Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Gem Merchant by David Stanley Epstein

David Stanley Epstein's first edition of The Gem Merchant was great, but as anyone in the gem trade knows, the only thing constant is change! Here Epstein has done a thorough update which is an even more valuable resource than the first edition. Not only is this a book that should be read by someone interested in becoming a gem dealer (or rather, a successful gem dealer) but it is equally valuable for those who are simply interested in knowing more about gemstones and understanding the marketplace. It may be a compact book in terms of its size, but it provides extensive information on the gemstones themselves, and how to judge their quality and market desirability. After reading this book, not only will you become a more savvy buyer, but you'll avoid many costly mistakes and pitfalls along the way. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

YOU Can Help FTC In Revising Its “Guides For The Gem and Jewelry Trade”

The Federal Trade Commission has advised the jewelry trade that it is seeking comments from organizations and individuals—including the public—pertaining to ways they can revise the current guides to make them more effectiveness in protecting the public from fraud and misrepresentation. Of particular interest to the FTC are problems related to purchases of lead-glass/ruby imitations sold to consumers as genuine ruby by jewelry stores across the country, often with respected names.

"Anyone who has bought any ruby jewelry in the past few years, should immediately
seek confirmation from an independent gemologist-appraiser that the ruby purchased is, in fact, a ruby," warns well-known gemologist and author Antoinette Matlins. Matlins was among the first to warn the public about this product several years ago, in her book Jewelry & Gems: The Buying Guide and on ABC's Good Morning America (for more, please visit

The timing is critical because the FTC is seeking comments specifically from people who have purchased lead-glass products unknowingly. Unfortunately, this isn't as straightforward as it might appear because most people who have them don't yet know it!

These ruby-look-alikes were introduced about 6 years ago in small quantity but began to flood the market within a few years. "Today many are being sold as genuine ruby by unsuspecting jewelers, at highly inflated prices," explains Matlins.

Looking back, part of the problem is that when these stones were first introduced, they were thought to be a new type of "treated" ruby; no one realized that these contained "lead" glass, or how much glass was actually in them, or how dramatically different they were from ruby, in every way. This is one reason the vendors were able to sell them. The realization that these were something very different took time to understand, and today the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) identifies them as "manufactured products," joining American Gemological Laboratories (AGL) and other labs in recognizing them as an "artificial" product that cannot be sold as "genuine."

But vendors are still selling them as genuine rubies to retailers, and retailers are still selling them to customers…and at prices much, much higher than the few dollars per carat at which they sell at gem shows around the world.

Consumers AND Jewelers Have Been Conned… But Now It Can Be Stopped!

Matlins stresses that the scale of this problem is unprecedented because so many have been sold unknowingly by jewelers themselves. According to Matlins, the changing dynamics of the jewelry industry have played a role in creating such a situation, especially the big chains and mass-marketers selling jewelry, which are run by people who have no gemological background. They have no idea how many treatments, imitations and synthetics are in the marketplace and, as a result, they often hire buyers who are inadequately trained, people with merchandising backgrounds but who also lack gemology training. Buyer focus is increasingly shifting from the quality and value of the product to meeting the financial expectations of management. This combination leads to merchandise managers making buying decisions based almost entirely on the "price" – if one product looks as good as another (or BETTER as in the case of lead-glass "rubies") and the price is cheaper, that's what they buy because they think it gives them a competitive advantage by selling at more competitive prices. But they don't really know what they're buying!

Matlins tells of her own recent experience in Las Vegas at one of the largest jewelry trade shows in the world. She watched as the line snaked from within the booth of a major company out into the corridors, with buyers patiently waiting to gain entry to place their orders. She watched as they looked at the jewelry, and ordered one piece after another. "Not one buyer even pulled out a loupe (the jewelers magnifying lens always used by trained professionals) to check the stones, the quality of workmanship, or anything else"! She was quite appalled, and explained that this was because many lacked the skill to even know how to use one. Even worse, she explained that many buyers for major jewelry store chains think they can simply "trust the vendor" … and this vendor is now a very successful vendor, and one of the biggest financial supporters of major organizations.

Unfortunately, Matlins knew from her own first-hand experience with this same vendor is one of the largest sellers of these lead-glass infused imitations, that they know exactly what they are selling, that they mislead the buyers into thinking that they are getting genuine rubies and top quality diamonds, and that the prices they are charging are highly inflated for what the buyers are really getting.

We know where this leads – the buyers stock their stores with these artificial ruby pieces, add their own retail mark up, and sell them to customers as genuine rubies, at exorbitant prices. "It's a lose-lose situation for everyone," says Matlins, because many are being sold in stores where we put our trust.

 Lead-Glass Rubies Being Sold Everywhere!

In addition to jewelry stores in the USA, beware of purchases in port cities, online sites such as ebay, and a variety of auction venues. These are all major sources of lead-glass products misrepresented as rubies.

