That Aren’t Rubies At All!
For thousands of years, rubies have been sought and treasured, prized as one of the most valuable of all things on Earth. A fine ruby has everything a precious gemstone should have — magnificent color, shimmering brilliance, extreme rarity, and excellent hardness and overall durability enabling them to be passed on from generation to generation. Such gems command high prices, and the finest and rarest rubies are among the costliest of all gems, costlier than sapphires, emeralds, and even the finest colorless diamonds in comparable size.
But today an increasing number of people—here and abroad—are finding that the “ruby” they bought isn’t a ruby at all. In fact, all-too-often what they’re buying is more glass than “ruby,” in some cases, over 50% glass. “What they are buying is made from a rock containing corundum (a mineral know as “ruby” when it occurs in a transparent, red variety) which has been chemically altered to remove extraneous materials, leaving a very porous material requiring extensive glass-filling to improve color and provide sufficient stability so that it can be cut and polished to look like a beautiful ruby, and sold as such when it is not,” cautions Antoinette Matlins, author of Jewelry & Gems: The Buying Guide (GemStone Press).
Internationally respected labs are now describing such stones as composite-ruby and many have been found to contain more glass than anything else. Composite stones are not new, but these are produced in a different manner than old-fashioned composite stones, and as a result, went undetected until recently. Matlins further explains that these should not be sold as genuine ruby at all, but as artificial ruby.
The World Jewellery Confederation known as CIBJO (an affiliation of organizations from 40 nations and whose mission is, among other things, to protect consumers) does not recognize composite stones as genuine gemstones. CIBJO defines composite stones as: "artificial products composed of two or more, previously separate, parts or layers assembled by bonding or other artificial methods." And Matlins says this is exactly what we find in composite rubies.
“There are serious problems with these stones in addition to their not being genuine rubies,” says Phoenix-based Craig Lynch, who serves on the Board of the Accredited Gemologists Association (AGA). “They are very fragile and can deteriorate quickly into something very unattractive – even lemon juice can adversely affect their appearance – and jewelers setting them into jewelry, or simply re-sizing a ring, have been shocked to see them melt and fall apart”!
Matlins concludes by emphasizing that in the USA, it is a violation of FTC guidelines to sell such products without disclosing what they are. Furthermore, when any “treated” product needs special care in the normal course of wear, the FTC requires disclosure of this fact as well. Nonetheless, these stones are being sold extensively without any disclosure that they are composites, and without mention of the need for special care.
What Can You Do?
1. Buy any ruby only from a reputable jeweler, ideally one who is a gemologist or has a gemologist on staff.
2. Ask whether or not the ruby has been treated, and if so, what type of treatment.
3. Ask whether or not any special care is required, and if so, what type of care.
4. Make sure to get all of this information in writing on the sales receipt (and if told that it is natural, get this in writing, too).
5. Verify what you have purchased by taking it to a qualified gemologist-appraiser
You can find a more complete list of questions and information pertaining to selecting a reliable appraiser in Matlins' books. For more information regarding composite-ruby, visit www.AntoinetteMatlins.com.
If you are worried about any ruby you have purchased, arrangements have been made through the Accredited Gemologists Association to provide a list of AGA members who are willing to provide free identification for any consumer who suspects they may have a composite ruby. Please contact AGA at www.accreditedgemologists.org to take advantage of this service.