False claims and costly bargains: How to spot fraud and avoid misrepresentation.
There are many factors affect quality and value in diamonds. When the average person is looking at a diamond already set, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to see differences that can dramatically affect cost. For this reason, we recommended buying any important diamond un-mounted, and mounting it only after all the facts have been verified. But, you don’t have to be a “gemologist” or fear buying jewelry. If you follow a few simple steps, anyone can buy with confidence.
Four key steps to avoiding fraud or misrepresentation:
The first step is to buy from someone accessible and knowledgeable.
Sellers should have the skill to know for sure what they themselves are buying and selling. This is not to say that there are not bargains to be found in flea markets, estate sales, and so on, but you run a higher risk when purchasing in such places because of possible misinformation , intentional or otherwise. You must weight the risk versus the potential reward. In addition, before making a final purchasing decision, ask yourself whether or not you will be able to find the seller again if what you bought turns out to be other than represented. This is equally true when traveling and considering a jewelry purchase abroad.
Second, ask the right questions.
Don’t be afraid to ask direct, even pointed questions. The key to getting complete information about what you are buying is asking good questions so you can be sure you are aware of important factors affecting quality and value.
Third, get the facts in writing.
Be sure the seller is willing to put the answers to the questions you ask, and any representations made about the gem or jewelry you are considering, in writing. If not, we recommend against purchasing from this seller unless there is an unconditional return policy which allows merchandise to returned within a reasonable period of time for a full refund (not a store credit).
Finally, verify the facts with a gemologist appraiser.
It’s especially important to verify whatever has been put in writing with a professional gemologist appraiser. Some unscrupulous dealers are willing to put anything in writing to make the sale, knowing that written assurances or claims about the stone are often sufficient to satisfy buyers’ doubts. So this last step may be the most important to ensure you make a wise decision.
Types of Misrepresentation
Beware of bargains!
Diamonds represented to be better than they are
Beware of bargains. Most are not. When a price seems too good to be true, it unless the seller doesn’t know its true value (which reflects badly on the seller’s expertise).
Scams involving appraisals prior to sale
Beware of jewelers no willing to put the facts in writing, but who offer to let you take the stone, to an appraiser in the neighborhood. This may be a scam.
One must always be careful of recommendations from the seller. While legitimate jewelers usually know better than anyone else who the best gemologist appraisers are in their communities, and their recommendations should be respected, you must still be sure to check the credentials should be respected, you must still be sure to check the credentials yourself to avoid such scams.
In general, you need to guard against fraud or misrepresentation in one of the following four areas:
Color alteration and misgrading
Flaw concealment and misgrading
Certification, alteration and counterfeit certificates
Giving “total weight” of all stones where more than one is involved, rather than the exact weight of the main stone, is another form of misrepresentation. This is in strict violation of federal Trade Commission (FTC) rulings. I giving the weight, particularly on any display card, descriptive tag, or other type of advertising for a particular piece of jewelry, the weight of the main stone or stones should be indicated as well as the total weight of the all the stones.
Enhancing color artificially
Touching the culet, or side of a slightly yellow stone with a coating of purple ink, such as found in a indelible pencil, neutralizes the yellow, producing a more white looking stone. This can be easily detected by washing the stone in alcohol or water. If you have ay questions about the color, tactfully request that the stone be washed (in front of you) for better examination for better examination. A reputable jeweler should have no objection to this request.
Improving the color by utilizing a sputtering technique (also called “painting” the diamond). This involves sputtering a very thin coating of a special substance over the stone or part of the stone, usually the back, where it will be harder to detect when mounted. The girdle area can also be painted with the substance and create the same effect. The substance, like indelible pencil, also neutralize the yellow and thereby improves the color by as much as seven color grades, but unlike indelible ink, the substance will not wash off. It can be removed in two ways: by rubbing the stone briskly and firmly with a cleanser, or by boiling the stone carefully in sulfuric acid. If the stone is already mounted and is coated on the back, using cleanser is not feasible. The sulfuric acid method is the only way. But please note, using sulfuric acid can be extremely dangerous, and must be done only by an experienced person.
This technique is not frequently used, but stones treated in this manner do appear often enough to be worth mentioning.
Coating the diamond with chemicals and baking it in a small lab type oven. This technique also tends to neutralize some of the yellow, thereby producing a better color grade. This coating will be removed eventually by repeated hot ultrasonic cleanings, which will gradually erode the coating. A more rapid removal can be accomplished by the more dangerous method of boiling in sulfuric acid.
Radiation treatment. Exposing off color diamonds such as yellowish or brownish tinted stones (and also badly flawed stones in which the flaws would be less noticeable against a colored background) to certain types of radiation can result in the production of fancy colored stones. This treatment produces rich yellows, greens, and blues, and greatly enhances salability because these colors are very desirable. In and of itself, radiation is not fraud; it may make a fancy color diamond affordable to someone otherwise unable to purchase one. But again, just be sure that the stone is properly represented and you know what you are buying, and that you are getting it at the right price, which should be much lower than that of the natural fancy.
Treated diamonds must be represented as “treated diamonds” and should be priced accordingly. Whether the color is natural or treated can be provided by a gem testing laboratory. Not all gemologists, however, are competent with spectroscopic procedures, and some fancy color diamond require examination with very sophisticated equipment not available to most labs. Most natural fancy colored diamonds sold by jewelers in the United States are accompanied by a GIA diamond report.
Clarity enhancement and flaw concealment
Be especially alert to the possibility that clarity may be enhanced. The two most frequently used techniques are lasering inclusions and filling the fractures. In both cases, dark inclusions or cracks which might normally be visible, in some cases, very visible, are concealed, or become much less noticeable. Be sure to ask whether or not the stone has been lasered or filled. As long as you know, and pay the right price, a clarity enhanced diamond may be an attractive choice.
Where possible, flaws are concealed by their settings. The good stone setter will try to set a stone in such a manner that the setting will help to conceal any visible imperfections. For this reason flaws near or at the girdle will downgrade a stone less than those found in the center of the stone; since most settings cover all or part of the girdle, they are simply less visible here. Indeed, a setting can make a flaw “invisible.”
There is nothing fraudulent in such uses of settings as long as the stone is properly represented. The only danger is that not only the customer but also the jeweler may not have the imperfection concealment by the setting.
Can concealment affect value? In most diamonds other than FL or IF, the presence of a minor flaw concealed under a prong will not affect the price significantly. However, given the difference in price between diamonds graded FL or IF and VVS1, a minor blemish or inclusion hidden by the setting which might result in a VVS1 diamond being graded FL could have a significant affect on value, especially if the stone has exceptionally fine color. For this reason diamonds should be viewed UN-mounted.
Certification of diamonds
Most diamonds weighting one carat or more are carefully evaluated prior to being set by a respected laboratory such as the GIA or the AGL, and are issued a diamond grading report. That report both certifies the diamond as genuine and describes it, providing important information as color grade, flaw grade, weight cutting and proportioning, and so on. If you are considering the purchasing of a very fine diamond weighing one carat or more and it is not accompanied by such a report, we would strongly recommend that you or the seller have the stone evaluated by the GIA or another respected laboratory prior to purchase. You should do so even if it means having a stone that is already set removed from the setting and reset. Given the significant difference in cost that can result from a grading error in the rarer grades, we believes this procedure is worth the inconvenience and expense.
Unfortunately, the confidence of the public in diamonds accompanied by the certificates has given rise to the practice of altering and counterfeiting them. While you can be relatively sure that “certificated” diamonds sold by reputable, established jewelry firms are what they claim to be, there are some suppliers and dealers who are seizing opportunities to prey on the unsuspecting.
Sometimes information is changed on an otherwise valid certificate; for example, the flaw or color grade may be altered. If you have any question regarding information on the certificate, a phone call to the lab (or its web site) giving them the certificate number and date will enable you to verify the information on the certificate.
