How can you tell if gemstone beads are genuine or imitation?
We recently had a question about this regarding our Peruvian Opal, and that made us realize everyone could benefit from some tips on how to tell 'real' vs. 'fake' when it comes to gemstone beads, pendants and jewelry.
Here's a little background on the common treatments of gems and so-called gems, and advice on how to make better decisions when purchasing.
First and foremost, be aware that there is a lot of misrepresentation and misleading information about 'gemstones'. The practice of gem enhancement is ancient -- easily 2,500 years old! Black Onyx enhancement is reported in the notebooks of Pliny the Elder from AD 23.
Enhancements can include dying, staining or using acid to change the stone's color, or to make the natural color more pronounced or uniform. Heat treatment is another method used to produce an effect such as crackling or color change. Irradiation can be used to create new colors. And many times, plastic, wax or resins are used to harden the extrerior to make the stone more durable.
Here are some examples of commonly treated and/or misrepresented stones:
Black Onyx is treated with sugar and "carmelized" with heat.
Red Carnelian is treated with acid in which iron has been dissolved and then heated.
Most Blue Sapphires are heat-treated yellow sapphires, often by the miners.
Most Hematite beads are a manmade sintered iron oxide product, leading to names like Hematine, Hemalyke and hemalike.
If you find something called "Fruity Quartz", it's just pretty glass, not quartz at all.
"Opalite" is not a laser treated quartz. It’s a pretty glass with an opalescent quality, similar to milky opal crystal and Czech glass beads.
Magnesite is a neutral stone that takes dyes and treatments very well.
Most beads sold as "Chalk Turquoise", and too many beads on the market as "turquoise" or "stabilized turquoise" are really dyed Magnesite.
Most Turquoise on the market are stabilized Turquoise, hardened with resins. (This enhancement is usually revealed, but confusion exists between stabilized turquoise and dyed magnesite.)
Even if you're not a gemologist and don't have fancy lab facilities, you can still use tried and true simple tests when you'd like to know if something is genuine, natural and untreated. If you want to analyze some unusually bright beads, or lovely even-colored beads strung on cord the exact same color, you can put them in a bin of water for a few hours (or even weeks) to test if they are colorfast. You can also break the beads to see what color and/or texture is inside.
If you don't already own the beads and you're considering a purchase, ask a lot of questions. You can also research on the internet and ask others (like us) in the gem and bead industry.
Even we have made mistakes when labeling though we try very hard not to. But when we discover we’ve used the wrong description or name, we quickly admit the error and change to the correct one. Even after asking the supplier a lot of questions, sometimes they don't always tell (or know) the truth.
A lot of stones can be dyed or enhanced with stronger colors. Lately we’ve seen many common stones with intense colors added to them. Stones this intense should almost always be labeled as "dyed" or "enhanced".
At BeadyEyedBird we try to accurately label any enhanced or dyed stones. Some stones are simply dyed, which is not always colorfast. One way to avoid getting caught with stones that "run" when they are worn is to look at the cord or plastic line the beads are strung on. If the cord is stained with blotches the same color as the beads, then beware.
For a more detailed resource on common enhancements of treated stones, check out Rings & Things' encyclopedia, Gemstone Beads Index. The index also tells you where the stones are mined and how to care for them.
Generally, the names for 'enhanced' stones are meant to describe what they look like, rather than to identify what they are made of. There are some generally accepted, common terms such as "New Jade" (a Serpentine) and "African Turquoise" (a Jasper). These are genuine, natural gemstones that resemble more expensive stones, and make excellent substitutes.
What can you do to avoid buying misnamed and misrepresented beads? Buy from dealers you trust and who can tell you about the material. Ask questions when you shop. Ask detailed questions. If you are uncomfortable with the answers or the prices, don’t buy. Do some of your own research by checking the information in resources such as the Gemstone Beads Index, or other sites and lapidary books.
Until Next Time,