Should accurate labeling be mandatory for the sale of all gems?


Should accurate labeling be mandatory for the sale of all gems? Jewelry expert Scott Bohall weighs in—perhaps literally.

By Scott Bohall

The lobbyists in Washington, D.C., just won a decision saying that U.S. residents don’t need to know which country the meat we’re purchasing is coming from. Of course, the reason not to divulge its origins boils down to cost cutting and profits. No doubt there will be some challenges to the new ruling, and there may be health issues as well.

How does this tie in to jewelry? While there are no health concerns about gems from other countries, the approach to profits and greed are the same and disclosure is almost nonexistent. While watching a TV jewelry show one evening, I heard things that were so far off the truth that I actually called the show and reported them. I’m sure nothing will change, but for the record, saying that a ring is platinum and sterling silver is not an accurate statement when the ring is made from sterling silver and there is a plating of rhodium (part of the platinum family of metals) on the surface of the ring that accounts for less than one percent of the ring.

Recently, my daughter needed some makeup from a department store. During our shopping trip, I wandered near the jewelry counter to listen to a conversation between a clerk and a customer. The customer asked what type of gem that a light-green one was, and he was told it was “green amethyst.” This is such a dumb term for this gem, as amethyst is the purple variety of quartz.

A few years ago, someone experimented on a light-brown (smoky) quartz. The stone was zapped with radiation, and it turned light green. The term prasiolite was given to it. Green quartz or treated quartz could also be used to describe this gem, but not green amethyst.

Additionally, the customer asked the clerk where the gem came from. The clerk said he was not sure but he would guess probably California because a lot of gems come from there. (Brazil is the correct answer––by the way.)

It’s sad that no labels are required to let a customer know if a stone has been treated to obtain a certain color, what country it comes from, how the gem should be cared for, and so on. What’s even more of an issue is higher-priced gems. As an example, I had a request for a fairly rare size of yellow sapphire. I didn’t have this gem in stock, so I called a couple of suppliers. One supplier told me that a gem of this type was in another store and as soon as he got it back. he would overnight it to me. He mentioned that the stone was actually in Arizona, so I wondered if my customer might have been looking in both stores.

When I got the stone in, I examined it. It was a beautiful gem at a fair price; however, the stone had no paperwork that told whether it was treated. The supplier told me it had been heat treated. I confirmed that under the microscope, it showed signs of heat treatment, a 100-year-old process and a completely acceptable type of treatment. When I showed the stone to the customer, he confirmed that it was the same gem he had seen in another store. The other store had written information about the gem on a business card for the customer and indicated that that the sapphire was not in fact treated. The cost of the gem would have been triple the price if it hadn’t been treated, and the jeweler at other store had actually told my customer that the gem was normally $16,000 but they were willing to let it go for $11,000. We sold it for $4,500.

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