Producing a certificate from a nonexistent lab is an increasingly common problem. Stones accompanied by fancy “certificates” from impressive sounding labs that don’t exist are appearing more and more frequently. If the certificate is not from one of the recognized labs, it should be carefully checked. If the lab seems legitimate, call to verify the information on the certificate, and if all seems in order, you can probably rest comfortably. Otherwise, you may need to have the facts verified by another gemologist or recognized lab.
Switching the stone described on a report
In some cases the report is bona fide but the stone has been switched. To protect both the consumer and the lab, some labs are taking advantage of ingenious techniques to ensure against switching. For example, a service called gem-print utilizes laser technology to display a diamond’s unique pattern of reflection and then records it photographically. The result is an electronic “fingerprint” of the diamond which can be used for identification purposes. In addition, the GIA can now actually inscribe its report number, which is visible only under magnification, directly onto the diamond itself, along the girdle. By so doing, on can very easily be sure a specific diamond matches a specific certificate simply by matching the numbers.
In the absence of such a mark, one clue to a switched diamond might be provided by comparing the carat weight and dimensions given on the report. If the measurements and carat weight match exactly, the probability is slim that a diamond has been switched, provided the report has not been altered.
If the stone has been mounted, it may be difficult to get precise measurements to compare.
Always make sure, for both your protection and the jeweler’s, that the jeweler writes down on the bill of the sale or memo all the stone’s dimensions as best as can be determined: diameter or length and width, depth, and weight. This is to help ensure that you are not accused of switching the diamond after leaving the premises in the event you must return it.
Is it a diamond or a diamond imposter?
How can you tell if a stone is really a diamond? Unless, you are an expert, or consult one, you can not be sure about the identification of a stone. Nevertheless, there are a few simple tests you can perform that will show up most diamond imposters quite quickly. Here are a few things to look for:
Is newsprint readable or observable through the stone?
If the is a round modern cut stone and is loose or mounted in such a way as to allow you to place it table down over some small newsprint, check whether you can see or read any portion of the lettering. If so, it is not a diamond. Refraction of light within a genuine diamond is such you will not be able to see any of the letters in the newsprint.
Is the stone open or closed?
Diamonds are seldom glued in. Rhinestones often are.
Is the back open or closed?
If the stone is a properly set diamond, the back of the setting will usually be open, allowing you to readily see a portion of the pavilion. Some very small rose cut or single cut diamonds, as seen in some unique jewelry, Any be mounted with a closed back. Otherwise, if a ring has a closed back, it is probably rhinestone, in which case the back is often closed in order to conceal the foil that has been applied to the back of the stone.
How many facets are visible on the top?
In cheaper glass imitations only 9 top facets are usually visible, as opposed to 33 visible top facets in a diamond or good simulation. Single cut or Swiss cut diamonds will also show only 9 facets on the top, but they will be set in open back mountings, whereas cheap glass imitations are usually set in closed back mountings.
Does the girdle of the stone appear to be frosted?
The girdles of most diamonds are unpolished, with a ground glass like appear that suggests “frostiness.” The re are some diamond imitations that also have a frosted appearance, but of all of these, a diamond has the whitest frostiness, like clean, dry, round glass. On the other hand, some diamonds do have polished or faceted girdles, and thus no frostiness will be present. You can develop an eye for this by asking a reliable jeweler to point out the differences between a polished girdle, an unpolished girdle, and a faceted girdle.
Is the cut symmetrical?
Since diamond is so valuable and symmetry so important to its overall appearance and desirability, the symmetry of faceting on a diamond will be very carefully executed, whereas in diamond simulations the symmetry of the facets may be sloppy. For example, the eight kite shaped facets (sometimes called bezel facets) will often be missing one or more points on the side, or on the top or bottom, showing a small straight edge rather than a point. This sloppy faceting can be an important indication that the stone in question is not a diamond, since it indicated that a cutter did not take proper care. It should be noted that some poorer grade or old cut diamonds may also show sloppiness
Are the crown and pavilion of the stone properly aligned?
While occasionally a diamond may show partial misalignment, imitations are frequently and often badly misaligned.
