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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Gemstone Treatments

I'm going to revisit this topic as it routinely comes up in my daily conversations and it's important for people to know what they are actually getting when they buy a gemstone in today's marketplace. Let me start however with a little story from my shop.

About 10 years ago we had a customer come into our store who had purchased a ring she liked elsewhere but the jeweler couldn't get her any sapphires that she liked so she had him put in a CZ (cubic zirconia--a synthetic gemstone) until she could find something else.  The stone was a decent sized stone (about 2 ct.) so what she was asking for wasn't impossible to find.  What she wanted was a natural color, unheated sapphire, and preferably with a certificate only from certain gem labs that she had decided were more reliable (I'm not sure why).  So we went out and got her some stones to look at.  She didn't like them.  So we got her some more.  She didn't like those either. After about 5 attempts and using a number of different suppliers we looked at her and said, we've kind of run out of sources and aren't really sure we're going to be able to find something you like that is within your needs.  About 5 years later she came back into the shop and asked if we would try again to find a stone.  So I said to her, okay I will but I really pretty much only work with one company these days for this kind of material and I'm only going to ask them to send one batch of stones to look at (it gets expensive shipping these things back and forth).  She said fine so I arranged with my suppliers to send a batch of stones.

They sent me nine stones, all of them around 2 cts. and all of them beautiful.  All nine of them were certed and of the nine, seven were certed natural and two were certed heated. She came in repeatedly with her husband and a number of friends. She finally picked out a stone.  Which one?  One of the heated ones.  Why? BECAUSE IT WAS THE COLOR SHE WANTED!

And that kind of explains why most gems are treated today.  Because it gives you the most desirable color.  This is not to say that you can't find natural, untreated gemstones in pleasing colors, or even in the colors achieved through heating.  You can, but it's a lot harder given what is going on in the gem marketplace.

So what is gemstone treatment?  It can actually be any number of things including, but not limited to, heating, bleaching, irradiation, oiling, fracture filling, lasering, dyeing, high temperature/high pressure treatments, resin enhancements, diffusion treatments, and probably a few more things that haven't been discovered yet.  Trying to alter the natural is nothing new.  Man, as you know, likes to alter things found in our environment and has been doing it for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians used to throw agates into hot oil baths to "quench crackle" the stones and that was 4000 years ago! Emeralds have been oiled for hundreds of years to hide their inclusions.  Stones have had foil backs placed behind them for hundreds of years to alter their color in a piece.  People have attempted to dye most material ever since they realized that certain stones would take the dyes.

Is gemstone treatment wrong?  Well as long as it's being disclosed properly absolutely not.  There are some stones we basically wouldn't have if it weren't for treatments, with tanzanite being the most notable.  Tanzanite is a wonderful blue/purple color and 100% of it is heat treated. If it isn't treated it's just an ugly brown.  There are others that most people simply would have no opportunity to own if not for treatments with sapphire high on this list.  There is a vast amount of sapphire material that comes out of the earth too light to be that attractive or that has virtually no color at all. Without heat treatments so few stones would be available in attractive colors that no one but the wealthy could afford to own them.  From a personal standpoint I have no problem with certain treatments, heating being among them.  My wife owns both heated and natural color sapphires.  I wear a ring with a pink sapphire (heated), a purple sapphire (natural) and a diamond (natural--and yes there are diamond treatments). 

However there is the little issue of disclosure that comes up.  As a member of a number of ethics based organizations, and simply because I have always believed in it, I disclose ALL treatments in gem materials that I sell.  The Federal Trade Commission says only that treatments have to be disclosed if it makes a significant difference in price (they refuse to define significant) and that there is enough of both natural and treated material available (in other words, tanzanite wouldn't have to be disclosed as treated because there is no natural tanzanite).  Personally though I don't agree with them. I believe ALL treatments need to be disclosed as the customer should always know exactly what they are purchasing.

This is a lengthy subject so I will continue it in my next blog. The ring pictured above is 18k gold with a heated blue sapphire.


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  2. O-M-G!!! If I were to get married this is the ring that I should have!!! For me these pieces simply define elegance…