Friday, May 15, 2015

Are You Seeing Red When Thinking About Composite Rubies?

Do you know what really grinds my gears? We in the gem and jewelry industry recognize that what makes our product rare and valuable is not always common knowledge. That's why it’s our responsibility not only to be transparent regarding what we sell, but to educate and to explain to our clients the factors that make some items more valuable than others. Yet despite these efforts to build trust between dealer and consumer, there is still a veil of confusion at the retail level which destroys all these initiatives. So when I recently read that a large department store was found to be selling composite rubies to unknowing clients (you can read the whole story here), I was fuming. How, after almost a decade of this material being on the market, is it still necessary to write and plead for more accountable salesmanship? Before we begin, let me be clear: though it is certainly not a crime to sell these stones, it is definitely unethical to make people believe that they are buying “the real deal”.
So what exactly is a composite ruby?

A composite ruby (lead-glass filled) set in 14K gold, Photo courtesy of
Composite ruby is the name given to extremely low-grade materials that have been so heavily treated with lead-glass filling that it ceases to be a simple treatment and becomes an integral part of the stone. Originally, lead-glass filling was strictly a method of improving clarity in materials with small surface reaching fissures and cracks. Progressively, the ratio of lead-glass to natural ruby became so slight that one could no longer in good conscience call it a ruby.
My problem with salespeople failing to do their due diligence towards their clients is many folds:
  • Salespeople, by the very nature of their position, stand as a liaison between the specialists in the field and the end consumer. Unfortunately, too few salespeople are adequately trained to explain these issues, or to even speak precisely about what they are selling. This is when communication breaks down. The use of vague words such as "real", "genuine", "fake", "ruby- colored" even, all contribute to dizzying sales pitches that leave people feeling like they've been had. This is something a customer should NEVER feel, especially when buying something so personal as jewelry. 

  • Materials such as these no longer have the same properties as natural ruby; therefore everyday wear and care must be different as well. If an unknowing client goes about their day or even has their jewelry cleaned, the simple exposure to anything from lemon juice to cleaning products is enough to ruin their item. In some cases, ultrasonic cleaners have even been known to completely disintegrate composite rubies.  

    Pictures of lead-glass filled rubies, before exposure to standard jeweler's cleaner (left) and after exposure (right). Photo courtesy of

  • Insurance for important items of jewelry is always recommended. However, if the material happens to be a composite ruby, the claim one can make does not at all reflect the cost for replacement of a natural ruby on the market. While a natural ruby (depending on the quality of course) can fetch up to thousands of dollars per carat, composite rubies can go for as little at 0.99$ per carat. An unknowing person will be sorely surprised to find that they will not receive the amount they expected. 

Thankfully, for those who read this blog faithfully, you'll know that there is a silver lining in all of this. Though not always obvious to the naked eye, glass-filled rubies can be detected; their glassy luster, noticeable gas bubbles and in some cases flashes of color are all tell-tale signs that it's time to walk away. As per my usual advice, be curious. Ask questions, because if retailers continue to hide behind the attitude of Buyer Beware, it should be seen as a warning.

Close up of gas bubbles typically seen in composite ruby. Photo courtesy of

Close up of blue color flashes typically seen in composite ruby. Photo courtesy of

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