Gemstones

Let me begin by introducing you to definitions of some standard trade terms. They will demystify the jargon and enhance your ability to purchase quality gemstones. Although these terms are usually associated with Diamonds, all of them apply to every gemstone. These terms are standardized and they are used the same way by every ethical jewellery dealer.

The first term is “carat“. This word defines a stone by weight and weight only. One carat is equal to one fifth of a gram. So if you are looking at two round gems that weigh the same and they appear noticeably different in size, one or both of them are cut poorly. The proportions of each stone can make them look quite different and affects the price a great deal more than you know.

Consider three Diamonds, all SI1 clarity, G colour, 0.50 carats in weight. The only difference is the cut. One is cut “Ideal” and is a little over 5 mm. in diameter. One of the others is almost 6 mm across and is rated “Good”. It is called a “Macle” and you can actually see right through it. The third stone, called a “Transitional” is only 4.25 mm in diameter and it is rated “Good” as well. It too allows you to see through it, but at the sides rather than through the center.

The difference in sparkle is very dramatic; the 5+ mm stone screams all over, the 6 mm is on fire around the edges only and the 4 mm+ center is ablaze. They all weigh the same. The middle stone can sell for as much as fifty percent more than the other two. The “largest” stone often outsells the better quality medium diameter stone.

Do you want quality or quantity? There are many charts available showing the approximate weights of each shape and size for each species of stone. They can be used as a rough guideline to see if a stone is cut correctly or not for its weight. All gemstones have a base price in Carats

Cut refers to how closely the act of shaping the stone from rough to gem approached the Ideal proportions for that species of stone. These angles are different for each type of gem material. Diamond will be cut at different angles than Amethyst. It does not refer to the shape of the stone. If the grading for the cut of a stone is “Excellent” or “Ideal” that means it is at, or very near, the mathematically calculated refraction/reflection perfection point for that material. An Ideal cut smaller stone will usually appear larger than a poorly cut, bigger diameter, stone because of the difference in its brilliance.

Clarity refers to what can be seen inside the gem. The more inclusions, the lower the price. The clearer it is, the more you will have to pay. Some stones, like Emerald are almost always included. So much so that there is even a term, “jardin” to make it appear more acceptable to the public.

Colour applies to what you see and/or the amount of deviation from some set standard of perfection. In a Diamond, perfectly clear is rated “D” while most people cannot see even a faint tinge of colour until the grade gets down to “I” or “J”. In a Diamond, this spread can double the price or more.

And last, but not least, Shape. Round and Square are obvious. They’re mathematically described shapes that we learned about in grade school. Then there is a list of “calibrated cuts” which describe a general ratio of height , length and depth for all stones. These proportions are designed for jewellers, not clients, as they make setting multiple stones more easy since they fall within close tolerances one to another. They do not allow for maximizing the colour or brilliance per species either.

And then we come to the “sloppy” cuts. These are not so easy, for everyone has their own idea of what is best and there is very little standardization. Rectangle and Emerald are very similar but Emerald has the corners cut off. Radiant appears very similar to Emerald but it has more facets or faces ground onto it to give it more sparkle. Then there are there the Oval, Pear, Marquise, Heart and Cushion. All of these have as many “Ideal”ratios of length to width and depth as there are Campbell soups. And everyone claims to have the best. You have to choose what pleases you the most. Does a long narrow pear shape look better than a shorter, more full shaped stone or not? If you are totally confused, come in and we can show you what you may need to see.

Now, on to the other terminology you might wonder about.

First and foremost; Non Conflict Stones. This term means that the stones have a chain of custody from the point of discovery all the way to the final jewellery store and is required of all local and international gem dealers working under the Kimberly Accord. This piece of legislation is legally binding on all exporters, importers, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. It prohibits the use, in any manner, of goods from areas or countries where inhumane practices are used in any way. It initially came into place to combat “blood diamonds” and is now used to sanction and/or prohibit any materials coming from areas suffering from the same or similar circumstances. We use the same Canadian Diamonds from the same mines and cutting houses in the Northwest Territories that Tiffany uses.

