Buyer Beware: The Recent Explosion of Treated Ruby Jewelry

cut ruby gemstone with inclusions

cut ruby gemstone with inclusions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is often thought that treating or enhancing jewelry, particularly diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and other high-priced gems, is a relatively recent development. In fact, it has been going on, in one form or another, for thousands of years. The heating of precious stones, to improve their color, has been around since the time of Cleopatra’s Mines.

Increasingly, however, the suppliers of precious gems are coming up with ever more sophisticated techniques to improve the appearance, and hence the profitability, of their products. Such is the case with the latest round of treatment in the world of expensive ruby jewelry.

In the last five years, the amount of ruby jewelry that has been treated with “glass filling” has exploded. This product is finding its way into high-end jewelry and high-end stores, with expensive price tags. In short, it is being sold as high-quality jewelry. It is not.

The new glass-filled ruby, technically called “lead-glass filled” because of the presence of lead compounds in the filling, does not deserve the name ruby. The product begins with the mining of very low quality, fracture-filled, often near opaque ruby “rough.” Before the advent of these new treatments, it was virtually unusable. In other words, it was just junk rock. With the advent of the latest rounds of treatment, this junk rock is patched up via the glass-filling treatment, made to look good, and sent off into the world marketplace. A lot of people are making big money off it along the way.

Is there a problem with this? There certainly is. Think of it this way – the treated ruby is like a fissure-filled rock, held together by a “glue” that is made of molten glass that has cooled and hardened. Not only is the resulting product not exactly pure ruby, it has serious durability issues. If you get some household cleaner on your glass-filled ruby, it could potentially interfere with the glass/ruby bond, and start to crumble the stone. If you take your jewelry to a jeweler for a repair, the heat from a jeweler’s torch could make a glass-filled ruby shatter. And a sharp knock to the stone at the wrong angle could crack it along one of the filled fractures.

Right now, there is no clear agreement in the jewelry trade about how to describe this product, and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has still to act. In the meantime, consumers need to protect themselves from purchasing this kind of junk gem. The best way is to demand to know everything about a ruby before you buy it, hopefully from a reputable store. Ask if it has been “fracture-filled” or “glass-filled” in any way. If it has not, you should insist that you get that fact in writing, on your guarantee. And if you are paying a lot for the piece, you may want to take it to a reputable lab, or an appraiser, to check that the jewelry is as described.

About the author: Jennifer Martin is a freelance author who writes about fashion, accessories, and design. She wrote recently about fashion-forward kids’ umbrellas.

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