Preserving My Family’s Life’s Work & Legacy

Tom Chatham, Chairman of Chatham Created Gems & Diamonds, Inc., discusses preserving his family’s legacy and life’s work on Alan Olsen‘s American Dreams Show.  


Alan Olsen

Welcome to America dreams. My guest today is Tom Chatham. Welcome to today’s show.


Tom Chatham

Thank you glad to be here.


Alan Olsen

So, Tom, we’ve had you on before a few years back, and it’s a pleasure to have you back with us today. And, and, you know, you were able to put together a really wonderful book on your father Carroll Chatham’s legacy.

I read through the book and an amazing story.

So I’d like to speak on that today during our visit. And in you know, is as in the case of most people with their legacy, if they if they’re failed to really get things in writing, a couple generations go by and things don’t get remembered.

So I like to run through these inspiration for doing your father’s legacy. And at what time did when a time did you realize that your dad’s legacy needed to be preserved and shared with the world?


Tom Chatham

You know, I thought about exactly what you said over the years that the legacy of other crystal growers that has not been recorded because they’ve passed on, and they were close friends of mine, many of them.

And I felt it was my responsibility to put this in writing on a first hand basis, having worked with them for so many years. And thinking about the creation of this book, over decades, I didn’t know how to start where to start.

I talked to other authors within the field. And I didn’t get any concise answer.

You know, I thought about exactly what you said over the years that the legacy of other crystal growers that has not been recorded because they’ve passed on, and they were close friends of mine, many of them.

And I felt it was my responsibility to put this in writing on a first hand basis, having worked with them for so many years. And thinking about the creation of this book, over decades, I didn’t know how to start where to start.

I talked to other authors within the field. And I didn’t get any concise answer. So I did an outline a few years ago, I didn’t follow it.

And then I just, I just started writing down what I remembered going through with my father and then on my own.

And it turned into something that people like. And the important thing is it that it does record firsthand what Carol Chatam accomplished.

And the battles and the fights and the successes, accomplishments that he made, I was able to record on a firsthand basis.

So I did an outline a few years ago, I didn’t follow it. And then I just, I just started writing down what I remembered going through with my father and then on my own. And it turned into something that people like.

And the important thing is it that it does record firsthand what Carol Chatam accomplished. And the battles and the fights and the successes, accomplishments that he made, I was able to record on a firsthand basis.


Alan Olsen

You know, it is a pioneer in the field for the gym creation.

You know, he had a I guess he went all the way to the Supreme Court just reviewing back what we talked about earlier and in defending the the chemical makeup and the processes by which gems were made.




Tom Chatham

We didn’t get we didn’t get that high. We fought with the Federal Trade Commission for four years. They’re a powerful force, but there’s not the Supreme Court. Okay.


Alan Olsen

And it’s so the Federal Trade Commission, I think there was an agreement, that, that he was able to preserve and document a process by which you could, you know, sell a gem but had to be under the name of Chatham. Is that correct?


Tom Chatham

That’s, well, that’s a little bit convoluted. We had the opposition in the industry from the natural gemstone, feel. They had friends in high places. In other words, they got the FTC to get on my father about nomenclature.

My father refused to use the word synthetic. He says it’s not a synthetic gemstone. I may synthesize the environment, but nature grows the crystal. So they said they sent us a cease and desist order.

And you can sign off on it and agree to cease and desist using the language they don’t like. We didn’t have any complaints on file.

It wasn’t any monetary downside to what they were after, like they do some companies pay huge fines for misrepresenting a product. We weren’t being accused of that. But they did want to hear my father explain exactly what he did.

And my father refused to explain exactly what he did. My product, he says speaks for itself. Okay, so the FTC calls in all of the gym experts. And at the end of every one of the questions, the judge says, What does chata make?

And they all had to answer emerald. And that’s what started the problem, because they wanted to know how he grew emerald and he refused to


Tell them and the judge made a mistake, illegal mistake and he says, If you don’t answer the question, Mr. Chatham, you’re in contempt of court $5,000 A day and a year in jail. That’s the potential you’re looking at.

If you don’t answer the questions, we want to know what you’re doing. And my father says, you can lock me up right now, you’re not going to lose.

God, you’re not going to ruin my life’s work, just for the satisfaction of some guys on Fifth Avenue that don’t like my product. It was a long silence in the courtroom. And I wasn’t there unfortunate, I was only 16 years old.

