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The Jewelry Hut
Jewelry and gems
The Buying Guide
Colored Gemstones Treatment
Synthesis & treatment
In addition to the wide variety of natural gemstone alternatives from which to choose today, numerous synthetic and treated materials are available. They make attractive jewelry, but you must understand what you have, and pay the appropriate price for it.
All synthesis are not the same
Scientific advances and new technology has resulted in a whole world of synthetic gemstone materials, but it’s important to understand that a synthetic is an imitation. Technically, the term “synthetic” gemstone indicate that a material is made by man using the same chemical ingredients found in natural products; in other words, using Mother nature’s recipe. This means that a synthetic gemstone will have essentially the same physical, chemical, and optical properties observed in natural gemstones. From a practical standpoint, this also means that they will respond to various gem identification tests the same way as natural gemstones. Tis can make them difficult to distinguish from the natural gem.
An imitation is also made by man, but not using “nature’s recipe,” so it is very different physically and chemically from the gem ii is imitating, and very easy to separate from the natural gem with standard gem identification techniques. For example, a glass “gem” is an imitation. Red glass could imitate ruby. But it resemble ruby only in color; a quick examination with a simple jeweler’s loupe would reveal telltale signs that it is glass, and any gemological test would clearly corroborate this conclusion.
Today there are numerous synthetic gems, but they are not all produced the same way. Some are produced inexpensively and, although they are with nature’s recipe, they don’t really look like natural gem. They are made quickly (“flame fusion”), by a process very different from nature’s. These are often confused with imitations because of their unnatural appearance and low cost. This type of synthetic is widely available today, and has been made for almost 100 years.
In recent years, technological advances have enabled scientists to create environments which come much closer to duplicating what is found in nature. As a result, crystals can actually be “grown” in laboratories, creating a product that very closely resembles the natural gem. These are called “flux-grown,” or “laboratory grown” synthetics.
Laboratory grown synthetics are expensive to produce and cost much more than other synthetics; in fact, the cost can be so high that consumers sometimes mistakenly conclude they are natural gemstones. Next to the natural, there is nothing that can compare to a fine lab grown synthetic, and even though the stone may be expensive, it is only a fraction of the cost of a rare, natural gem with a comparable appearance. Synthetics can make excellent alternatives for buyers unable to afford a natural gem in the quality they desire. Be sure, however, not to confuse terms such as “created” or “grown” with naturally created or grown. All synthetic products are made by man. Also, remember that inexpensive synthetics are abundant, so be sure you have a lab-grown synthetic and not an inexpensive type if you are paying a premium for it. As you shop around and compare various synthetic products, you will find that there are significant visual differences among them. Develop an eye for the type you want.
Gemstone treatment is routine in today’s jewelry scene
For hundreds of years mankind has been enhancing natural colored gems. In most cases the trade finds the practice acceptable because the prevailing attitude is that these treatments simply continue the process that Mother Nature started; all gems are exposed to heat, and many to radiation, as they are forming in nature. Today certain gems are routinely heated or exposed to some type of radiation to change or enhancement has occurred. On the other hand, if the color of a gem is very fine, and if it can be documented that the color is natural, the stone command a much higher price. Such gems are very rare today and are sought by collectors and connoisseurs. Some of the best sources for fine, natural color gems are major estate pieces.
Fine rare gems with natural color normally will be accompanied by a gem testing report verifying that fact. Without a report, or any representations to the contrary, assume that the color of any gemstone sold today has been enhanced in some manner. When buying any expensive rare gem represented to have natural color, be sure it is accompanied by report from a respected gem testing lab that verifies this fact, or make the purchase contingent upon getting a report.
Subjecting certain gems to sophisticated heating procedures is a practice that is hundreds of years old and is accepted within the jewelry industry as long as the change induced is permanent. Most, sapphires and rubies are heated. The treatment may lighten, darken, or completely change the color. A skilled gemologist or gem testing laboratory can often determine whether or not the color of these gems has been altered by heating by examining the gemstone’s inclusions under the microscope. Sapphire and ruby, for example, can withstand high temperatures, but often the heat causes small crystal inclusions present inside the stone to melt or explode. These altered inclusions then provide the evidence of heating.
