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Tiffany, Diamonds and the Internet

Discussion in 'RockyTalky' started by davidjackson, Aug 25, 2004.

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  1. davidjackson
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    by davidjackson » Aug 25, 2004
    I'm working on an article about the impact of the Internet on the retail jewelry market, and specifically whether Tiffany will be negatively impacted. My research suggests that Tiffany's is significantly undercut (in terms of price - excuse the pun) by Internet retailers for diamonds of similar quality. I wondered whether anyone has anecdotal evidence that Tiffany is losing competitiveness to the Internet retailers. I'd really welcome any help with this, plus any specific feedback about the arguments in the piece itself. You can view the first draft of the article at the techuncovered.com web site here:
    www.techuncovered.com/diamonds01.html
     
    


    


  2. Garry H (Cut Nut)
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    by Garry H (Cut Nut) » Aug 25, 2004
    Interesting view point David.

    If I might make a few comments:
    I doubt Tiffany average engagement rings start at plus $20k.
    Probably the average store stating price is $3-5k and maybe the average sale is in the $10-20k range. (not that that changes anything).

    You list shopping.com as the site that does the best job - that would be true perhaps for less sophisticated buyers aiming at lower target prices. But a counter view might be that in lower values, say the Zales market, people might be more concerned with the look and feel. For higher values which are usually about the center diamond, Pricescope surely wins hands down?

    You mention the lower priced silver with the higher margin. Last time I looked, Tiffany had about a 60% gross margin (i.e. retail price $100 = cost of goods sold = $40). Some of the silver must have a huge GP - I wonder what the average diamond ring averages?

    You compare Internet vendors to the Dell model - that is a good line, but it is even more true than you know. Most of the diamonds listed on the Internet are from B2B sites and they can be picked up and marked up with a few % by any pajama boy in a basement. Although now we are seeing a model of success from e-tailers who are cherry picking better stock - they are moving to a more costly business model - but one that offers more trust and certainty.

    This last effect is most obvious in quality of cut. Tiffany's greatest risk is bad press from selling a standard of cut that was superior 10 years ago, but today they are way behind.

    Finally I think it would be fair to say that your own nature and preferences mean that you would never be likely to be a Tiffany customer. But there may be a woman in your life who thinks differently!!!!!
     
  3. Garry H (Cut Nut)
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  4. denverappraiser
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    by denverappraiser » Aug 25, 2004
    David,

    I agree with Garry, the threat to Tiffany’s from internet based jewelers is on the quality front, not the price. They’ve never been an inexpensive place to buy merchandise and they’ve never claimed that they were. The internet has given rise to several vendors with national reach that put forth a pretty good argument that their stones are better than what you will get at Tiffany’s, in addition to being cheaper.

    Neil Beaty, GG ISA
    Independent Appraisals in Denver
     
    


    


  5. blitz
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    by blitz » Aug 25, 2004
    Only 5%of my clients have purchased from the internet. The traditional jewelry store is still the source for a jewelry purchase.
    My opinion is that those that shop at Tiffany, want the Tiffany name.
     
  6. davidjackson
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    by davidjackson » Aug 25, 2004
    These comments are really helpful - thank you. A few follow-up points and questions:
    1. Garry - I quoted shopping.com because it's the best of the high-traffic comparison shopping engines. But given how easily I found pricescope, it makes sense to assume that most people could find this site.
    2. I was intrigued by what you said about Tiffany falling behind in quality. Could you explain?
    3. I'm very surprised by the postings that suggest that price doesn't matter. Surely sales tax alone makes a big difference on a purchase this size?
    4. My sense is that purchases of diamonds on the Internet will hit an inflection point. Remember that people said that nobody would ever buy a PC off the Internet before Dell came along. The key point I make in the article is that diamonds are basically a commodity, because their value is definable by a set of objective characteristics. Once a diamond is certified, surely it doesn't matter where you buy it from? Any thoughts on that would be appreciated.
    5. One important question I'd really appreciate help with: do people really buy $6K engagement rings from Tiffany, or does Tiffiany mainly cater to the high end of the market (about $20k)?
     
  7. davidjackson
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    by davidjackson » Aug 25, 2004
    One other point I forgot to mention: Tiffany has stated on its conference calls that its gross margin is higher on gifts than on high-end jewelry, but the absolute gross margin dollars are higher for high-end jewelry. Ie. the sale amount is so much larger, that even with lower gross margin the dollars of profit per sale is greater.
     
  8. Hest88
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    by Hest88 » Aug 25, 2004
    David, interesting article.

