By Hemdeep Patel
The old adage stills seems to hold true when it comes to the jewellery industry—the more things change, the more they stay the same. As the industry grows and adapts to transformations in the day-to-day business cycle resulting from new technologies, products, and information, we are continuously faced with the seemingly insurmountable challenges of gemstone and diamond treatments. Specifically, I’m referring to their physical characteristics and limitations, as well as their disclosure to the buyer. This last point impacts the jewellery industry on three main fronts—at wholesale, during manufacturing, and at the retail level. The effects are loss of money, but at the retail level, this most often results in a damaged reputation and possible litigation.
Last December, six U.S. laboratories and trade organizations issued a news alert that lead glass-filled rubies without proper disclosure were making their way into the market. In addition, the rubies carried no information on how to care for them to maintain their appearance. Although similar warnings have been issued in the past, what was interesting about this one was the fact the stones are being sold at prices near that of untreated or conventionally treated rubies of the same size and colour. Previously, the low price of a lead glass-filled ruby was a clear indicator of its true nature.
Keep in mind this warning was issued by trade members in the United States, where litigation and enforceable fines can quickly resolve these issues in the consumer’s favour. In contrast, Canada is quite unique in this respect, since there are no such laws. Instead, it is up to owners to make customers aware of their business practices regarding disclosure of treatments. This can range from full disclosure to none.
The issue of lead glass-filled rubies has been around for the last decade, and the core problem of the treatment has always been the level of disclosure. For many gemmologists and knowledgeable jewellers, identifying this treatment is quite easy, but it has been the correct classification of these stones and the disclosure of the physical characteristics of the lead glass filling that has been lacking. In fact, to call this a treatment might also be misleading, since a ‘treatment’ implies something has been made better or improved while maintaining the original gemstone. This could easily mislead consumers to believe they are purchasing a ruby with some additives to make the stone better. In the vast majority of cases, filling can comprise more than half the stone’s total volume. In fact, if one could remove the lead glass filling, the ruby would be negligible in total weight. So it might be more accurately called ‘lead glass filling with ruby.’ As such, a number of gemmological laboratories refer to these stones as a composite ruby, made up of lead glass and ruby. For its part, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) feels this term does not accurately reflect the extent to which the ruby is treated, and prefers instead to use the term ‘manufactured product’ in its reports without any reference to ruby or corundum.
The second part of this issue—which by far is most important for those selling undisclosed composite rubies—continues to be educating the consumer of how to keep the treatment intact. A consumer wearing a filled ruby might be shocked to see their stone has discoloured after coming in contact with lemon juice or any number of household items. Providing this information can easily be done by either educating sales staff of the stone’s physical properties or providing the customer with detailed instructions on how to care for it.