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Reprinted from


By Antoinette Matlins, PG

I find it very disturbing that there are still many people in the gem and jewelry field who still do not understand how lead-glass “rubies”—now identified by leading gem testing laboratories such as the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and American Gemological Laboratories (AGL) as artificial products—differ from rubies that are sold legitimately as “treated rubies.” Some are even objecting to what the laboratories are calling them!

I felt so strongly about the unprecedented issues these lead-glass imitations presented that I added extensive information about them in the latest edition ofJewelry & Gems: The Buying Guide(7th Edition) and an entire new chapter to the fifth edition of my bookGem Identification Made Easy(which just rolled off press a month ago). But since this has become a social media era, let me attempt here to clarify the differences, and why selling lead-glass products as genuine “treated rubies” (and now “treated sapphires” as well, which we are finding in beautiful shades of blue, yellow, and pink) is misleading and deceptive.

As many know, heat treatment of ruby and sapphire has become the norm over the past half century, and this type of treatment is assumed when buying most rubies and sapphires today. In recent years, we’ve also seen more extreme levels of heating that require borax coatings (which can melt from the heat and leave residue in fissures), and glass fillings used in fractures to reduce their visibility. A few years ago, however, we began seeing a new ruby product at gem shows, offered for a few dollars per carat. Most of these “rubies” were represented as being “treated by heat only.” It wasn’t long before gemologists discovered this was not the case.

Many gemologists and appraisers began receiving calls from bench jewelers who were finding out—the hard way—that these new “rubies” were not behaving like any ruby they’d ever handled. We began to realize that routine jewelry techniques caused extensive damage that was irreparable! Unlucky bench jewelers who “destroyed” any ruby while doing routine jewelry work suffered damage to their reputations, loss of customers, and were held financially responsible by retailers and/or consumers. This was unheard of … until the lead-glass “rubies” entered the market. So gemologists had to ask, what’s different about these? Why don’t they respond as rubyshouldrespond? So gemologists from the Accredited Gemologists Association (AGA), myself among them, purchased stones from various vendors at various shows and conducted research on the stones themselves as well as how they were being represented and priced.

Gemological examination of the stones revealed unprecedented quantities of glass—a highly refractivelead-glass in particular—combined with some unknown quantity of corundum (the mineral known asrubyonly when it occurs in a red color with good transparency, orsapphirewhen it is blue or any other color in which nature creates it); they were, in fact, ablendof two materials that are altogether different in terms of physical properties.

It became clear very quickly why the producers were using lead-glass: lead-glass is essential because it makes it impossible to see where the corundum ends and the glass begins! The high refractive index (RI) obtained by introducing lead into the glass is virtually identical to that of corundum, which means it is impossible to distinguish one from the other. Furthermore, the refractive index—one of the most important tests used to identify any gemstone—will give the same reading for the lead-glass ruby as for a treated or natural ruby. Even if the stone is situated on the refractometer (the instrument used to determine a stone’s RI) so that it is actually testing the glass, the RI will be indicative of ruby or sapphire! (For a full explanation of what RI actually is and why it is so important, see below: “What Is RI and How Does It Affect Quality Grading?”)

Subsequent research by AGA members, in association with several of the world’s leading gem-testing laboratories, revealed that the lead-glass became an integral part of the blended product and cannot be removed without destroying the entire “gem.” This is critical for several reasons, but one important difference this makes is that the properties associated with “ruby” are no longer the same since the properties of lead-glass are so different. In addition, the lead-glass component represents a much more significant percentage of the stone than what is found in “treated rubies” which contain some miniscule amount of silica glass (the type of glass used in certain types of treated ruby, and whichcanbe removed without any damage to the stone) …andthese two very different materials are inseparable.

There are two critical differences between “treated ruby” and the lead-glass product: 1) It is impossible to see where the glass actuallyisso you cannot determine how much of the stone is glass versus how much is ruby; 2) the two very different materials become inseparable.

Without the lead-glass, there is no “rubyin terms of color and transparency, butwiththe lead-glass, the physical properties are so altered that the resulting “ruby” lacks the characteristics that make “ruby” a ruby.

The fusion of these two very different materials creates something that is neither ruby nor glass, but a new type of imitation that combines two materials—and the properties of both—each of which is inseparable from the other. In short, they are a new type ofcomposite(an imitation created from two or more materials being joined together in some way to imitate a rarer and more costly gem). Composites can be formed from two or more parts of a genuine stone, or two or more parts of an imitation or synthetic, or from a combination of genuine and artificial.