It may be easy to determine that a stone has been heated, but it is often impossible to know for certain that it has not been, that is, that its color is natural. Making this determination can require a high degree of skill and sophisticated equipment, often only available at a major laboratory such as GIA; even then, it may not be possible to ascertain definitely. Gemologists must carefully examine the internal characteristics of the particular gemstone. Sometimes they see an unaltered inclusion that would lead to a conclusion that the color is natural; and sometimes the inclusions, or changes and abnormalities in them, that one seeks to make a positive determination simply are not present. When there is nothing inside the gem to indicate whether it has or has not been heated, we can not be sure.
Radiation techniques are relatively new. Frequently used on a wide range of gemstones, radiation is sometimes combined with heating. The effect is permanent on some gemstones, and accepted in the trade; it is not acceptable on other stones because the color fades or changes back to its original over a relatively short time. There are still some questions regarding radiation levels and the long term effect on health. The Nuclear Regulatory Agency has been working to establish standards, and the GIA Gem Trading Laboratory now has a facility with the capability to test gemstones for “acceptable” and “unacceptable” radiation levels.
Diffusion is a newcomer to world of treated gemstones and is already surrounded by controversy. Diffusion (sometimes called “deep diffusion” or “surface diffusion”) is a process which alters the color of a gem by exposing the surface to certain chemicals (the same used by nature) and heating it over a prolonged period of time. At present the procedure has only been used successfully to produce blue sapphire, although diffused ruby may become available in the near future. The material being treated, however, is usually colorless or very, very pale sapphire, and the beautiful color produced by the treatment is confined to the surface of the gem only. If you sliced a diffused sapphire in half, you would see an essentially colorless stone, with very narrow rim of blue along its perimeter. This could create a problem if the stone is ever badly chipped or nicked and needs to be re-cut or polished; the surface color might be removed in the re-cutting, leaving a colorless sapphire in its place. The treatment could be repeated, should this happen, to restore the original color. When repeated on a previously diffused gemstone, the process requires less time, and the restored color is virtually identical to the original.
It is possible that the process will be improved to produce a treatment in which color penetrates the entire gemstone. At this time, however, “deep” diffusion simply means the color penetrate a little deeper than in the earliest diffused gemstones. The color is still confined to the surface.
Fortunately, the presence of diffused sapphire in the jewelry market should not cause alarm because it is really easy for gemologists to detect in most gemstones. Unfortunately, however, many surface diffused blue sapphires have been found mixed in with parcels of non-diffused sapphires and some may inadvertently have been set in jewelry and sold. So it is important to buy any fine blue sapphire only from a knowledgeable, reputable jeweler. We also recommend double checking for diffusion to avoid any unintentional misrepresentation. Ask your jeweler if he or she has the means to check for you; in most cases it is a simple, quick test with an “immersion cell.” If this is not possible, be sure to make the sale contingent upon the stone’s not being diffused and take it to a gemologist for verification. If you should find the stone is diffused, you should have no problem exchanging it, getting a reduced price, or obtaining a refund.
Diffused sapphire offers a beautiful “blue” at a very affordable price. Just be sure you know whether or not the stone is diffused. If it is, pay the right price for it, and exercise some care in wearing and handling.
Treated gemstones can be a way for consumers to own lovely pieces at affordable prices. The most important consideration, here as in all purchases of gemstones, is to know exactly what you are buying. While some fraudulent practices involving treated gemstones certainly exists, the selling of treated gemstones is perfectly legitimate so long as all the facts are disclosed, the type of treatment used for enhancement is acceptable in the trade, and all important representations are stated on the bill of sale. With these safeguards you can be reasonably secure about the purchase you are contemplating and can enjoy the fine color and beauty of a treated gemstone for many years to come.
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