Having the option to at least ask the right questions before a serious purchase is a good start. By just Google-ing a particular gemstone, the internet can be an endless source of information. For those of you who are on a dirt road when it comes to the technological highway (owning a personal computer), a hometown library can be useful.
I have written about gems that are oiled to enhance their appearance, such as emeralds, rubies, and sapphires. This is a practice that has gone on for centuries and is a totally acceptable practice
Another new form of enhancement has the gem world on its ear. It’s called glass fusion. This inexpensive process introduces melted glass into the faults and voids, thus rendering what were unsightly and unusable rough gems appear more beautiful than they really are. The problem is the process is very unstable over time. If any kind of heat or chemical gets near the glass fusion, the “gem” is ruined and non-repairable. To make matters worse only a trained professional or gemologist can detect the treatment. In a nutshell, unsuspecting folks who buy this junk usually pay thousands of dollars per carat only to find out later that their three-carat-plus emerald is basically worthless because of the enhancement. To make matters worse, the jeweler who sold it to you could have been duped also.
When in the market for opals there is another scam to avoid, whether buying opals domestically or if you are traveling “down under”. Once again, it’s real easy to be taken over the coals, especially by street venders hawking opals to tourists. There’s nothing worse than coming home to find out that that cache of valuable opals turns out to be a pile of worthless doublets, or worse, triplets.
Black opals are among the most expensive gems in the world. Most come from Australia. It is also the source of the common “white” and for “boulder” opal,which are less expensive than the black, but still valuable. Boulder opal at first looks like a doublet (a layer of cheap glass bonded to a thin layer of opal.) But it is not a doublet; genuine boulder opal is created by Mother Nature. While the opal was in a molting state millions of years ago, it flowed across ironstone and solidified making it appear to be two layers.
Unsuspecting buyers can easily be duped by purchasing doublets or triplets that mimic the actual gem. Triplets are in fact just a thin slice of opal sandwiched between a top layer of glass and a bottom layer of cheap black onyx. Then it is all cemented together to look like one stone. I can buy a coffee can full of these for $50.00. The gullible can pay as much as a thousand dollars for one piece–and believe me the gullible do. When abroad only do business with a reputable established opal dealer. Period!
Identifying fine gemstones from imitation or created is not something you can learn from my column; it can take years of training and experience to be a pro. Asking the right questions can be an advantage. Is this genuine or lab created? Are there any enhancements? Have them write the fact on the sales slip so, if you find out it is not what they claim, you have recourse for a full refund.
Another fact to remember is that a lot of gems come in different colors. Sapphires, for example, come in every shade of blue, green, pink, yellow and orange and are equally rare. Inexpensive garnets can be confused with expensive rubies and other gems. Blue topaz is always confused for aquamarine. There is a vast cost difference between the two.
The bottom line is to get what you pay for. My simple formula: Large rare gems = large wads of cash. As with everything else in life, if it’s too good a deal, nine out of ten times the result is you will get burned. An educated consumer is a smart consumer.
Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith and the owner of The Harbor Goldsmith’s and Richard’s Reef on Marco island. He welcomes your questions about “all that glitters”. 239-394-9275