIALLY
with large pieces! I can’t tell you how many times I have called
my retail jewelers and told them of problems with work taken in
this way. Many times, they were unaware of it. In the
unfortunate event that, in spite of proper examination before
the customer leaves the merchandise and the warning of possible
problems, these things should occur, the best thing is to replace
the stone, have the old one recut and eat the difference. You
loose more potental sales and cause more customer ill-will to
argue with them. It’s simply part of the job.


Al I have to agree with you on this. Disclaimers are great but
they are not necessarily a legal guarantee of liability (or lack
thereof). There are many unwritten assumptions in our laws about
this topic. A judge may assume that you are responsible just
because you told a client you could do something and you all
entered into a “contract” regarding it.

I don’t think that disclaimers have to be able to hold up in
court, they will never get that far. The goldsmiths relationship
with the retail jeweler should be more of a partnership of
mutual benefit. Not one that is held together by contracts. An
understanding that under a certain set of circumstances, when a
stone is damaged, the setter will not be responsible for
replacement, is simply a verbal agreement. This kind of
agreement is stated up front, if they don’t accept it, you don’t
do their work. If they do, the agreement is tested over years of
work. I have been stuck with replacing stones unfairly, I didn’t
go to court, I paid for the stone and dropped the account. They
came back to reimburse me, but the trust in the relationship was
broken and I couldn’t do their work anymore. This kind of trust
on a handshake business relationship is more common in the
jewelry business than in the rest of the world, and I think the
rest of the world could learn from us.

Mark P.

Hello Steve and Carol!

I’m Tim ( the original author of the marquis
ends chip due to soldering. Just read your recent response to
Daniel (don’t know him). I verifiably have my facts straight. The
damage does’nt occur as soon as you’ve completed the work! That’s
the strange thing about it; it puts stress on the tips and it
fractures sometime later. Go figure! Usually if youv’e broken or
chipped a stone you notice it when polishing or so. In this case
all I can surmise is the ring has just been rebuilt! The customer
may not have need of work for years to come. Don’t get me wrong,
I doubt that this occurs to every marquis that’s tipped, but what
is the percentage of risk? I’ve been a bench jeweler since 1974
by the way.