    I think the point you may be missing, that many men and techies seem to miss, is that the comparison between computers and diamonds will always be a facetious one due to the very fact that diamonds--especially engagement rings--hold a high sentimental factor that computers do not have.

    As you point out in your article, people do not go to Tiffany because of price; they never have. They go to Tiffany because they believe that that name holds a certain measure of quality. When you purchase a Tiffany item for someone, be it one of those cheap silver bracelets or a large diamond ring, you are sending a message to the person that you care enough to, uh, buy the very best. Whether or not that is true is another issue, but that's the perception Tiffany holds and tries to maintain.

    (Personally I suspect that, as I watch Tiffany expand its stores into malls and suburban areas, losing that exclusive cache, there will come a day when their per person price point drops significantly but as their volume increases. I think Tiffany is in a dangerous place right now, as is Coach and other purveyors of what used to be considered high-ish end goods, as they chase name recognition from the masses.)

    Anyway, the other factor about diamonds as a commodity, is that we are nowhere near the point yet where "certification" becomes a guarantee of diamond quality. All the 4 Cs take, to some degree, a bit of an art for appraisers to evaluate. The most important C--cut--is a place where the standards are still being refined. If you take a look at the tutorial or any of the recent threads where people moan that an AGS 000 performs disappointingly, you'll get a better sense of the complex optical issues involved.
     
  9. denverappraiser
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    by denverappraiser » Aug 25, 2004
    David,

    Read the tutorial at the top of the page, especially the parts about cut analysis. It talks quite a bit about quality. Quality is a big topic here. Check out the sites of some of the participating vendors and notice how they choose to write their sales pitch. 'Taint the prices.

    Lab reports and the whole commodity issue is a hot topic. There is nothing like agreement that diamonds are basically a commodity. Actually, you'll find it difficult to get someone to defend that position. Read the study on the front page of pricescope titled 'grading lab survey' by Leonid & others. There's good stuff there. Also note that Tiffany's doesn't sell lab graded stones. Their position is that you should be satisified that the grading is good because it bears the Tiffany name.

    "Once a diamond is certified, surely it doesn't matter where you buy it from?". - - These, in particular, are fighting words.

    Neil Beaty, GG ISA
    Independent Appraisals in Denver
     
  10. ame
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    by ame » Aug 25, 2004
    Ok...my anecdotal commentary...You are paying 4x as much as a diamond is really worth just so you can say it's purchased from tiffany's and it's set in their sstamped setting. Why overpay by a ton and buy something mediocre quality just to say it's a tiffany's? What I wonder is if most laypeople hear Tiffany and whether its really a great cut stone or not suddenly think it is...like Tiffany is synonomous in most folks heads as the best.

    After my experiences, its not the greatest and Id never buy a ring from them again.
     
    


    


  11. eyesoftexas
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    by eyesoftexas » Aug 25, 2004
    We actually discussed this in Business School. Tiffany has always gone after the Niche market of elite clientele. Now they are expanding that to the well heeled upper-middle class (those that buy Lexus, BMW Z3 and upper range SUVs). This Niche has the largest market potential in Gross Dollars. Below this upper-middle class the market potential for their diamonds starts dropping off rapidly as many players are crowding this portion of the market and most of these customers are looking for good deals rather than quality at a price. I do not think Tiffanys will expand to all of the malls rather just very select malls. A few in very select areas that again will target that upper-middle class techie/MBA who will pay for a name/quality without going all out. Tiffanys does sell diamonds in the very lower range but again most of the Tiffany clients do not want anything less than a carat. At the usual $12k/carat I could definitely see them spending in the $20K range. Most people who only have $3K to spend would likely be intimidated by Tiffanys or just not care about the name. Tiffany's has a really smart marketing department with some big time former business profs working the numbers.
     
  12. eyesoftexas
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    by eyesoftexas » Aug 25, 2004
    Ame,
    Sorry to hear you think your Tiffany ring is not well cut. I would say that Tiffanys takes great care in getting quality diamonds. It may not be heart and arrows but we all know that H&A is just a way to market diamonds and it is not anymore brilliant.
     
  13. Garry H (Cut Nut)
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    by Garry H (Cut Nut) » Aug 25, 2004

    Yes people buy $6k rings from Tiffany - we are often competing against them in our store here in Melbourne Oz.
     
  14. Rank Amateur
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    by Rank Amateur » Aug 25, 2004

    Wow. I didn't realize that Tiff's puts its own grading above GIA or AGS. Maybe Leonid should include them in the Lab Survey and see how THEY compare. It would be a blow to the gut to find out you overpaid for an overgraded stone! Yikes!
     