Stores in major ports are selling them by the thousands; cruise passengers are at especially high risk where these stones are concerned. Matlins most recent experience was in Key West, FL, in mid-June. "I went into a jewelry store and saw a lovely "ruby" ring in the showcase., priced at $8,400; the tag indicated the ruby weighed 2.34 carats. When I showed interest in it, he removed it for me to see more closely, explaining as he did so that they are really wholesalers, and the price shown on the tag is the price I would see in most retail jewelry stores, but the actual cost was much less. He further explained that they buy all of their own "rough" stones, cut the rough into the lovely gems they sell, and that they also make all their own jewelry, passing on all of the savings along the way to their customers. And in addition to all of this, they were having their annual "end of June" sale so the cost was 40% less than the normal wholesale price. The actual cost – if I purchased it that week – would be only $1,600! How could I refuse such a bargain –an $8,400 value for $1,600!

THEN I took out my loupe. The "ruby" was a lead-glass imitation. Its actual "retail" price SHOULD have been around $350 – $400 (for the gold setting and the diamonds; the retail value of the ruby was about $30). So the bargain was not a bargain at all, and anyone buying that ring at $1,600, will be paying an exorbitant price, approximately 4 times a full retail price. This particular firm has a couple stores in Key West and other places, and consumers buying from this jeweler are being misled and paying much more than the product is worth. In short, they are victims of fraud and misrepresentation."

What's Wrong With Them…They Look Great!

Matlins is very quick to point out there is nothing wrong with the product if properly described and priced. "In fact," says Matlins, "I made some very pretty earrings for my teenage granddaughter using them, and she loves them; but I only paid $20 for the two "rubies"! She points out that they make great costume jewelry because they really look like the real thing, and you don't have to worry if you lose them or if they break! But the problem is the scope of the misrepresentation and exploitation of unsuspecting buyers.

We don't know how many have been sold to date, but we know they've been sold for several years, and are still being sold, in stores with good reputations. Most people purchasing from a store with a good reputation never bother to get independent confirmation about what they purchased. Herein lies the problem, because where these are concerned, failure to do so will result in your being stuck with a stone for which you have over-paid by an enormous factor. More importantly, people have certain expectations where "ruby" is concerned, but these "manufactured products" won't meet those expectations because they are NOT ruby and they lack the characteristics that have made ruby so highly prized and desired.

Genuine rubies are very durable and have been passed down throughout history, generation to generation. This is not the case with these imitations; they are very vulnerable to damage and breakage just in the course of normal wear. Common substances like lemon juice that accidentally splattered onto your stone will cause a whitish etching that will permanently mar the beauty. Little nicks and chips occur much more easily around the edge. And worse yet, if you take any piece of jewelry containing one to a jeweler to have anything done, such as re-sizing a ring, or changing the setting, it can be quickly, horribly – and irreparably – damaged! Where these "rubies" are concerned, this is not the fault of the jeweler! The jeweler has done nothing wrong, but these lead-glass rubies are quickly damaged by the normal techniques that have been used for centuries on ruby. But now we have another "victim"—not only has the consumer been deceived in terms of what they purchased, but the innocent "bench" jeweler gets blamed and suffers irreparable damage to his reputation, as well as the out of pocket cost in replacing the stone.

"But now," urges Matlins, "consumers can do something about it."

Revising the FTC guides as they pertain to this product is essential if we are to stop the unscrupulous from selling them as "ruby," but we need the public's help in ascertaining the scope of the problem. You can take an active role and help make a real difference in reducing consumer fraud and misrepresentation where these lead-glass products are concerned.

But first you need to know what you really purchased. You may not be a victim, but the only way to know for sure is to get an independent appraisal from someone with reliable credentials.

Prestigious Group Offers Public Free Ruby Verification

As an incentive to get an independent appraisal, and to make it easier for people to find a qualified professional, the Accredited Gemologists Association (AGA) is offering help.
If you or anyone you know has purchased ruby jewelry in the past few years, here is an excellent opportunity to verify whether or not it is genuine.  

Members of the Accredited Gemologists Association have volunteered to do identification of rubies or ruby jewelry purchased in the past 3 years – at no charge – if the owner agrees to send a letter to the FTC should they discover that their ruby is not genuine. To find an AGA member near you, go to
If there is no AGA member near you, Matlins recommends checking with the American Society of Appraisers ( to locate a qualified appraiser in your area.

If you discover you purchased one of these stones unknowingly, just send a letter to the FTC telling them when you made the purchase, where it was purchased, what you were told re: the identity of the stone, how much you paid, whether or not you  were told specifically about the need for extreme care when wearing or repairing them, and how the seller handled the situation when you found out and confronted them; if you could no longer locate the seller, this is important to indicate as well. They would also like to have copies of any “documentation” and/or “appraisal” provided by the seller.

To post comments directly with the FTC, visit: