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Gemstone Enhancements
For Better And For Worse.

Gemstone enhancements:
Gemstones are beautiful, no doubt about that. They give sparkles or lovely colors to jewelry. Some are quite expensive and other are affordable for everyone. But do they look shiny and sparkling straight from the mine? The answer to that is no. All gemstones have been cut, polished and treated or changed more or less to look its best when used in the jewelry business. These treatments are called gemstone enhancement.

When you buy gemstones online or from a catalog, you can see some letters in brackets next to the description of the stone. These letters indicate the treatments the stone has gone through. The letters are a standard used by the American gem trade Association Enhancement code.

There are variations to the amount of enhancement a gem goes through, some are permanent and others are semi permanent or temporary enhancements. The extent of the enhancement can affect the value of the stone. Some are used to stabilize the gem, while others are not accepted because the gem most likely returns to its original state after a while, since the treatment is unstable. Let's take a look and see what treatments there are.

Enhancement codes
Code Description
N Natural. No enhancement
E Enhanced with any of the following treatments
T Non traditionally enhancements

Semi permanent enhancements
Code Description
B Bleaching. Used to whiten or lighten gemstones
C Coating. Surface treatment like enameling, inking, foiling, lacquering, sputtering or vapor deposition
D Dyeing. Enhances the color and uniformity.
F Filling. Fissures, cavities or pores is filled with colorless glass, resin or plastic
I Impregnation. The gem is treated with oil, plastic, wax or resin to improve clarity and appearance
W Waxing. Impregnation with colorless wax, paraffin or oil

Permanent enhancements
Code Description
FH Flux healing. Heat enhancement used to heal fissures and fractures
F Fracture filling. Fractures are filled with plastic or glass
H Heat treatment to darken, lighten or alter colors
HP Heat and pressure to affect color and clarity
R Irradiation. Used to add color and intensity to diamonds and gemstones
U Lattice Diffusion. High temperature heat treatment to produce color and-or asterism
L Lasering. Laser and chemical treatment to improve inclusions
SYN Synthetic. This is a man made stone, but created with the same composition and structure as the real thing.
ASBL Assembled into single stones, created with two or more separate pieces

When buying gemstones:
When you buy expensive (or any, actually) gemstones, you should always ask if the stone has gone through any enhancements, unless the dealer provides the information with the gem. This particularly if some semi permanent treatments have been done to it, which means that the stone is likely to turn back into its natural dull self over time.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) publishes guidelines for jewelry trade, stating that consumers must be informed of any gemstone treatments that are not permanent or which significantly affects the value of the stone.

There are stones like Howlite that is dyed to resemble more expensive stones like Turquoise and Lapis Lazuli. They should then be labeled with the enhancement codes. But if they are not, it is not so easy to know whether you have been cheated or not. So, in general, buying expensive gemstones from dealers that can't/won't provide a certificate proving that the stone is genuine, can result in paying buckets for nothing.

Many gemstones change into an other kind of gemstone while treated. Citrine is one of them, as it actually is a heat treated Amethyst. Aquamarine is heated to remove yellow tones, and to change the green color into a more desirable blue tone. Sapphire and Ruby are treated with heat to enhance and improve their color and clarity.

Some stones, like Turquoise are waxed and oiled to disguise natural fissures or enhance their color, and to stabilize it. It should therefor be kept away from heat or the wax could melt. Turquoise is a very porous stone, and the treatment prevents the stone from absorbing foreign substances and discolor it.

Lots of gemstones are also colored to bring out special features better, like banding or inclusions. Therefor certain stones should be rinsed in water before use, to get rid off excess color.

Gemstones are also made in laboratories. These are not imitations, as they have the same chemical and physical characteristics as natural stones. They tend to be have more vivid colors than the naturals, since they have no impurities. They are normally sold for a much lower price than natural stones.

There are stones that are artificial made to look like precious and semi-precious stones. These resembles the real stones in color and looks, but they do not possess the same chemical nor physical characteristics.

About Irradiation:
Irradiation means that a gemstone have been exposed to radiation to enhance the optical properties of the stone. The radiation changes the anatomic structure of the gem and with that the color of the stone.

Blue topaz both dark and light have been treated with irradiation to change their color from white to blue. Without radiation there would be no blue Topaz, as they are extremely rare in nature. Green Quartz is often irradiated to achieve a more yellow green color. When it comes to radiation, there are concerns about whether this is a hazard to the wearers health or not.

You do not have to worry about radiation and gemstones. The US Nuclear Regulatory commission (NRC) have set strict limits on how much radiation residue a gemstone can have before put out on the market. Each batch of gems that has been radiated is thoroughly tested before the stones are released for sale.

NRC states on their web site that they believe that the irradiated gemstones currently on the market are safe, and that they have not requested that jewelers take these stones off the market.

Fake gemstones:
New ways of enhancements are developed all the time, and therefore also the amount of fake gemstones or stones that are manipulated to look like more expensive gems. The only way to be certain that the gem you have purchased is the real thing or not, is to have it examined in a lab.

There are some things you can do to avoid being cheated though. One is to know the properties of the particular gem you want to buy, and what is the common treatments of that gemstone.

Try to avoid stones with fancy names like Adelaide Ruby, which is a Almandite or Garnet. The posher the name, the more likely it is that you are dealing with something fake.

If you are offered a very good price that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Real gemstones cost more, and will not be sold for a lower price than its genuine value, if the jeweler is a serious dealer. Ask for a certificate for the stone that show if the gem has been enhanced and how it it has been treated. If they do not provide one, it is most likely that you are being cheated.

Bring a magnifier glass if you are planning to buy gemstones. Check the stones back and side for joining lines. Composite stones are made by fusing layers of cheap material as a base and a thin layer of the genuine stone on top. This way of faking a stone is called Doublets if two layers, and Triplets if three layers.

If you buy gemstones online, make sure that the company has a good return policy. That should mean that they are serious about the stones they sell.

The main reason for enhancements though is not to cheat people, but to make the stones more attractive and stable. To underline the stones real beauty and secure that it is not ruined by everyday wear or contamination.

When buying gemstones, you cannot expect to find the same seriousness around whether the stone is genuine or not, if you buy from someone selling on the street or in a souk, as you can from a serious jewelry dealer.

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