  15. eyesoftexas
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    by eyesoftexas » Aug 25, 2004
    The Tiffany Labs are VERY strict on their diamond grades. Their stones come with two lab appraisals one from the GIA and the other from Tiffany. Typically the reports will match but every once in awhile you will get a Tiffany Lab report that reports lower color than the GIA. I again completly disagree that you will ever get a GIA report on the diamond that grades the diamond lower than the Tiffany Lab would. It would never happen.

    As far as Tiffanys, everyone likes to bash them pretty good on this board and that is ok. Probably the same people that would bash BMW/mercedes/Ralph Lauren and Luis Vuitton. All super names of high quality but not necessarily better stuff and certainly not garbage.

    As far as a blow to the gut that someone overpaid for a Tiffany diamond - I doubt it, again look at who the typical buyers are - upper-middle class to super rich they can all AFFORD to shop at Tiffanys. They really dont care about bargains but rather shop for what they WANT and LIKE. Dont mistake th typical Tiffany buyer as a bargain seeker because that is not their niche.
     
    


    


  16. eyesoftexas
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    by eyesoftexas » Aug 25, 2004
    Gary,
    You can not be serious with that link you just provided on the quality of Tiffany diamonds. You took a picture from their website and tried to model it with your software based on assumptions that You made from a PICTURE that is used in their ad!!!

    All engineers know when it comes to modelling - Garbage in - Garbage out. Get a real Tiffany RBC in your hands and then model it. What you did was just not right nor real.
     
  17. Garry H (Cut Nut)
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    by Garry H (Cut Nut) » Aug 25, 2004
    Eyes you know I like you and I respect you for standing up for Tiffany, and shopping with them because you like what they stand for etc. (And you have had excellent personalised service from them).

    But if we assume that the photo on their website was indeed a Tiffany ring and Tiffany diamond (it might be a CZ to reduce theft at photographer risk), then in fact I can model the stone quite accurately. and yes, I have secret shopped Tiffany (and many other brand names diamonds) with my Ideal-scope in more than a dozen stores in USA, HK, Melbourne, London and Hawaii. And I am glad to say that they are the best of the big brands, but sad to say that only around 1/2 the stones that I have examined would make it into my store.

    I invite others to take their scopes and do the same.
     
  18. valeria101
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    by valeria101 » Aug 26, 2004
    There must be a difference between looking for the specification of a product alone and looking for a brand. Brands are great as shortcuts, but there must be another way.

    After all, Tiffany does not grow it's gems in the basement (or make most of their jewelry, btw.). And the knowledhe they use to select their stock is highly reproductible.

    And this is where information-intensive WWW seller get in into the high end market.

    Not that each site posts stats on their clientelle, but if one takes into account that displaying very expensive gems is constly for the seller (I already take into account the memo and the fact that some stones woudl be kept as capital not inventory), than it would be safe to say that the respective shop knows they have access (=appeal) to the segment of the demand where these goods get unloaded. Wouldn't you think?

    On another line of thinking, it seems to be common knowledge that brand shoppers go for the "experience" (the "Luxury Market Report 2004" by Unity Marketing has an interesting bit on jewelry for ex. ). For some, virtual exchange may be an appealing experience. There are quite a few recent studies about this (regarding intermediation services on the art market), but none about diamods or jewelry in particular.

    Just a thought, of course.
     
  19. ame
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    by ame » Aug 26, 2004
    I returned it after I got it appraised. When it's worth less than you paid for it by more than 2K it's never worht keeping it.

    Not to mention the fact that they ruined the setting that was damaged when given to me and they refused to give me a brand new one. That should have been an idication to never accept anything.

    I think when people buy Tiffany they are buying it to say "I own a tiffany diamond" for status, so that people know they have a lot of disposable income. Not that they are really buying quality even if it's hyped up that they might be, because my experiene tells me they are buying he little name stamped in the shank.
     
  20. denverappraiser
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    by denverappraiser » Aug 26, 2004
    EyesOfTexas,

    The Tiffany stones that I see come with the Tiffany lab report but I've never had one walk in with a GIA unless the customer got it after the fact. I asked one of the local Tiffany employees about it and they said that outside lab reports were available 'on request'. Mine is not an especially reliable source, I'll concede, so I'll take your word for it that they always supply them and this salesman just didn't understand the policy. In any case, I agree that Tiffany’s lab is very strict in their grading.