Prohibited and /or Restricted materials:

These words apply to endangered species or their environment. In the case of Coral, many reefs are now off limits and most reef coral are protected. This means that old pieces can be traded or refashioned but harvesting new material is forbidden. The same applies to Abalone shells, Elephant tusks, Narwhal horn and Mermaid hair and scales. There are also some leathers that are on the list but the use in jewellery is very limited, usually to belts and watch bands. If it’s on a list, we do not have it nor will we get it unless we’re positive it “grandfathers ” the existing rulings. Ancient Netsuke and coral from the ’20’s are obvious examples.

Genuine:

This word, when combined with “untreated” and “natural”, is a legal guarantee that the item was created, as you see it, by nature and nature alone. It was pristine in its composition and appearance except for the fact that it has been cut, polished or shaped in some fashion to make it more pretty. Sometimes, in the case of raw crystals, the “improvements” are very minimal.

Genuine, Treated:

These words mean that the stone was created exclusively by nature, not in a lab, but it has been “enhanced” by man. Enhanced is adspeak for “we didn’t think it was good enough so we played around with it and now we can charge more for it ’cause it looks so much better”. We disclose all treatments and if it cost us less, we charge you less.

Some of the common treatments are as follows:

Heat treating (many transparent coloured gems). This changes the colour of the stone from something less to something more, depending on what you want. The results vary by the species and sometimes even by the location of origin. The colour can brighten, darken or make the gem clearer by fusing impurities. It can require as little as 350 F to temperatures that range significantly higher.

Surface coating is an applied coating or surface on a gemstone that gives it “special” appearance, (notably Mystic Topaz). The coating can be applied by electrostatic discharge or just sprayed on. In the latter case, it can be scratched right off again just as easily. Now the coating is applied to the underside of the gem some it is more durable.

Diffusion coating (Sapphire and Ruby) is a process whereby a faintly coloured, transparent or slightly translucent, stone is submerged in gaseous environment while being heated to a very high temperature to make the colour better. The gas permeates the stone and diffuses into the surface a small distance, usually a millimeter or two at most. If you view the stone while it is immersed in water, the lighter coloured clear center is visible.

Dying is a surface treatment to make opaque to translucent stones like Turquoise and Jade. It is the process of changing the depth of colour on these stones through surface fissures, often microscopic. If the stone is deliberately “crackled”, heated and then quenched to create a network of fine cracks, then this treatment is not allowed as that process changes the structure of the stones from that of the original.

Irradiation is a process using Gamma rays, and who knows what else, to effect a change in colour in naturally coloured gems. Yellowish brown Diamonds are particularly susceptible to this process which changes off white stones into pretty pastel shades of all colours.

Fracture filling involves filling in naturally occurring flaws and cracks with oils and/or adhesives. This process is so typical to Emeralds that it is almost taken for granted that all Emeralds are oiled. That is not the case with fine gems but it is very common on commercial grade goods. Sometimes the oil can leak out but it can be reapplied by immersing the stone under high vacuum. Unfortunately, the stone can also explode if the vacuum is let off too quickly or if there is a bubble trapped in the stone during the process. Some Thailand Sapphire and Ruby are treated but they are much more stable than the Emeralds.

Reconstitution is a process that borders on the edge of ethics. It involves gathering up all of the scrap and broken bits off the production floor and heating them in an oven. The resulting mass is still pure Amber but now it can be poured into moulds and sheets or formed into unusual shapes. This process is how the Russians created the panels to cover the walls in the Amber Room at the Hermitage. The contents of the room were destroyed during a fire. Poetic justice? Further into the process of illegality is the insertion of insects into Amber for the tourist trade. Common mosquitoes are plunged into the molten Amber, cooled and polish and set out for sale to the unsuspecting public. And totally legal in the countries where it is most widely practiced. Caveat Emptor …. buyer beware. So, a recap, Amber created by fusing bits and pieces together to look like a solid piece by the use of heat only is allowable if it is labelled reconstituted; otherwise, it is fraud.

