Saturday, March 29, 2014

Take a Stroll in the Emerald Garden

An emerald garden?  What?  Well, when it comes to natural emeralds, they are almost never completely inclusion free.  In fact, emeralds are considered Type III stones, which tells you that you'd better love inclusions if you love emeralds, because you're gonna get 'em.  To soften the blow, the term "jardin" is used to describe the inclusions in emeralds, which  in French and Spanish means "garden."  So there you go.  Mystery solved.  Well, the first mystery that is.

Emeralds are a member of the beryl family (along with Morganite and aquamarines).  They rank 7.5-8 on the Mohs scale, and because of their inclusions are not safe for every day wear.

Emeralds come from all neck of the woods, but the dream-the-impossible-dream origin for emeralds is Columbia.  More specifically the Muzo mines.  That is where the perfect slightly bluish green glowing stones are found.  Not to say there aren't other perfectly glowish blue green emeralds in other mines, however, as with sapphires and "Kashmir," using the origin "Columbian" describes the exact color that collectors covet.

Like with the Kashmir term, "Columbian" is often overused.  People will use that term haphazardly and charge more than necessary because of the respect that mine has gained.  As I've said before, buyer beware.  Make sure you're buying a certified stone if you're paying top notch "Columbian Emerald" pricing.

Treatments are also something to consider when buying an emerald.  Remember that I told you that almost all emeralds have inclusions?  Well sometimes their inclusions can be dangerous to the integrity of the stone.  The air in unfilled emeralds also causes light rays to bend increasing their visibility.  Because of this, light forms of treatment in emeralds is acceptable within the industry.  

Oil filling and resin filling are the most common.  Basically the stones are dipped in clear (sometimes colored) oil or natural resin to fill up the cracks making them less obvious and safer for wear.
This treatment is not stable, however.  Oil can dry out, crack and rot.  Resins are more stable, but again, if you own an emerald always err on the side of caution when cleaning it so that you can preserve the effects of the treatment.  NEVER clean them in an ultra sonic cleaner and never use a steam cleaner.  Only use warm water and mild soap.

There are other treatments that are less acceptable because they inherently change the look of the stone's color (glass filling and plastic filling).  If you remember from my previous ruby blog, similar treatments are in rubies as well.  

You also must be aware of synthetics.  They are not the Devil, but you should always be aware of the possibility that an emerald you're buying is synthetic because lots of them exist out there.  

Emeralds are an amazing, vibrant and exciting stone that can make a wearer feel like they're glowing just because they're wearing them.  

Zambian emerald, photo from 

Columbian emerald from

Columbian emerald worn by Angelina Jolie made by Lorraine Schwartz

Lorraine Schwartz Colombian emeralds

Emerald in the rough, photo from 

SB621's Columbian emerald bracelet 

SB621's Columbian emerald bracelet 

My emerald ring, origin unknown

Sophia Vergara in Lorraine Schwartz

Columbian emerald from 
I hope you enjoyed this week's blog and I hope you all have a blingtastic weekend.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Let's talk real talk . . . about synthetics

Fair warning: This blog is going to be a little dull.  But it's good information for a newbie to the colored gemstone world.

Let me start this one out by clearing up a common misconception:  Synthetics are not fake gemstones.  They're real gemstones with the exact same chemical composition of their natural counterparts that are man made and lab grown.  Essentially science has learned how to speed up the natural growth process of gemstones.

I also want you to know, "synthetic" is NOT  a four-letter word in the gemstone world.  As long you're buying a piece with full knowledge that the stone is man made, you can acquire some amazing pieces that are typically more durable and have more vibrant colors than their natural equivalent.

Photo from
Photo from
Synthetics have been around since the early 1900's, so you can get lucky and find amazing vintage settings with original synthetic stones.  In fact, they were so popular when they first debuted that High Society often chose to have synthetic stones over natural gemstones.

However, as all of my blogs tend to be themed: buyer beware.  Don't think that because you have a stone that's not so perfect in color and has inclusions that it has to be a natural stone. The creators of synthetics have gotten very smart about their growth process.  They grow their stones with inclusions and with lower quality color to try to make them even more similar to their natural counterpart.  

The only way to truly determine if a stone is synthetic is through magnification.  If you own a loupe you can use it to check for signs of synthetic.  Unfortunately (you're going to kill me when I tell you this) very rarely natural stones will have similar inclusions to synthetic. 

Head spinning yet?  I know mine is.

Here are a few inclusions to look out for when you buy a stone and suspect it may be synthetic:

photo from 
Chevron patterns are common in synthetic stones.  Curved growth patterns and gas bubbles are also common in synthetics.  Most natural stones have straight or angular growth patterns.
The following inclusion, which is called a nailhead spicule is never found in a natural stone.

Again, as I've said before and will say a million times again, there's nothing wrong with synthetic stones, just know what you're paying for.  There are very many unscrupulous vendors who will try to sell synthetic stones as natural which can cost many times more.  Sometimes vendors aren't unscrupulous, just uninformed.  Colored stones are a tough world to navigate.  Beware of everything you buy.  If you're buying an expensive Columbian emerald, make sure it has certificate verifying its nature.  But if you're buying a nice green stone from Macy's, don't worry so much.  Colored stones are gorgeous.  Period.  As long as you're fully aware of what you own.

I hope you have an blingtastic rest of your weekend.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Let Me Tell You A Little About Rubies . . .

Before I start writing this post, I want to warn the readers: I have opinions, just like anyone else.  In fact, when it comes to colored stones, nothing is set in stone (of course the pun is TOTALLY intended).   If the color of a stone sings to you, don't let it bother you that the color isn't ideal based on "industry standards."  Colored stones are something that should make your eyes sparkle when you look at them and should never be purchased just because someone else told you that you should love them.

That being said, I have opinions about rubies.

The word "ruby" makes you think of the most luscious glowing reds.  Makes you think of nobility.  Makes you think of the colors of love.  Let me just tell you . . . sometimes you'll be disappointed.  If you really want an amazing, untreated, perfectly colored, inclusion free stone - rubies may not be the one for you; because to find that, you'd  have to spend more than an arm and a leg, and you'd probably have to be spend a good chunk of your lifetime looking for it.  As I think I've said before: colored stones are a labor of love, so know what you want to put your heart into.

First thing first in your road to semi-education on a rubies is knowing that rubies are in the same family as sapphire.  Basically a ruby is a red sapphire.  It ranks a 9 on the Mohs  scale.  There are lots of pink sapphires out there that are called rubies, but to be a ruby, the stone has to have some red in it.  Sounds like a no brainer, but you'd be surprised what people will do to try to sell you a ruby.  Because the name alone commands a much higher price tag.

Second thing you should know is that rubies are mined all over the world.   Rubies are hosted by very common rocks.  Some rubies are marble hosted

and some are basalt hosted

The difference between the rubies found in each type of stone is that basalt has a higher iron content which inhibits the fluorescence in the stone.  Fluorescence is responsible for that famous ruby glow

Photo from Pricescope

Why this is important to know is because if you're going to buy a ruby and the deal knows its origin (always get a report from a reputable source - I like AGL) then you will begin to know if you're finding your  holy grail stone.  Some origins that have marble hosted rubies are Tanzania (Winza), Burma/Myranmar, and Mong Hsu (Vietnam).

Even as a newly established colored stone lover, I'm sure you've heard of Burmese rubies.  The stuff dreams are made of.  Unfortunately it's currently illegal to buy Burmese rubies in the US.  There are still some Burmese rubies floating around out there that came to the states before the ban, but you would DEFINITELY want an origin report if you're seriously considering buying it.  Just to be mean though, I'll tease you with a few pictures of Burmese rubies.

Photo from Pricescope

Thanks to Fortekitty for the Elizabeth Taylor ruby photos

Add caption

Rubies from regions that have basalt hosted stones are Thailand, and Sri Lanka.  They'll be a little darker customarily.

There is a relatively new mine in Tanzania (often referred to as Winza) that has a great supply coming out of it and they are marble hosted.  They're also incredibly inclusion free and are almost always untreated (including heat)

Third thing you need to know in your ruby semi-education is about treatments.  Many of the treatments for rubies are very similar to those of blue sapphires:

Heat:  Like with blue sapphires, heat is a common practice to brighten colors of rubies and free it from inclusions.  It will melt away rutile needles which give that hazy glow effect (sometimes referred to as a sleepy stone) and will also clean up many crystals and minerals in the stone.  Almost all rubies are heat treated (except for Winza rubies).  Because the heat treatment makes the stone "prettier."  Just know right now, you are more than likely never going to find a natural and unheated/untreated ruby that's completely inclusion free.  You've gotta learn to love those flaws in our colored stone babies though. It's what makes them unique and who they are.

Fracture/Cavity Filling:  Like with blue sapphires, some rubies are dipped in fillers and soaked until they appear to be cleaner and brighter than they would've been naturally.  Often times rubies are filled with red glass.  As you can imagine this makes a stone that would seem to be safe and gorgeous VERY brittle and dangerous.  This is a treatment that lots of chains use on their rubies and how they get those bright colors.  If it's too good to be true, that's because it probably isn't true.  There's also a technique called quench crackling which takes an otherwise ugly corundum and soaks it in red dye.  The effect can be seen with a 10x loupe and looks like the broken up skin of an overtanned 80 year old.

Beryllium Diffusion: Heat treatment of corundum involving lattice diffusion of beryllium has become prevalent in rubies and blue sapphires over the last few years.  Initially only orange to orangy pink sapphires were seen with this treatment, it is now known that a full range of corundum colors.  Only a qualified lab can detect this treatment, and even for them it's not an easy treatment to see.  