    I don’t actually see much of a problem with the premium that they charge for exactly the reasons that you’ve summarized. Tiffany diamonds and jewelry are consistently excellent products. They’ve worked extremely hard to build a connection between their brand name and the floating concept of quality and, for the most part, they’ve been quite successful at it. For decades their basic marketing assumption has been that their merchandise is the very definition of excellence and that their competitors are consigned to selling on the notion that theirs are, at best, just as good but less expensive. This model is now being challenged. There are vendors all over the world that are promoting the notion that their stones are not just cheaper but better. This is mostly a result of the internet and the shortening of the supply chain. Until recently, customers with the attitude of “I want the best and money is no object” would shop at Tiffanys. They are at serious risk of losing this demographic.

    Neil Beaty, GG ISA
    Independent Appraisals in Denver
     
  21. davidjackson
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    by davidjackson » Aug 26, 2004
    Guys,

    If you'll let me, I'd like to focus this on something that is fundamental to much of what is discussed on this site and in your comments, but hasn't been stated explicitly. Here's the issue:

    - If there are metrics by which you can judge and value a diamond without actually seeing it, then buyers can compare prices on the Internet on sites like this one. In that case, brand is not particularly valuable, and shoppers will be able to do much better by buying off the Internet (given the level of price competition and lack of sales tax) than buying from Tiffany.

    - If there are no objective metrics by which to judge and value a diamond, then consumers are lost anyway. Most people (myself included) don't have the expertise to judge a diamond by looking at it. Given Garry's comments about the unreliable quality of Tiffany diamonds, it's not clear that brand helps the consumer either. True, a small number of buyers will go to independent appraisers and experts like Garry to ensure that they are getting the quality they want, but most people will buy off the Internet or from stores like Tiffany without really knowing what they are getting. In which case - it's not clear that the lower Internet prices won't hit Tiffany's business anyway.

    Any thoughts?

    BTW, I read the tutorial and looked at the other postings, and just wanted to complement Garry on this site. It's outstanding. I'll make sure I link to it from the piece.
     
  22. valeria101
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    by valeria101 » Aug 26, 2004

    You said it [​IMG] Either on the net or off, buying without experience is not leading to very different results. In a shop you get to see a couple of stones, and here a couple of sets of numbers and (hopefully) some pictures. Online or off, one gets to compare only among a seriously limited range that corresponds to each seller's speciality.

    Brands are also on the Net... and buyers' reassurance does not come from their independent knowledge anyway. It seems that off-line brands just had more time to grow, while branding opportunities for online diamodn sellers are rather new.

    IMO, independent quality certification (as oposed to grading fullstop) seems to be one such opportunity. Immaging is another.

    You may find it interesting to add the grading labs into this picture, since they get to certify "quality". A Tiffany certificate does tell about the same as any other. The reassurance about how the piece looks compared to everybody else's piece (isn't this that ultimately matters?) came from Tiffany's name, not the grades. But now labs also include details that hint at how the stone looks (pictures, detailed proportions) so one can have an "ideal" diamonds by any other name. Even if there are not too many web based brands as of now, the opportunity for them to expand does exist since independent certification becomes more sophistiated.

    You already mention that independent appraisal is an advantage to WWW sales, but small scale. However, GIA and AGS are not minor labels and their policy does evolve towards a more holistic certification of quality (their adding cut grading).

    The incresing sophistication of immaging (odd things like those 'Scopes used for diamond branding online and off) is also there to facilitate communicating quality online, for what this matters besides branding. Trying to communicate visual perception is not straightforward, is still a challenge, but one thta is already tackled extensively - it seems. I am pretty sure this will not have to get perfect for online sellers to compete on the same line with the shops thta shine diamonds infront of you.

    There is a good quantity of news about such developments in PS posts (Garry's posts and others) you may find useful.
     
  23. Superidealist
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    by Superidealist » Aug 26, 2004
    Consumers need reassurance that the diamond they they are buying is beautiful. Ideally, a brand should offer this. Reliable cut grading will give them this assurance and lead to the commoditization of diamonds. We're seeing the beginning of this with many of the online vendors represented on sites like Pricescope and Diamond Talk.

    Since AGS000 is no real guarantee of beauty, many here turn to things like hearts and arrows images, Holloway Cut Advisor scores, BrillianceScope reports, Ideal-Scope images, Isee2 analysis, computer models, vendor opinion, and so on. This takes a fair amount of effort and ultimately requires some trust in these largely unproven indicators. When the major labs weigh in next year, no real effort will be needed and things may rapidly turn south for branded goods and bricks and mortar operations.
     
  24. Garry H (Cut Nut)
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    by Garry H (Cut Nut) » Aug 26, 2004
    David the idea of diamond commotitization is flawed (he he ha ha).

    Perfume costs $5 to make and can be sold for $10, but actually sells for >$100.
    I drive a Merc because I want to appear successful. If it were not for social and business pressure I could drive anyone of a number of cars that cost 1/2 the price (high duties here in OZ).

