There are more counterfeit gems in the jewelry market today than ever due to more ways of making them appear “real”. Knowing what different deceptive means dealers use to pass off fake gems as real ones can help you avoid getting swindled.
There is a difference in value between gems which are natural or made by nature and those that are synthetic or made by man. There is also imitation gems which are different than both natural and synthetic. There is a big difference in value and price between these three types of gems sold to consumers.
Synthetic is the name given to man made gems which are just as beautiful as a natural gem, sometimes more beautiful. Man made gemstones are identical to their natural counter parts except for the fact that they are made in the laboratory instead of by mother nature in the earth. They possess the identical chemical composition, crystal structure and appearance as their natural counter parts. They are also identical in hardness, luster, and refractive qualities. Because they are made in the lab they are perfect. The cost of a perfect natural gem can be astronomical; the cost of a perfect man made gem is affordable, because they can be made in mass quantities.
Imitation gems are not the same chemically as gems that are synthetic or natural. Imitation gems are usually made of glass. Red glass can be made into an imitation ruby. Green glass can pass as an emerald. Cubic zirconia is a lab grown gem but it is not the same chemically as it’s natural counterpart. Cubic zirconia can be made into a green gem that looks extremely close to an emerald. Cubic zirconia is much cheaper than a natural gem or a gems synthetic counterpart.
There is nothing wrong with making synthetic gems and there is nothing illegal about it. But selling or passing off a synthetic gem as a natural gem is illegal and fraudulent. Retailers feel that the term “imitation” when used next to the gem doesn’t sound good. Most customers wouldn’t want to buy an imitation gem. So, they insert the word synthetic for an imitation stone. Synthetic stones are not the same as imitation stones in the jewelry world. So when you are buying a piece of jewelry make sure you ask if the gem is natural, synthetic or imitation.
Another deceptive practice that sellers play on buyers of gems is coating them with a colored substance. A pale gem can be coated with a darker colored plastic to make it appear more valuable. A rock crystal can be coated with a red plastic to imitate a ruby. To make a gem sparkle a dealer may coat a dull gem with lacquer or shellac.
Dealers can also put a dab of paint on the bottom point of a dull gem to refract up through it intensifying the color. The light will go down through the gem and reflect off of the darker paint, the gem will appear a darker more valuable hue. A diamond that is too yellow can be painted on the bottom with a purple color thus counteracting the yellow and making the diamond appear clear. A crystal clear colorless diamond is worth more than a yellow one. The paint on the bottom of the gem will be hidden by the gold setting. Always make sure you can inspect the bottom of a gem in the ring’s setting. Do not buy an expensive ring with a closed back setting, the bottom of the gem may be painted.
A dealer can put a foil backing on an imitation glass stone to make the gem appear brilliant. Foil backing has been applied to gems for thousands of years; mostly before modern cutting techniques to add brilliant facets was invented. It is not a common practice today, but some antique stones can be found that have foil backings. The value of an antique stone with a foil backing will be valuable because it is an antique.
Sometimes gem manufacturers will glue together two stones to make a doublet, or three stones to make a triplet. These are called composite or assembled stones. When a seller discloses a doublet or a triplet this is not considered deceptive. But, sometimes the types of stones that are glued together are not equal in value. It is not uncommon for a synthetic stone to be glued to a natural or an imitation stone. When the buyer is not told it is considered a fraudulent practice.
Another misleading practice used by jewelers is re-naming gems to make buyers think they are getting a rarer more valuable one. A garnet could be called an American Ruby when all it is a garnet. Some other misnomers are: an oriental amethyst which is really a purple sapphire, a Brazilian diamond which is really a colorless topaz, an Indian emerald which is really a dyed crackled quartz, a Brazilian emerald which is really a green tourmaline, a Spanish emerald which is really green glass, a Ceylon opal which is really a moonstone, a water sapphire which is really iolite. This is just a few of them,
there are many more “manufactured” names dealers will give gems to make you believe you are getting more than you are. If a jeweler calls a gem by a double “special” name, ask them what it really means.
The above practices, when done with the intent to deceive, are fraud. If a jeweler or dealer is honest and discloses the information to the buyer then it is legitimate. As long as the buyer is aware of what they are purchasing then the sale is legitimate.