There are a LOT of synthetic rubies out there.  Their chemical composition is identical to a natural ruby so be very wary of purchasing rubies from unreliable sources.  There are a few tricks to determining whether or not a ruby is synthetic.  First, a lack of inclusions can be an indicator.  But the makers of synthetic rubies are getting smarter and are growing rubies with inclusions just to trick people. Curved color banding and gas bubbles are another indication of synthetic stones.  If you see those things under close loupe inspection, be prepared to discover that you may have a synthetic stone on your hands.  

As always, buyer beware.  You should know by now if you've been reading my blogs that there are some shady sellers out there.  Just know what you're getting.  If you want a pretty ruby colored stone but don't want to pay ruby prices, that's fantastic.  Just don't get taken for a ride.  Get what you're paying for.

I hope you all have a blingtastic day!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Blue Sapphires

Today I finally decided to talk about a colored gemstone that you CAN wear daily (but of course always treat it with care): Blue sapphires.

They seem to be everyone’s favorite, and let me tell you, that glowing velvety purplish blue makes me heart go pitter patter. But as you probably already know, buying sapphires can be tricky. There are lots of them out there that’ll look gorgeous to you, but may be heavily treated or even synthetic.

Sapphires are part of the corundum family. They rate a 9 on the Mohs scale, just below diamond. But as you should already know, the Mohs scale isn’t exactly linear. There’s a big drop from the hardness of diamonds to sapphires.

There are lots of different fancy colored sapphires that are super dreamy in their own right

but for industry purposes when you hear sapphire, just assume that it’s the blue variety that’s being referred to.

The ideally colored and most expensive sapphire in the world is the Kashmir sapphire.

however, actual Kashmir sapphires were only mined for less than 10 years in the late 1800's, so if someone is claiming to have a real Kashmir sapphire, they’re most likely lying. There are several sapphires out there that resemble the Kashmir sapphire but people will search high and low for it and spend a pretty penny.

Treatments of sapphires are a scary subject because often times when buying them, sellers won’t disclose the treatments. Lots and lots of chain retailers sell treated stones. Don’t get me wrong, they can make a sapphire quite pretty but some of the treatments aren’t stable and in fact can mask some very major flaws in a sapphire that can risk its integrity (one good hit and BAM your sapphire is cracked in half).

Heat treatment: Heat treatment is a totally acceptable treatment by industry standards. Hell, most sapphires today are heat treated. If you do find one that’s not heat treated and has a gorgeous color, you’re looking at paying some big dinero for it.

There are some sapphires that are not normally heat treated. Montana sapphires are the first ones that come to mind. Montana sapphires have a wide array of colors and some of their blues resemble denim, but it is nice to know you have a completely conflict free sapphire. Montanas are rarely larger than a carat though. So they are small, but mighty.

Diffusion treatment: Sapphires that are treated by diffusion are usually heated to almost a melting point and elements are melted into the sapphire. Beryllium is the most commonly used element. The color only penetrates just under the surface of the stone though and can be rubbed off during faceting, and may eventually wear off with wear.

Lattice diffusion: Historically, vivid orange or yellow sapphires were almost always lattice diffused.  Recently, however, the process has been used to turn dark inky sapphires to cornflower blue.  This process is similar to old fashioned diffusion but the color penetrates deeper and is more permenenant.  The most important thing for consumers to know is that any sapphire which has been heat treated may have been beryllium diffused as well. Only a gemological laboratory with the right equipment can determine if that is the case. Even a well intentioned dealer can easily be mistaken about sapphires in his inventory, since he may have received incomplete information from his supplier.
Fracture filled/surface dyed: Often times highly included stones will have their fractures filled in with glass that is dyed the color of the stone. This is sort of like dipping it in Elmer’s glue. Yes it’ll make the stone look prettier at first, but the filling can come out if it’s cleaned in a jet cleaner and then you’ll have a not-so-pretty stone that probably has some pretty bad damage to it.

Assembled stones: I guess technically this isn’t a "treatment" but it’s something to look out for. Sapphires can be made into "doublets" (similar to opals). The top of the stone may be a real sapphire, but the bottom may be synthetic spinel or garnet. A good way to tell is to look at it from the side. Sometimes you can tell that there’s a cap on the stone that way. Although some manufacturers are really good and have made the stones blend together nicely.

Synthetic stones: There are A LOT of synthetic sapphires out there and some of them are damned good. They have essentially the exact same chemical composition as a real sapphire so they can be really hard to spot (which is why they’re so scary). Just make sure to have it looked at by a very competent jeweler because there are telltale signs that can often be seen under magnification.

As always, buyer beware. If you’re buying a sapphire, just know what you’re getting. There’s nothing wrong having a pretty blue stone, but don’t pay for a heat treated only sapphire (or unheated for that matter) if you don’t have to.

I hope you all have a blingtastic day.