“Sapphires” infiltrated and colored with cobalt. The basics everyone should know

In the gold industry there is a gap between those studying the processes underlying gems and the operators.  The former sometimes get stuck on technicalities that most of us fail to comprehend and the latter, caught in the day to day doldrums, snub gemologists as doing something superfluous or for parading around as know-it-alls.  Between the real know-it-alls, the ones who know less and those who know nothing, will the new treatment done on sapphires increase scams and cause a decline in our credibility?

When  Moissante was put on the market in the late 90s, it was immediately classified as “easy to identify” by gem institutes.  Actually, the physical characteristics of moissanite differ from those of diamonds for density, hardness, dispersion, birefringence, electrical conductivity besides other features such as internal inclusions;  many, way too many differences that would preclude any experienced operator from mistaking one for the other. There were a lot of fish caught in the net however, honest top-notch artisans and jewelers too close to the scales and too far from the bench, instruments, and newspapers.  The story repeats itself with composite “rubies”.  Frontline gemologists wrote about it immediately and abundantly.  But the message fell short of protecting consumers from swindlers and serious incidents provoked serious consequences to consumer faith and spending.  Everyone knew but few took note.  During our recent visit to Thailand we had the chance to see the market debut of a new product manipulated in the laboratory:  seemingly affordable blue corundum. Well, the gems come from raw stones which are semi-opaque, cloudy, grooved and unattractive then improved (with the same fracture-filling procedure used for years on rubies and diamonds) until they take on a captivating look in an interesting blue.  The abundant fractures on the corundum are filled with a resin composite that is colored with cobalt giving the stone transparency and color.  Identifying these stones is  kid’s stuff for a gemologist:  clear “chromatic spots” inside the stone, gas bubbles, and flash effect are all perceivable when observing the stone under a source of light.  Easy.  All you need is an everyday, run of the mill 10x lens.
But let’s think about it.  Even The Leopard with his telescope, in the famous novel, wrote down fascinating notes about the planets he observed from his splendid terrace while the world outside was going down the drain.  Is revealing the true characteristics of a gem or one posing as a gem a task for a chosen few?  Not really, gemologists should be called on continually in the real world of business.  Rigor is good: but we all need to understand what is going on. Can we really be sure that no goldsmith will fall for the same old scam, attracted by the same old special price?  Will the schrewds abuse of the term ‘sapphire’ to get rich quick?  The times and the tools for scientific observation, as opportune as they may be, are one thing.  Another thing is feedback from the chaotic market flows once you wander the aimless ambles on a winding course to the sticks. This ambiguous limbo benefits alchimists worldwide who each year come out with imitations and treatments harder and harder to identify despite our awareness that artificial embellishment feeds easy profits. The only bulwarks that can prevent escalation is information and the cooperation of all those involved.  The basics everyone should know and persistently make known about treatment methods so as to accurately appraise the value of a stone.  In an ever suspicious marketplace, giving the consumer qualitative assurance has become a priority.  The big brands know it and large parts of their advertising budgets are spent not on testimonials but on certifications of origin of their raw materials.  What can small businesses and retailers do?  Right now, just watch.  “Wing it” like the great Toto’ used to say.  But he also used to say “If you snooze, you lose”.  Let’s roll up our sleeves and make identification practices accessible to everyone so that gemology does not become like a latin ritual celebrated by a chosen few.

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