Drilling refers to a process where Diamonds are drilled and then washed in very strong, hot acid to remove black flaws. It is legal in this category only if the hole is left open and it must be disclosed. The hair sized tube-like hole becomes quite evident as it gets dirty. There is no excuse for not disclosing a drilling other than to perpetrate a fraud.

Waxing in this case is not like waxing your car or your silver. It is primarily used on Pearls and involves impregnating the surface with a layer of wax to alter and improve the surface texture and depth of colour. These processes leave the chemical properties intact but change the appearance dramatically.

Some of these treatments are disallowed if they are used in combination. For example, and Emerald is no longer considered natural if the oil used is coloured. It is also no longer natural if an adhesive is basically holding the stone together. A stone in this condition is “repaired”. The legal status of such a stone is still under dispute.

Synthetic: This term means that the item described is identical, in all properties, to the natural stone with the exception that it has been created by man, in a lab. All of the treatments above apply equally to natural and synthetic. Most reputable synthetic manufacturers have introduced trace adulterants so that their product is easily identifiable under “black” light from the natural. However, there are Diamonds that are being produced today that defy identification as man made. The GIA has issued guidelines that “if case A exists and case B exists then there is a possibility that you may have a synthetic”. Big help! Thankfully, researchers around the world are working frantically on methods and tools to identify these stones.It may turn out , in the near future, that there are a lot more synthetics out there than we think. What the legal repercussions will be, I do not know.

It is a federal offense to knowingly or deliberately mislabel any precious metal or gemstones in Canada. Further, the Act requires that any treatments or alterations to a gemstone must be divulged prior to the time of sale.

Simulant: Now we are discussing material that looks like, and possibly even feels like, something that it is not. For example, a Blue Topaz can be uaed as a simulant for Aquamarine. It doesn’t matter that Topaz is a gem in its own right, when it is used to replace an Aquamarine it, or anything else but an Aqua, is a simulant. So is a piece of blue glass from a bottle cut to the right shape, as is a Cubic Zirconia or a piece of plastic the right colour; they are all simulants. One outstanding simulant is Majorica “pearls”. This is a bead, repeatedly coated with herring (the fish) scale soup and then sold to the unsuspecting public under the trade name of “Majorica Pearls”. Because their trade name implies that the product is genuine Pearl doesn’t mean that they are. Even salespeople who are unaware of the reality of the product are fooled. A nice little loophole in the law that allows someone to appear to be one thing and then not have to be that thing at all. It’s legal in North America, but not very ethical in my personal opinion

At Westdale Jewellers we are very careful about how we grade our stones. If it is sold by us, to you, as a certain grade or clarity, you can rest assured that it is indeed that quality. Our prices reflect this careful assessing. there are no “bargains” in internationally traded commodities like Diamonds, Gold Platinum or Silver. Obviously, if someone else misrepresents the quality of their Gems by claiming that they are a better quality than they actually are, we cannot match their prices. But, if they are graded honestly, our resources are unbeatable. For example, we buy our Eskimo Canadian Diamonds directly from a first stage representative. The normal chain is something like this. The Diamonds get dug up out of the ground at Diavik or Ekati mines in northern Canada and go to the cutters. From there they go to the representatives who sell them to the wholesalers who sell them to the manufacturers, who sell them to the dealers, who sell them to you. And each stage of the chain drives the price of the stone up a little higher because everyone must mark up to survive. We cut out all the extra margins most other jewellers have to pay by buying directly from a representative. We do not knowingly sell any Diamonds from Africa. And, by staying Canadian, we avoid several profit links of the chain. That means we can then sell them to you for less and still make enough profit to survive.

The same process applies to our Emeralds, Sapphires, Rubies, in fact, to all of our gems. We deal with Nationals from Columbia, Thailand, Miramar (Burma), Australia, Peru, and India; the same countries that those Gems originate in, in the same manner as we buy our Diamonds. We have, in stock, a very extensive inventory of cut, but unset, gems of all sizes and shapes, qualities and prices.

By buying right, we can sell it right, to you. Come in and see for yourself.

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