But I have all the transcripts. And it’s actually better than remembering it, having the transcripts 10 minutes went by the judges scratching his head and he said, okay, all attorneys, no chambers, we got to talk about this.

And got into the chambers. And the judge says to my father first was just I’m not going to put you in jail. And I think our attorney says, you know, you can probably because it’s without due process a lot.

There’s no law against keeping a secret in this case, so the judge said, I want to get out of this circuits. We’re not getting anywhere. We’re going around that around that around.

And I understand why you don’t want to divulge your process. But I’ve got it satis satisfy these people that think you’re misleading the public. So have you thought about any other words that you could use?

And we explained that we hired some of the top people in language to come up with it, a different word to describe this. And some of them were problematic in that they were already trademarked. Some of them just didn’t make sense.

And the judge said to the other attorneys, the government’s attorneys, what did all of your witnesses say chatter made? What did He create? They said, well create emerald, the Justice wanted to call a Chatham created emerald.

And we had never thought of that. And my father says, you know, Will, we love it? I mean, we liked that. And if you’ll allow us to use it, no problem with cease and desist on the other terminology, we were calling that stone culture.

And that’s where we got into a big battle on describing what a culture gemstone was, then you had to define the process. But in a Chatham created emerald, you didn’t have to define who created it, or what it was.

That decision lasted about six months.

But during that six month period, we had to change the corporate names, all of letterheads, all of business cards, all the advertising contracts, all the advertising that was already in film, but not printed 1000s of dollars worth of changes.

Six months later, we got another cease and desist. Same thing, almost word for word. We don’t agree with your terminology. And we again, had no choice back in court. But this was a different battle.

This battle lasted about two and a half years easily. And all my father had to prove was that he created emerald.

And I didn’t matter what the government attorneys suggested that there was there was just no malfeasance in Bob it he made emerald.

And what they do when they didn’t come to a conclusion, they said, Okay, we’d learn all we’re going to learn about this. We will close this case, and these proceedings anyway, and we’ll send you our answer.

And I don’t know it was a number of months later, can’t do business can’t sell anything can advertise.

We get a letter from the FTC saying, we agree with the conclusion, based on the hearing held on July is such and such, and you may call your stones Chatham created emerald, thank you very much for coming. Hundreds of 1000s of dollars.

You know, everybody had to have their own attorney in Washington DC.

And it when you fight the government and you you when you just when they don’t pay you back, you can sue the government, but I wouldn’t suggest that and we didn’t.

And so everybody had to eat their expenses and it became a worldwide precedent. Ciao I’m created emerald.


Alan Olsen

So I’m just curious at this point is the war against lab grown gems over?


Tom Chatham

Now, it’s not over. As a matter of fact, it’s just restarted. Because of the the newest lab created gemstone right now is diamond. And it is taking over like crazy 50% of sales are now in lab created diamonds in the US.

And natural diamond prices are falling. They’re too high. People walk into a store with 510 $1,000 to buy a say engagement ring.

And we thought that they would buy a one carat stone that didn’t cost them as much as a one carat natural stone. We thought they would be more conservative and save money. They didn’t.

They said I came in to spend $10,000 what they could get for $10,000 with a three carat stone. And it was a big difference. The natural I mean, it would cost you 4050 $60,000 and natural.

So that’s what’s happened just this past week, in April of 2004 they were in the American gem trade association has banned all non natural materials to be sold in their gem show in Tucson Arizona.

Accepting accepting cultured pearls, which is not a natural product. And that’s the battle goes on. I mean, I I have written to the FTC, you know, I haven’t gotten an answer. They don’t usually deal with individuals.

But the fight is going on. Yes. That’s amazing.


Alan Olsen

I think you’ve you know, it may be just a standard in the industry that despite it will continue. You know, remember earlier you had another fight in in Tucson with the gyms and yesterday we went there. So


Tom Chatham

I had to show him the end of the show.


Alan Olsen

Let’s move through the the personal size of writing your father’s book. I’m sure it was both rewarding and challenging.

What What were some of the challenges that you faced in capturing your father’s journey accurately and and Ken Pelling Lee in the book?


Tom Chatham

Well, first of all, probably half the story is missing. It didn’t all go in there. My editor was very succinct in regards to what went into the books, he says this is irrelevant. Tom, this has nothing to do with the story you’re telling.

