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The advice that could save you from your own gemstone nightmare

CHRIS HOLDSWORTH offers a warning to jewellers over the dangers of gemstone treatments, which can have expensive consequences if undetected.

One afternoon – just before I was about to fly to Thailand for the Bangkok Gem & Jewellery Show – I was preparing to leave my store when one of the jewellers came to me with a ruby-and-diamond ring in his hand, and a worried look on his face.

The ring was a remake we had put together using the customer’s own ruby. The ruby weighed just over 2 carats and was a fine colour – though it was included with some eye-visible ‘feathers’.

At the time, an equivalent fine natural ruby would have held a value around the $1,500 per carat mark – but now, as the jeweller showed me its fractured remains, it was worthless.

We had made the original ring from scratch; the diamonds and ruby were successfully set, then the ring was polished, plated and presented to the customer. However, it was slightly loose, and we offered to re-size it.

The customer advised that her fingers fluctuate in size and so requested we adjust it by attaching some gold beads to the inside of the shank so that it would be a little tighter on her finger, but still wearable if it swelled.

Rather than un-setting and then re-setting the ruby, the jeweller worked on the complete ring – after all, ruby and diamond are usually able to withstand nearby solder type work, so he assumed the shank would be safe.

Wrong! This ruby, when the ring was finished, had been totally destroyed.

Fissures and cracks had appeared across the entire surface. My assumption was that indirect heat was the problem but I couldn’t understand why. I immediately phoned the customer and explained what had happened, offering to replace the ruby.

The customer, understandably concerned, agreed to my offer.

As I was heading to Bangkok the next day I took the ring with me, hoping to improve my chances of replacing the ruby. Considering my options, I pondered the gemstone’s ‘life’ – after being mined from the earth, faceting and even setting had not cracked it.

If there were to be a silver lining, I’d hope this cautionary tale would encourage those without gemmological training to seek some out, and those with gemmological training to stay updated.

So how had this particular ruby shattered ruby during a routine remake?

Once I arrived at the show in Bangkok, the answer soon became obvious; the ruby was an ‘enhanced’ glass fracture- filled gemstone.

Those gemstones were first mentioned in journals only a couple of years before and had yet to gain any general traction in Australia at the time, but they were known within the ruby trade.

The fracture-filled rubies were worth around $50 per carat and were very prevalent overseas. I bought a couple to study further back in Australia.

Returning home, I double checked my suspicion. Under magnification, the ruby was definitely glass-filled; some fractures had gas bubbles and surface lustre differences were clearly visible.

I phoned the customer again and presented my findings. Understandably, she was not impressed! She was also adamant that the ruby was not treated, as she had purchased the original ring from a small antique jewellery store in 2005.

The ring came with a valuation from the store, and since that time the purchase had been valued twice by National Council of Jewellery Valuers members.

The valuations identified the ruby as natural with no mention of any treatments.
I did explain that the fracture-filling treatment was relatively new in Australia, although quite common overseas, particularly in Asia.

Fortunately, I had a long and positive relationship with the customer and eventually we agreed on a new, five-stone ring using the four diamonds from the original make, as well as an additional diamond provided by me, to be made free of charge.

I still wonder to this day had I examined that ruby prior to it breaking, would anything have seemed ‘off’?

The Gemmological Association of Australia had published an article on glass-filled rubies a couple of years before but I had not seen one to know what to look for.

If there were to be a silver lining, I’d hope this cautionary tale would encourage those without gemmological training to seek some out, and those with gemmological training to stay updated.

Glass fracture-filled rubies are here, a long with dozens of other treated gemstone materials, and we should be able to identify them. Some are unstable and vulnerable to damage from heated ultrasonic cleaners, chemical damage from household cleaning products, or standard jewellery repair processes.

Early identification and advising your client of your findings will go a long way towards saving you from your own nightmare!


Name: Chris Holdsworth
Company: Holdsworth Bros Jewellers
Position: Director
Location: Melbourne, VIC
Years in Industry: 30


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