In today’s gem market, one must contend with more gemstone materials than ever before. There are not only the old type synthetics, which are relatively easy to identify, but new ones spawned by modern, sophisticated technology that are extremely difficult to distinguish from their natural counterparts.
Mother Nature has further compounded the difficulties by creating colored stones that closely resemble one another, so “look alike” tanzanite can look like sapphire, tsavorite (a green variety of garnet) can look like emerald, and red spinel can look like ruby.
No matter what color you choose, there are at least two different gems readily available in that color. There are also many new imitations, and as more and more venture into the exciting realm of antique jewelry, the oldest forms of imitation and reproduction are resurfacing, sometimes with modern twists.
What all of this means is that jewelers and gem enthusiasts are more vulnerable, and the risk is greater than ever. The need to depend more on you own skill, and less on someone else’s, is paramount. This is why you need to know and understand the importance of experience, starting with the basics in old jewelry.
First, you must also be alert to the fact that synthetic stones may also appear in jewelry made long before synthetics were being produced in which missing stones have been replaced.
We can’t over emphasize the procedure of carefully examining any stone that appears to be a fine gem. One cannot make assumptions based on the age of a jewelry piece, the reputation of the family to which it belonged, the beauty and detail in the workmanship, or the quality of diamonds used to enhance the main stone.
In fact, many pieces of jewelry from the early part of the 10th century contained small synthetic gems to add color and accent other genuine gems. There are numerous techniques used over the centuries to create imitations. Few people realize how long humans have been imitating rare and beautiful gems. One of the earliest known imitations was turquoise. Highly prized by the Egyptians for both its beauty and magical powers, the Egyptians succeeded over 7,000 years ago in making a turquoise-colored ceramic material called “faience” that was used to make beads, amulets, pendants and rings. They are also known to have produced beautiful glass, such as the lovely blue glass gems discovered in King Tut’s tomb.
Synthetic gems have been produced commercially for a long time, so be aware of the fact that often the original stones in a very old or antique piece have been damaged or lost, and then replaced with a synthetic. Making value assumptions strictly based on something being old can be very costly.
One popular fake in its time was the foil-back stone. The foil would reflect out of the base of the stone to give brilliance. Identifying foil-backed stones require only a good eye. The first clue to a fake is that the back of the setting will be closed. While not all closed back settings conceal some form of deception, many do.
Composite stones were used extensively prior to the introduction of synthetic material. A composite stone is exactly what its name implies…a stone composed of more than one part. A composite stone is any stone created by the fusing or cementing together of two or more pieces of the same material. When two main pieces are joined together we call them “doublets,” and when three pieces are joined together we call them “triplets.”
Composites have been around for a long time. Doublets have been made since Roman times and used extensively through the Victorian period. They are also being made and sold today, so check for doublets not only in antique jewelry, but in new jewelry as well.
Most people believe the terms “simulant” and “imitation” mean the same thing. However, synthetic has a different, and very specific, meaning. These terms are confusing, so let’s explain what each means.
Man makes a simulated gem. It’s important to understand, however, that a simulant has no counterpart found in nature. Simulants are easy to distinguish from genuine gems of the same color, since they are very different physically. Color is usually the only thing they have in common. The eye alone can often tell a simulant from a genuine gem, such as too much or not enough brilliance. A few simple tests (often just the loupe) will quickly separate the simulant from the genuine.
Synthetic gems have been produced commercially since the beginning of the 10th century – synthetic Chatham emeralds and the Kashan ruby have been so genuine in appearance that when first introduced were mistaken as genuine. The synthetic ruby was produced commercially in 1905 (although it was available earlier); synthetic blue spinel was introduced in 1908 (widely available after 1925), and synthetic blue sapphire in 1911. Synthetic emerald came on the scene in the 1930s, and the star ruby in the 1940s. In the 1970s, synthetic turquoise entered the market, as well as synthetic amethyst, synthetic alexandrite and synthetic opal. In the 1980s, we find synthetic jadeite jade being produced, and most recently the synthetic diamond. The modern synthetic gem presents a real challenge. Some appear to be flawless when examined with the 10x loupe, and require very high magnification to spot inclusions, indicating synthetic.
Today, knowing your jewelry, and being absolutely sure about what you are buying and selling, is essential. Major changes in the gem world, along with new synthetic stones, new treatments to enhance and conceal and more stones available in every hue, make accurate gems identification more important than even.
To separate real from imitation you need a to purchase and learn how to use a loupe to magnify the jewelry, a Chelsea filter and a dichroscope. Once you have learned to use these items, you can identify about 85 percent of all colored gemstones. In the last issue, we discussed that today’s gem market include more synthetic gemstone material than ever before. Sophisticated technology can make gems extremely difficult to distinguish from their natural counterparts.