And I had to go by the editors advice. And I think for the most part, they were correct. Sometimes I stuck to my guns and said no, this has got to be in there. I want it in there. It’s part of my history.

But it’s I just had a good memory of what we accomplished and what we went through as a father and son team trying to perfect these processes. And it was a lot of fun. Working in the laboratories. My father was a genius.

There’s no question about it in chemistry, but you didn’t know it, unless you talked to him in chemistry talk. And then he blew you away. And I often had to say, Dad, hey, I went to college chemistry.

I didn’t go to Caltech and get a PhD. So slow down. And so there was no boss. In the labs, though there was ideas thrown around. trial and errors. Try not to repeat mistakes. I did learn that.

And I emphasize that in the book and I even emphasize it to my competitors. Some of them sizeable competitors. In other fields, people like Sumitomo electric, and Cai, que sera, I’ve worked with them on different projects.

And I said, if you’ve made the same mistake, four or five times, or you get the same results, that are a mistake four or five times don’t do it again. And these mistakes are expensive.

I mean, when we would do an experiment in Emerald or Ruby Sapphire, it was $30,000. And if it was not successful, it was gone. And if we were successful, well it taught us something and then we could make some money out of it.

It was never perfect. None of our processes have ever been perfected. My father once said to me says, you know, and we’ve been involved in different buyout attempts and things and people like Union Carbide tried to buy us out.

If they had our process, my father said, they would probably never be on the market, because there’s not perfected, we get different results from different furnaces every year.

And we take the best, and we almost like a mine, I mean, we lose 80% of what we produce, just in the faceting of the rough material.

And taking out the garbage and inclusions in the bad parts of the crystal to get to the good part, the good saleable parts.

So it’s not the kind of a product that a Union Carbide would like, it’s not a stamp mill type of widget, you know, machine that you push a button and out pop crystals, it doesn’t work that way. It’s time consuming, or very time consuming.


Alan Olsen

says to release that the Chatham legacy, what kind of feedback have you received from the readers, any particular response stand out to you?


Tom Chatham

Oh, that day, I went to some of the good friends I’ve had in the industry do have any industry, people like the ex president of the Gemological Institute of America, wrote a beautiful review for me.

And I didn’t expect it he said, This is a story that anybody in the jewelry industry has got to read. I mean, it’s, it’s well told, it’s, it’s funny, it’s interesting, it’s insightful.

I can’t I’m paraphrasing what he said to me, but I have not had any negative reviews like I was full of baloney or, or I can’t write or, you know, wasting everybody’s time. I don’t know people do that on bad reviews, but I haven’t had one.

So all of my friends and people that aren’t friends that have read the book, have publicly commented on LinkedIn especially. There’s a think something on right now in LinkedIn, that they were all positive and a date.

They liked the information, I shared the stories that I told the adventures that I’ve had over my lifetime.

And then the adventures I shared with my father and the adventure that he had, it’s been very rewarding to, to have accomplished this, and to help people appreciate it.


Alan Olsen

Now, for our listeners who might be interested in writing their own legacy book, what advice would you give to them about starting such a personal and profound project reflecting back on your own?


Tom Chatham

Wow, that’s a tough question. I mean, I definitely know my subject. And I’ve given hundreds of presentations, covering our background, so I didn’t have to do any research. To get it out of my head.

I just had to try and, you know, learn proper English, which I still don’t know, once my editors got a hold of me and said, No, you can’t.

You know, you don’t write 24 You spell 24 you do this, all the different rules, that I must have missed that class and you know, English Lit. There are rules about writing that I do not know, that helped a lot.

But you’ve got to, you’ve got to create an outline. To know where you’re gonna go, where you’re trying to go with your story. And once you get it down, no matter how long it takes, I mean, I was fortunate in that.

I can type Well, I have a place in Cabo San Lucas, I sat there, I had no distractions, and I could just pound it out. And then set the manuscript to a person I had a high ly high amount of respect for in writing and literary types of efforts.

And I said to her, look at this, take a read it please. If it you think it’s garbage? Tell me, tell me the truth. And we’ll middle I won’t be offended. And they were quite the opposite. They said no to Tom, this is something that has to be done.

This has to be written. You needed an editor. But this this should be written. It really shouldn’t be because nobody has written firsthand about people like your father that’s always been historical someone’s Joe did this back in 1889.

