Pearls from paste: Basel’s niche

If you were to imagine a premier laboratory for testing pearls and gems, would you expect the lab to be in Switzerland?  Could you believe that lab sits behind heavy security in a non-descript building above a Basel flower shop?  That odd but true description fits the Swiss Gemmological Institute, a global leader in testing gems and pearls.  WRS’s Tony Ganzer got a look inside the lab, and brings this report.

Franz Herzog puts a string of pearls in a small aluminum box, showing how the Swiss Gemmological Institute, or SSEF, prepares a pearl for X-ray.

In truth this is a just a pearl necklace submerged in a metal box, but in an Xray Herzog and other scientists here can see the structures of pearls, and determine whether they are natural or synthetic, and determine their origin.  Herzog says the certification of pearls has been a boon for SSEF in recent years.

SSEF deals in any number of precious materials, from pearls to diamonds to sapphires, and it doles out expert advice from its plain-looking building in Basel to clients like the Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction houses, and private dealers all over the world.  Michael Krzemnicki is the lab’s director.

KRZEMNICKI:

Krzemnicki says he aims to make the lab like a 5-star hotel of testing services, targeting a certain high-end clientele and offering a high-end product.  The lab can fire a laser at a gemstone to make molecules vibrate and reveal secrets of the gem’s formation. Or scientists can analyze the finest details of the smallest pearl.

KRZEMNICKI:

SSEF doesn’t mention prices when analyzing stones or pearls.  Though the lab was formed in the 1970s by jewelry and gem trade associations, its work remains independent.  That is one reason the lab moved to Basel from Zurich.—to have distance from the bustle of a business center.

KRZEMNICKI:

The same distance that helps avoid pressure is making some of SSEF’s business more difficult, says Krzemnicki.

KRZEMNICKI:

SSEF already has offices in Paris and Bangkok and does business in Hong Kong. But it is still hampered by money.  Though the lab rates some of the most valuable stones and pearls around, the lab is expensive to run, and building enough cash to fund a major expansion above all, takes time.

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