Are the facet or faces scratched, chipped, or worn?
Diamond imitations include some stones that are very soft and/or brittle, such as zircon, GGG (a man made simulation), Fabulite (a man made diamond simulation also know as Wellington Diamond), and glass. Due their lack of hardness and, in the case of zircon, possible brittleness, these imitations will show wear easily, and one can often detect scratches or chips on the facet edges or faces. The edges are somewhat more vulnerable and scratches or chips may be more easily seen there, so check the edges first. The check then flat faces for scratches. Check both the area what would be most exposed and areas around the prongs, where a setter might accidentally have scratched the stone while setting it.
Zircon, a stone found in nature that is often confused with cubic zirconia (CZ), a man made imitation, is relatively hard but very brittle, so it will almost always show chipping at the edges of the facets if the stone has been worn in jewelry for a year or more.
Some diamond look-alikes, however, are more durable and resistant to noticeable wear. These include colorless synthetic spinel, colorless synthetic sapphire, colorless quartz, YAG (man made), and CZ. While these may scratch or chip over time with regular wear and daily abuse, scratches or chips are as numerous, and will be less noticeable.
Does the stone, loose or mounted, exhibit fluorescence under ultraviolet light?
This is not something readily accomplished by an amateur, nor comprehensible to the average person because of numerous variables and scientific complexities. If, after the above tests, you still have doubt, take the stone to qualified gemologist with lab facilities and ask him to identify the stone. If it is a diamond, have him note the nature of the stone’s fluorescence, as it can prove a valuable tool for identification if ever needed.
An important word about cubic zirconia
Cubic zirconia (CZ) is the best diamond simulation made to date, and even some jewelers have mistaken these stones for diamonds.
CZ is almost as brilliant as diamond, has even greater fire (which masks its lesser brilliance), and is relatively hard, giving it good durability and wear-ability. CZ is also being produced in fancy colors; red, green, and yellow, and can provide a nice diamond “alternative” as a means to offset or dress up colored stones in jewelry if diamond are not affordable.
How can you tell if you have a CZ?
Some of the tests already discussed may help you detect a CZ. The following may eliminate any remaining doubt.
If it is a loose stone, have it weighted.
A loose stone can be weighted on a scale, which most jewelers have handy, and you can determine how much it should weigh if it is truly a diamond. If the weight is much greater than the diamond weight should be, based on its spread, then it is not a diamond. A CZ is approximately 75% heavier than a diamond of the same spread. For example, a CZ that looks like a 1 carat diamond size-wise will weigh 1-3/4 carats; a CZ that looks like a1/4 carat diamond in terms of size will weight approximately 40/100 carat.
Look at the girdle.
If the girdle is frosted, a subdued whiteness resembling slightly wet or oiled frosted glass will indicate CZ. Looking at girdles to differentiate between the appearance of frosted CZ and frosted diamond girdles requires considerable experience.
Test the stone with a carbide scriber.
CZ can be scratched with a fine-point carbide scriber, also available at most jewelry supply stores. If the scriber is forcibly pushed perpendicularly to any of the facets (the table being the easiest) and then drawn across this flat surface, you will scratch it. You can not scratch a diamond except with another diamond. But be sensible and considerate. Do not heedlessly scratch merchandise that doesn’t belong to you; particularly if the jeweler or seller doesn’t represent the stone as a diamond.
Examine the stone, loose or mounted, for fluorescence.
Both CZ and diamond fluoresce, but the colors and intensities will be different.
Use an electronic diamond tester.
These are pocket size diamond testers which will tell you what you whether or not you have a diamond. Most won’t tell you what you have if it’s not diamond, but only confirm whether or not it is diamond.
After these tests, if you have some questions, take the stone to a qualified gemologist with lab facilities for positive identification.
Comparing diamond prices
All too often people look for easy answers to complex problems. Many would like to have a simple list of diamond grades and corresponding prices, by size. Unfortunately, market conditions are constantly changing, and more important significant differences in quality not readily discernible to any but the professional. Therefore, it is not possible to provide a simple answer to this complex question.
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