This new product is now being sold as “treated ruby,” at inflated prices, and poses a serious threat to consumers that was unknown at the time of the last FTC review over 10 years ago.

The AGA collected numerous real-life examples of the problems created as a result of selling this product as ruby when the most important physical characteristics associated with ruby—its toughness, hardness, and overall durability, ranking it next to diamond in terms of these characteristics—are not present in this new product; these composites are not onlylessdurable, they areveryfragile. For those interested in reading about these specific cases, please go to FTC website to read the attachments to the AGA submission (the first one listed):

In addition, the lead-glass component has other adverse effects on the ability of anyone selling this product to be in compliance withcurrentFTC guidelines related to: a) identity of the stone; b) carat weight; c) quality; d) disclosure related to care requirements; and e) value.

The lead-glass products now in the market are being misrepresented specifically as to theirtype, kind, quality, weight, durability, andvalueas specified by the FTC guidelines:

  • Kind: The lead-glass products are being misrepresented as “treated ruby” when the altered material no longer has the properties of ruby. This lead-glass product is neither ruby nor glass, but a new type of imitation that combines properties of both glass and corundum, each of which is inseparable from the other.
    • They have been clearly identified by the two most highly respected gem-testing laboratories in the USA—the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and American Gemological Laboratories (AGL)—as products that are not genuine ruby, treated or otherwise. GIA identifies them as “manufactured products,” and AGL identifies them as “composite ruby.
    • Both labs include comments pertaining to presence of significant amounts of lead-glass and the need for unusual care. The AGL laboratory states: “The product has been heavily treated using a high refractive index lead-glass to fill fractures and cavities, vastly improving the apparent clarity and adding weight. The glass may be damaged by a variety of solvents.
    • There are devastating consequences resulting from using traditional techniques on these lead-glass “rubies” at the bench—extreme and irreparable damagenot ever associated with any other ruby that has been subjected to any type of treatment (including the use of silica glass to reduce the visibility of fractures), but which is unique to the lead-glass product.Lead-glass products may look like ruby, but they are products that lack the durability of ruby, a very important characteristic long associated with ruby.
  • Quality: Because of the composition of the product, and the extensive amounts of lead-glass, no one can know the true quality of the product because it is impossible to do accurate color and clarity grading—the two most critical factors involved in determining the quality and value of any gemstone. Lead-glass products cannot be accurately graded for 3 primary reasons:
    • The high refractive index (RI) of the lead-glass conceals the fissures or fractures, making it impossible to determine how many there are, how deeply they penetrate into the stone, and thus, how great a risk they pose with regard to breakage in the course of normal wear.(See below for an explanation of what the RI is and how it affects quality and clarity grading.)
    • The filler cannot be removed. Another important distinction between lead-glass fillers and other fillers used routinely to treat ruby/sapphire to improve appearance—and which can rightly be sold as “treated ruby”—is seen in whether or not the filler can be removed for any reason. Other fillers—including common silica glass, oil, or epoxy resins—can be removed in cases where this might be necessary to determine whether or not a coloring agent has been added to the filler, or to ascertain how much filler the stone contains, or how heavily filled it is (as with epoxy resins used in emerald). In the case of the lead-glass filler used in these stones, the lead-glass used to create the product cannot be removed from the stone without destroying the stone’s structural cohesiveness; attempts to remove the lead-glass result in the destruction of the stone (it crumbles or falls apart).
    • The lead-glass filler isnotcolorless. The lead-glass is usually tinted. When analyzed, the lead-glass used has been tinted in order to improve the color seen in the finished product, so one cannot know what the actual color is.
  • Weight: Ruby weight is indeterminable with these products. Lead-glass weighs much more than ruby, but since the lead-glass cannot be removed, and its high RI makes it impossible to ascertain exactly how much glass versus ruby is in a particular stone without expensive, sophisticated instrumentation, it is not possible to accurately determine the weight of the ruby component.Therefore you cannot calculate the actual ruby weight, which the FTC guidelines already mandate. The only thingcertainabout the ruby weight is that it isless than the weight indicated for the entire stone,and in many cases, much less.
    This has been noted by respected laboratories around the world, and is indicated on the AGL reports on lead-glass products. One can only estimate the percentage of ruby versus glass in the stone based on the presence of characteristics found only in glass (bubbles, blue-flash, surface crazing), or only in ruby, but a precise weight cannot be known.
  • Durability: Lead-glass products lack the durability of ruby:
    • Lead-glass is much softer than ruby(and other glasses used in treatments) and wears more quickly than ruby.
    • Lead-glass is much more vulnerable to scratching, chipping, and breakingwith normal wear.
    • Lead-glass is vulnerable to acid-etching by many substances, including lemon juice.
    • Lead-glass composites are quickly and irreparably damaged by techniques that have been routinely used for centuries on ruby or treated ruby; these techniques include the use of heat, chemicals, and acids that are routine in making or repairing jewelry containing such products.
    • The “joins”—the planes—between the lead-glass and ruby weaken the overall structure of the product, making them more susceptible to damage from an accidental knock or blow.
  • Value: Lead-glass rubies are being sold to consumers for hundreds to thousands of dollars per carat, when the cost should be 5–10 times less than what they are paying. Within the trade, lead-glass rubies under 5 carats each originally entered the market at prices between $1.00 and $5.00 per carat. Today, trade acceptance of these as “just another type of treated ruby” has resulted in sharply higher prices for the same sizes and qualities, now costing $10.00–$20.00 per carat. Jewelry containing these stones is being sold by some vendors to the trade at highly inflated prices, which are then even more highly inflated when sold to consumers.
    • Retailers purchasing jewelry pieces containing these stones are told they are rubies and are themselves paying very inflated prices for the pieces they buy, and then passing on their mistake to their customers at even higher prices.While they are easy to distinguish from rubies or treated rubies, most jewelry retailers have not taken the time to learn what the distinguishing characteristics are, and describe and price what they sell based on what they are being told by vendors, who often are doing the same thing with regard to their own sources.
    • The unscrupulous are misrepresenting them knowingly, and selling them at huge profits.