    You are being nerdy idealistic [​IMG]
    I fight with these desires and urges constantly - to buy the brand, or the generic - and I am sure most others do to.

    Imagine giving your partner a $10 bottle of fragrence?????
     
  25. valeria101
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    by valeria101 » Aug 26, 2004


    Nooooo, but if it smells right, I'd buy it for myself. Right of the rose farm, no offense... which I actually do. [​IMG]
     
  26. davidjackson
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    by davidjackson » Aug 26, 2004
    D Riley -
    Your comment was fascinating; thank you. If I understood it correctly, you're saying that some key aspects of diamonds which cannot currently be measured according to widely accepted metrics will soon be measurable. If that's true, it seems to make a lot of sense that diamonds will become increasingly commoditized.

    Garry -
    I'm not sure your perfume analogy is accurate. Here's why. Perfumes are not commodities, because each fragrance is unique. That uniqueness then opens the door for branding opportunities. As you allude to, perfume vendors spend more on packaging and advertising than the creation and manufacture of the perfume itself. But a plain platinum wedding band with no decoration, to use another example, is a commodity, because wherever you buy it from it will be identical, and its characteristics are determined by objective metrics (size, weight, shape etc). A company with a powerful brand may be able to sell a commodity at a slightly higher price, but consumers generally will put a cap on that price premium because they know the products are essentially identical. My gut feeling is that this is the case with diamonds, once the issues that you've raised about measuring the quality of the cut are worked out (as D Riley suggested they will be). Sure, you might pay 5% or 10% or even 15% more for the cache of buying a diamond from Tiffany, but 30% more or 40% more? Not if you know that you could buy an identical product from an Internet vendor for much less.

    By the way, that is why I clearly distinguished in the piece between engagement rings and Tiffany's other products. Tiffany's other jewelry is not a commodity, because the designs are unique and can't be purchased elsewhere. The same is true of the bulk of the products it sells in the $80-$750 range. But diamond engagement rings are different, because their design is standard (I understand that there are variances in settings, but I don't think that's significant enough of a differentiator) and the stone at some point - if not now - will be measurable against agreed metrics.

    This discussion has been really helpful for me. Thank you to everyone who has participated so far.

    2 other questions:

    1. Does anyone have any anecdotes about people intially thinking they would buy from Tiffany and then purchasing from the Internet instead?

    2. Do you think it's possible that a company like Blue Nile could establish enough of a brand name to become the "Tiffany of the Internet"?
     
  27. Superidealist
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    by Superidealist » Aug 26, 2004
    No. I don't believe there are widely accepted metrics and I don't believe anything as subjective as beauty can be quantified. I do believe, though, that the opinions of the GIA and AGS will be good enough for most consumers (not those here at Pricescope, however).
     
  28. Garry H (Cut Nut)
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    by Garry H (Cut Nut) » Aug 26, 2004
    Diamond fails the commodity test because there are +3 million grades and variances.

    My car analogy still holds David [​IMG]
     
  29. jasper
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    by jasper » Aug 26, 2004
    David,

    You asked for case studies of consumers
    who shopped at Tiffany's,
    and then considered the Internet.
    My story is posted at:
    https://www.pricescope.com/community/threads/seattle-area-jewellers.18415/
    http://www.diamondtalk.com/forums/showthread.php?t=55573


    When I first started shopping for Marie's ring,
    I went to Tiffany's. This was a few years ago.
    This shopping story illustrates how the web
    is improving what we know about cut.

    Tiffany's is an excellent place
    to see the effects of color, clarity, and size.
    Unfortunately, their sales staff did not understand
    cut well enough for me to be comfortable.
    Specifically, they did not know why most
    round brilliant cut diamonds
    have a table larger than the 53 % mentioned
    by Tolkowsky. This was a few years ago,
    when the answer was shrouded in mystery.

    At the time, very few people had access to Tolkowsky's work.
    (The G.I.A does have a copy, fortunately.)
    I got a hold of the only public library copy in the U.S.,
    and put it on-line. (So for practical purposes,
    most public libraries have a copy now.)

    And then I figured out the answer
    to my question, and put that on-line, too:
    www.folds.net/diamond

    It turns out that if you account for rounding errors
    and the girdle, Tolkowsky's model suggests a table size
    in the mid-50s. It also suggests the combinations
    of (and trade-offs between) crown and pavillion angles
    that Garry Holloway, EightStar, MSU, Bruce Harding,
    and others had recently brought attention to.

    -- Jasper Paulsen
    www.folds.net/diamond
     
  30. Garry H (Cut Nut)
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