But no one was there to write it firsthand. And that’s important, you know, firsthand experiences, I think are more meaningful than, you know, historical footnotes that you pick up on and publish.

So, out outlining, and knowing your subject, and then finding an editor that knows your industry or your profession, or what have you.

And knows how to edit, I was able to hire one of the editors from gems, and Jumanji, a magazine that the Gemological Institute of America publishes. So they know the subject, they know all the geology, they know all about Chatham.

So they could, they could easily correct my English, and they didn’t have to correct you know, my chemistry or what have you. And it’s not a chemistry book, either. I want to make sure people are aware that it’s not a chemistry book.

It’s not a geology book. It’s a it’s a book on legacy. It’s a book on, on travels, and a book on fighting and battles and a nomenclature wars that go on today. And that probably will go on for the next 100 years.


Alan Olsen

You know, it’s quite a, you know, one of the uniqueness is about the life story, is the amount of pictures that you put in there. And as you tell the story, what, when a reader goes through your book, what is your hope and anticipation of what you want the readers to take away from your father’s story? Well,


Tom Chatham

first of all, a lot of the pictures my father would be quite upset. If he saw the book. We are very secretive. We’ve had no leaks and 80 years from our labs, no one knows how we grow emerald, Ruby, Sapphire.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for like today’s diamond production. There are 7000 producers in India 6000 In China, obviously, somebody has leaked the information. They’re not all geniuses, somebody told somebody.

So the pitcher’s reveal a lot about how we grow crystals, without giving away too much. Just the, the how to build a furnace that will go to 1000 degrees centigrade and stay that way, plus or minus one degree for a full year.

You know, I mean, that’s described in late pictures of that furnace never been seen before. What should they get out of it? I don’t know. Just perseverance.

You know, my passion for this industry and my passion for the processes that my father went through that I continued today. It’s in a satisfaction of having that historical record of what we did, it’ll be there forever.


Alan Olsen

So Tom, people wanting to purchase the book, could you give a lead to how they would find that and


Tom Chatham

probably the easiest way rather than trying to get a hold of me directly, which is still possible. I’m, I’m on LinkedIn, I’m on Facebook.

But if you go to my my company’s website, There is a section in there where the book is available.

All the reviews of the book are in that website. And they’re good for reading and getting a feeling for what other people think of me and the book so it can be purchased on there.


Alan Olsen

Well, it’s a pleasure having you with us today on American grades.


Tom Chatham

My pleasure, anytime


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Transcript generated by software and may contain errors.

    Tom Chatham on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
    Tom Chatham

    Tom Chatham is the Chairman of Chatham Created Gems & Diamonds, Inc., a pioneering company in the lab-grown gemstone industry. His leadership continues the groundbreaking work started by his father, Carroll Chatham, who founded the company. Under Tom’s guidance, Chatham Created Gems & Diamonds, Inc. remains a prominent name in the creation of synthetic gemstones, known for their quality and the ethical standards of their production.

    Tom Chatham has also ventured into the literary world with the publication of The Chatham Legacy: An American Story. In this book, he details the rich history of his family’s business from its early 20th-century beginnings. He provides an intimate portrayal of how a passion for chemistry helped forge a lasting legacy in the gemstone industry, supplemented with official documents and historical photographs. This narrative not only charts the evolution of the gemstone industry but also underscores the Chatham family’s integral role in its development.

    Alan Olsen on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
    Alan Olsen

    Alan is managing partner at Greenstein, Rogoff, Olsen & Co., LLP, (GROCO) and is a respected leader in his field. He is also the radio show host to American Dreams. Alan’s CPA firm resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and serves some of the most influential Venture Capitalist in the world. GROCO’s affluent CPA core competency is advising High Net Worth individual clients in tax and financial strategies. Alan is a current member of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (S.I.E.P.R.) SIEPR’s goal is to improve long-term economic policy. Alan has more than 25 years of experience in public accounting and develops innovative financial strategies for business enterprises. Alan also serves on President Kim Clark’s BYU-Idaho Advancement council. (President Clark lead the Harvard Business School programs for 30 years prior to joining BYU-idaho. As a specialist in income tax, Alan frequently lectures and writes articles about tax issues for professional organizations and community groups. He also teaches accounting as a member of the adjunct faculty at Ohlone College.

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