It is for the foregoing reasons that I have been—and remain—strongly committed to making the public and trade alike aware that these are not “genuine rubies” inanyway and should not be sold as ruby or even “treated ruby.”

Now that the FTC is revising its guidelines for the jewelry trade, I believe it is essential that the FTC understand how these lead glass-filled ruby products differ from other products in the market that are accurately described as “treated ruby” (or sapphire, or other gemstone name), and how selling them as “ruby” or “treated ruby” violates current FTC guidelines.

It should be noted that we are also now seeing blue, green, pink, and yellow sapphires that are the same type of product, with the same issues for public and trade alike. These are also being treated with a high-RI glass, resulting in different physical characteristics, a much lower value, and the need for special care to avoid breakage or severe and irreparable damage.

NOTE:What Is “RI” and How Does It Affect Quality Grading?

Therefractive indexof a stone relates to how light moves through, and between, different media—in this case, ruby and glass. The greater the difference between the RI of each substance, the more easily one can see important internal characteristics; the closer the RI, the more difficult it is to see them. If the RI is essentially the same for both substances, one cannot distinguish where one ends and the other begins. This is why other types of glass sometimes seen in ruby (usually silica glass) are accepted; they have lower RIs so one can actually see where the fracture is and properly grade the stone.

The RI of lead-glass is almost a perfect match to that of ruby. This means that as light moves through the stone, one cannot see where one substance ends and the other begins. This is why, in lead-glass products, one can’t see the fractures and thus can’t evaluate the stone’s clarity. It is virtually impossible to determine how deep or wide—howdangerous—any fractures or fissures might be. Even a single fracture can be extremely dangerous and severely affect the clarity rating, depending on where it is located and how far it penetrates into the stone, and thus its longevity and value.

Below one can see how the quantity of lead present affects the RI—the more lead, the higher the RI. It is clear that the percentage of lead present in the glass used on these rubies is very high:

RI For Various Glasses:
Glass, Fused silica: RI = 1.459
Glass, Pyrex RI = 1.474
Glass, Flint, 29% lead RI = 1.569
Glass, Flint, 55% lead RI = 1.669
Glass, Flint, 71% lead RI = 1.805

The RI of corundum (ruby/sapphire) is 1.76–1.77; from this chart you can see that in order to have the same RI, the lead content in the glass must be in the range of 68–69%.The amount of lead in the glass also accounts for it weighing so much more than ruby, or other glasses used in “treated” material.

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