Sunday, March 18, 2012

Lying Gemstones and Other Truths for Jewelry Supply Buyers

I was browsing new gemstones, and wanted to take some time to help educate people on a few gem misnomers and other un-truths that are circulating in the jewelry supplies market. 

Before you say wait- I don't need another pretend expert telling me what to do, let me disclaim: I spent five years working in the marketing department for a world-wide jewelry and bead supplier. I have spent more than 20 years as a jewelry supply wholesaler and jewelry artist myself. I felt compelled to share a few pieces of wisdom I learned about buying jewelry supplies in the Etsy community.

"White Turquoise" and Other Nonsense

Everyone know's there is a huge surplus of "fakes" gemstones- green glass masqurading as an emerald, for example. But did you know some of these fake "gemstones" don't even exist in the gem industry? Take "buffalo" or "white" turquoise for example. Industry gem experts have rejected this stone and state clearly that no such stone exists. What is being sold as white turquoise, or buffalo turquoise, is actually a white stone known as magnesite, or sometimes howlite. These stones can also be dyed to look like turquoise. 

Glass or Gem?
I LOVE quartz. But the real kind is hard to sort out. Take watermelon, blueberry and lemon "Quartz" for example. These items are actually a fine glass. Are they still pretty? Yes, yes they are, but they are still glass. 

Why are sellers allowed to call it blueberry quartz? This is where things get a little tricky. Industry suppliers are allowed descriptive names. Take clothing for example. You can go purchase a garnet shirt, or a turquoise scarf. Obviously the material is not made from ground up rocks. But because these names are actually just descriptors, manufactures use them to describe color. Not ingredients. Yes, I said the name turquoise is JUST a color descriptor- a disambiguation of sorts. After all, there's a river called Turquoise, a trail in Arizona, and even a film called "Turquoise". Why my niece is even named after the gem. Apply that sense of reality to purchasing rocks and I am sure you're left scratching your head. Me too. To confuse you more, the name came from it's earliest misnomer "Turkish stone", not the color! Now that I've completely confused you, what can you do to protect your purchase power? 

The Stone Will tell you it's Story
If you look carefully, using a loupe or magnifying glass, you can detect the fakes yourself using a few simple methods. Air bubbles are never present in naturally occurring gemstones (except in the case of some Amber). Air bubbles are usually found in glass or resin masquerading as a fake gem. It's a dead giveaway so look at each stone. If you find even one air bubble, you've found a fake. 

Seams are never present in natural gems. This seems like a no brainer, but if you're looking at a strand of pearls, and each is identical featuring a raised "seam", well, you've found a molded, reconstituted bead. Yes, these molded beads can still be made of crushed pearl parts, but at least you'll know what you're getting. In case you're still confused- I call beads made with these kinds of methods "the left overs". Most material used to re-create the gem are actually just the parts that were not good enough to begin with.  

Turquoise with traces of white are most often fakes. Surface gray veins are suspicious. Naturally occurring veins should look deep and have texture, as though the stone could be cracked at the vein. True light turquoise is never white, but a very pale light blue. Not all turquoise will have veins, and the blue can get very pale, so don't jump to conclusions because it's so perfect. If all else fails, check the price tag. If it's too good to be true... you know the saying. 

Knowing the industry and it's common terms can also help. Hematite has been "man-made" for years. Pearls are often "re-constitued", and Ametrine is created by "heat treating" amethyst and citrine. Is it still gorgeous? Yes, yes it is. The good news is that most suppliers are already telling you the truth. If you take the time to learn the terminology, you will quickly discover it's been staring you in the face all along. 

Break the Fake! 
You can bust a bead in half and see in an instant if your strand is dyed fakes by the chalky white inner core. Obviously a true gem will be consistent inside and OUT. As a savvy bead buyer, be wary of any supplier selling  stones with misnomers. Even the least experienced sellers should know by now that they are misrepresenting their items. And if they'll misrepresent one item, they'll likely misrepresent many. Don't bother talking sense into them. Recently I spoke to a woman who bought her "very rare" white turquoise "from the mine itself!"... because gem mines never lie... e'hem... moving on. 

Lead Laws in California, and Why Other States Should Care

Now that you know what you're buying, I'm going to shift focus and ask you, do you know what you're SELLING? No really, do you deeply and completely know that your parts are toxic free? 

Leather Bracelet and Bag Strap, 6 yards of thin Leather Lace for the price of 5, leather jewelry supplies
Leather Lace at
California leads the way with it's toxicity laws, including the new lead laws. As far as states go, CA law makers are the most protective over the end user and designed this lead law to protect people from supplies that have high levels of toxicity. If you're purchasing supplies and it states ANYWHERE that this product is not for sale in CA, it's because it's not ALLOWED in CA. This means that if you buy it, and RESELL it as a part of any creation, to customers in CA, you could be held libel for any toxicity that leads to actual injury. Be careful when buying, be careful when selling. 

Just because it's "natural" or "organic" doesn't mean it's not toxic:
I sell leather bracelet supplies for jewelry makers and have learned that many leather products and imports are treated with toxic chemicals. Some are dyed using petroleum based dyes, others are tanned using horrible chemicals. All a baby has to do is suck on that leather bracelet to send trace amounts of petroleum and other toxins through their digestive systems. To protect your customers, always find leather goods that state clearly that they use WATER based dyes. These natural, eco-safe and non-toxic dyes are being perfected every day, so bleeding is becoming less and less of an issue. Buying water based dyes products won't totally eliminate this issue as tanners still don't list their ingredients when selling full side leather, but it will certainly help. 

Lastly, find suppliers you trust and use them regardless of who sells it cheaper. A trusted seller will tell you everything they know about product safety and will bend over backwards to investigate your questions. If you ask, and they say they don't know and can't find out, move along.

What material wisdom have you learned when buying supplies? Share your tips with the rest of us here.