Beyond heat treatment
Five or six years ago, the trade was wrestling with names for corundum treatments involving beryllium diffusion and flux ‘healing’ of rubies, as well as whether such treatments were ‘acceptable.’ The gemstone-manipulation industry in Thailand quickly made those previously ‘extreme’ techniques seem mild by comparison. The flood of so-called ‘rubies’ into the market composed primarily of glass quickly overshadowed concerns the trade may have had about extreme high-temperature treatments involving various chemicals to alter the colour and clarity of otherwise ‘natural’ stones. Today, it’s not unusual to find high-end jewellery with ‘flux-healed’ rubies, while the composites have flooded the lower end of the market. For what it’s worth, at least laboratories have quickly agreed that ‘lead-glass-filled rubies’ aren’t actually rubies at all and shouldn’t have ruby associated with their name.
What hasn’t changed in the last half-decade is the lack of public awareness and trade transparency in regard to the manipulation of gems in the corundum family. Apparently, there is still no consensus on what the word ‘natural’ actually means when it comes to absurdly altered stones. As appraisers, we’re on the frontline of public disclosure and consumer education whether we like it or not. To that end, I’ll once again repeat my mantra that I’m sure readers are tired of reading: education is the most important investment we can make in ourselves and our businesses. We learn what we previously didn’t know and discover how much else there is to understand.
For the independent gemmologist/appraiser, these ‘advances’ can present challenges that may initially seem insurmountable. I prefer to view them as ‘growth opportunities.’ The truth, however, is some of them actually are insurmountable for the average gemmologist without access to advanced equipment. The good news is there is increased access to affordable advanced testing. Equipment that was once only available to institutions with huge budgets can be purchased for a few thousand dollars. Scientists are constantly working to develop easy and inexpensive tests and equipment to combat the thieves and con men in the industry. As consumers come to rely upon us more and more to help them navigate the mysterious waters of the jewellery industry, we need to be certain we’re staying vigilant.
On a personal note, this is my last Valuer’s Notebook column for Jewellery Business magazine. After six years, I felt it was time readers were treated to a different perspective, although I’m sure some of you may have felt that way a while ago! It’s been my honour and great privilege to have had this opportunity to share what little I may have learned over the years with readers and to force you to listen to my opinions (sorry about that). I know you’ll enjoy and find great value in the wisdom provided by my friend and colleague who will be writing the column beginning with the February issue. Please feel free to keep in touch if you wish, and thank you very much for your patience and perseverance. And in case I haven’t mentioned it before, keep learning and growing your skill at the best job in the industry.
Mark T. Cartwright is an accredited senior appraiser, master gemmologist appraiser (American Society of Appraisers), independent certified gemmologist appraiser (American Gem Society), and GIA graduate gemmologist, who has provided gemmological and jewellery appraisal services since 1983. He can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.