By: Cam Kollar
It is that time of year again- the holiday season is upon us and many of us spend countless hours searching for the perfect gift worthy of our loved ones. If you are in a committed relationship, jewelry tends to be a favorite. I am very fortunate because one of my husband’s hobbies is finding unique pieces for me, knowing that I like less common gemstones and colors, such as green amethyst or sapphires of yellow, green, and pink. However, through all of his searching, there are always two rules he will never break: never buy an enhanced or treated stone, and always inquire whether a stone has been treated. This may sound like something that is unimportant or insignificant, but there are numerous ways that jewelry stores, companies, and distributors can change the appearance of a gemstone without changing its chemical makeup, meaning that it is still a “genuine” gemstone. For instance, consider cubic zirconia: everyone knows it as an imitation diamond, but no one can call it a diamond unless it is qualified by the word “synthetic” or man-made.
According to the FTC, there are three primary types of gemstone products: natural gemstones, laboratory-created stones, and imitation stones. The FTC requires that both lab-created and imitation stones need to be clearly labeled as such, especially since both of these types of products are worth less than their natural gemstone counterparts. If the world were simple, this would be the end of the matter, but it’s not. As with most things throughout human history, there are those who want to complete what Mother Nature left unfinished. Common gemstone treatments and enhancements include bleach, diffusion, dye, fracture filling, heat, high heat high temperature, irradiation, oil, and laser-drilling. The interesting point here is that the FTC does not require that any of the treatments and enhancements be disclosed to the consumer. Instead the regulation states that it is deceptive to fail to disclose that a gemstone was treated if a) the treatment is not permanent, b) the treatment creates special care requirements (and thus should disclose the care requirements), or c) the treatment has a significant effect on the stone’s value.
Despite the fact that the FTC recommends disclosure, and the fact that many consumers want disclosure, and jewelry trade publications highly recommend disclosure, many jewelry stores do not, or if they do-do so in such a limited manner as to be questionable. Surprisingly, the most incredible part of all of this is not its pervasiveness in the public eye, but the lack of any legal cases surrounding these FTC regulations. While I have found numerous articles, professional publications, and warnings about these altered gemstones, somehow there are virtually no legal precedents, and in the cases that were brought, they failed to move forward.
Many case studies have not resulted in litigation because the companies have settled out of court. In Ferreira, a would-be class action suit fell short because, although the Jewelry Store failed to disclose treatment and special care requirements to the purchaser, the court found that the purchaser failed to show injury from those actions.
I know my rules are to buy only natural stones but that doesn’t mean that treated stones do not have their place. The real point of this is not necessarily to dissuade you from buying treated or enhanced stones, but to be informed of what you are actually buying. Just as Botox erases the flaws Mother Nature gave us, treatments and enhancements do the same for your gemstones.
See Jewelers of Am.,Gemstone Treatments, https://www.jewelers.org/education/gemstone-guide/gemstone-treatments (last visited Nov. 29, 2018).
SeeFed. Trade Comm’n,Gemstones, Diamonds, & Pearls, https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0295-gemstones-diamonds-pearls (last visited Nov. 29, 2018).
Bleach chemically treats gemstones to alter or remove color. Used for pearls and jade. See id.
Diffusion treatment adds color to the surface of colorless gems while the center of the stone remains colorless. See id.
Dye is a process most often used on lower quality pearls, but is also used in treating other stones. Over time the dye can fade, and stones treated with dye shouldn’t be exposed to certain chemicals or prolonged sunlight. SeeJewelers of Am.,Gemstone Treatments, https://www.jewelers.org/education/gemstone-guide/gemstone-treatments (last visited Nov. 29, 2018).
Fracture filling involves injecting colorless plastic or glass in the gems to hide cracks or fractures and improve the appearance and durability of the gemstones. See Off. of Consumer & Bus. Educ., Fed. Trade Comm’n, In the Loupe: Advertising Diamonds, Gemstones and Pearls (Dec. 2001), https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/plain-language/bus34-loupe-advertising-diamonds-gemstones-and-pearls.pdf.
Heat is where gems are exposed to high temperatures to permanently alter their color. In most cases treatment improves the gem’s apparent color and/or clarity. SeeJewelers of Am., supranote 7.
High heat high temperature is used on diamonds, permanently changing brown diamonds to colorless or yellow, orange, or blue. Colored diamonds treated this way are not considered to be natural colored diamonds. See id.
Irradiation uses small doses of radiation to permanently alter a gemstone’s color. See id.
Oil is a treatment used for gemstones with surface inclusions such as emeralds. The oil improves clarity by smoothing the surface but this temporary treatment affects a gemstone’s ability to be cleaned using ultrasonic cleaning techniques. See id.
Laser-drilling removes dark inclusions from diamonds improving clarity of the stone. See Off. of Consumer & Bus. Educ., Fed Trade Comm’n, supranote 8.
See16 C.F.R. § 23.22 (2018).
See 16 C.F.R. § 23.22 (2018); Thomas W. Overton, Gem Treatment Disclosure and U.S. Law, 40 Gems & Gemology106, 112, 119-22 (2004) (stating that individuals, companies and trade groups were nearly unanimous in favor of adding the disclosure for laser drilling to the FTC guides; and stating several jewelry store case studies); Ferreira v. Sterling Jewelers, 130 F. Supp. 3d 471 (Dist. Ct. 2015); David V. Johnson, Macy’s Sells Rubies ‘Filled’ with Glass,S.F. Pub. Press, July 13, 2010, https://sfpublicpress.org/news/2010-07/macys-sells-rubies-filled-with-glass; Accredited Gemologists Association, Comment Letter on Proposed Rule Jewelry Guides, 16 C.F.R. Part 23, Project No. G711001 (Sept. 28, 2012), https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/public_comments/16-cfr-part-23-guides-jewelry-precious-metals-and-pewter-industries-project-no.g711001-560895-00012%C2%A0/560895-00012-84883.pdf.
Compare David V. Johnson, Macy’s Sells Rubies ‘Filled’ with Glass, S.F. Pub. Press, July 13, 2010, https://sfpublicpress.org/news/2010-07/macys-sells-rubies-filled-with-glass (discussing independent investigations conducted by “Good Morning America” in November of 2009, San Francisco’s CBS5 in February 2010, and San Francisco’s Public Press in April 2010) andThomas W. Overton, Gem Treatment Disclosure and U.S. Law, 40 Gems & Gemology106, 112, 119-22 (2004) (stating several case studies that settled out of court for dubious practices) with Search for Cases, Lexis,https://advance.lexis.com/api/permalink/8e59db91-0fa2-40cd-867f-d093f676848d/?context=1000516 (last visited Nov. 29, 2018) (showing only 3 cases listed as referencing 16 C.F.R. § 23.22) and Search for Cases,Westlaw, https://1.next.westlaw.com/RelatedInformation/N8EAA29A0A16711E8B79CD35CA367011A/kcCitingReferences.html?docSource=be6696149a584693b0608483a4946d31&facetGuid=h562dbc1f9a5f4b0c9e54031a19076b9c&originationContext=citingreferences&transitionType=CitingReferences&contextData=%28sc.UserEnteredCitation%29 (showing only two cases referencing 16 C.F.R. § 23.22).
See Ferreira v. Sterling Jewelers, 130 F. Supp. 3d 471 (Dist. Ct. 2015).
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