Real Gemstones or Fakes? How to tell the Difference

Become an educated consumer and enter the world of rare colored precious gems, prepared and with confidence.

How do you know if a stone is real or fake?

Perhaps you've had this thought when purchasing a gemstone (jewelry) piece before or have tried to purchase one?

I completely get this question. After several years of being in this business, I still need to train my eye. That’s why I’m constantly going to the gem trade fairs in Bangkok and Hong Kong. 

And one of the things I love, besides creating the actual jewelry, is to make buying gems easier for you. 

Although this is a tricky question to answer, there is one piece of advice I can give you that I once read and that works as a useful starting point: 

“if you don’t know your stones, know your seller” 

Of course, then you still need to be able to vet your gemstone vendor! How do you test the knowledge of the person you’re considering buying from? Asking the right questions is a good place to start.

4 questions to ask your precious stone dealer are:

1. Can I see other Similar Stones?

2. Is This Stone Natural or Synthetic?

3. Has This Stone Been Treated?

4. Can ​I get an independent gemological lab certificate?

To help you know what answers to look for, here are some things to consider when buying loose gemstones or gemstone jewelry pieces:

1. Get To Know The Names Of The Best Quality Gemstones

You may be surprised to know that there are other fine quality gemstones besides the three most well-known colored stones: emerald, ruby and blue sapphire.

Can you name any fine green stones besides the emerald? There are about 4 to 5 other high quality green gemstones out there!

The exquisite grass-green tsavorite garnet can even easily beat the emerald in quality… 

Other fine quality green gems are: demantoid garnet, green beryl, lagoon or neon mint tourmaline, peridot and sphene.

The same applies to the red hue: can you name other high-quality varieties besides the ruby? (Like red spinel, reddish tourmaline and garnet...).

Do you know any yellow gemstones, electric blue ones or even neon pink ones?

It pays off to first do some research online or buy a book on colored gems so you’ll be aware of the high-quality gemstones available. Your gemstone dealer or jeweler will thank you for it as you’ll be able to articulate what you want and the colors you like.

Eva Gems & Jewels gemstone earrings with yellow mali garnets, green tsavorites and blue green sapphires. Discover more fine jewelry pieces here.

2. Learn The Difference Between Natural, Synthetic, Man-made and Fake Gems

It’s helpful to know these distinctions before you enter a gemstone dealer’s office or jewelry store. Read below the brief gemological definitions of each.

natural gem is any gemstone that is entirely the product of nature. It’s unaltered by humans in any way, except for ordinary cutting and polishing.

synthetic gem is the same as a natural gem (in terms of physical, chemical and optical properties), EXCEPT that it has been made by humans. For instance, synthetic diamonds, rubies and blue sapphires are just a few that exist. These synthetic stones you could call the 'fakes'. But there is actually nothing wrong with them as long as you’re aware of it and you paid a lower price.

Man-made gems are the same as synthetic gems - with a subtle yet important difference...they don’t have a natural counterpart. Synthetic gems always have a natural counterpart, while man-made gems are basically invented by humans but don’t exist as such in nature. Examples are the man-made diamond simulants YAG and GGG.

Fine-quality natural gemstones are the rarest and will be the most valuable of all of the above. It’s good to know about these distinctions as it’ll make you ask the right questions and it’ll make you appreciate a highly valued natural gemstone even more.

A peek into Eva’s collection: a rare pastel pink spinel surrounded by small orange-pink sapphires and neon pink spinels.

To find the stone that expresses you, take the quiz.

3. Be Aware Of Gemstone Treatments

What is a treated gemstone?

treated gem is any gemstone that has been altered by humans, other than the ordinary cutting and polishing.

Treatments are very common in gemstones, including diamonds, yet most consumers are not aware of them or they assume it has a negative connotation. This is undeserved for many treatments.

The reason treatments exist is simple: without gemstone treatments, there wouldn’t be enough gemstone quality stones in nature to satisfy the jewelry demand in the world...

For instance, 95% of natural rubies and blue sapphires have been heat-treated! A fully acceptable treatment in the gem market.

Likewise, most emeralds are oiled and fracture-filled. Then there exist other treatments like irradiation (also accepted for certain stones) and lattice diffusion (which most reputable gem dealers don’t accept). Also diamonds can be subjected to certain treatments, such as laser-drilling and fracture-filling.

However, many treatments get lumped together under the blanket term “enhanced” making it difficult to understand what specific type of treatment has been carried out and also whether it would be acceptable to a reputable gemstone dealer or not. Try to get a specific answer from your gemstone vendor.

It's important to know specifics about a treated stone and to ask your gemstone vendor about his/her policy on treatments. A treated stone should be less expensive than a similar, untreated gemstone and on top of that, some treatments are simply not acceptable to a good gem dealer.

4. Learn To Roughly Judge A Colored Gemstone’s Appearance

The most important feature that determines beauty and value of colored gemstones is: color. Judging color is done best by comparing similar colored gemstones that lie together.

Photo Credit: Verrier Handcrafted

Our memory of color is short. Only when you see a few colored stones of the same species & color, of similar carat weight and shape together, will you be able to pick the best stone from the lot.

Color grading consists of 3 elements: namely the grading of (1) the stone’s hue, (2) saturation and (3) tone.

Hue means that you need to assess the stone’s main and secondary color. So a stone can be orangey-red or greenish-blue for instance.

Saturation is about judging the vividness of the color or the lack of color. Generally, the more vivid a color, the more valuable a stone will be.

Tone relates to the presence of blackness in a stone. Medium tone is usually good for many colored gemstones out there.

Besides color, you can look at the clarity and transparency of a stone, the symmetry of the cut, its brilliance (i.e. if it sparkles a lot): all indications of a higher quality gem.

So all this means you need to go to several jewelry stores, gem dealers or fairs to train your eye! Read more tips for judging the beauty of a colored stone in my blog post here.

5. Protect Yourself With A Gemstone Certificate

Today it’s a safe practice to ask for a lab certificate on any ruby, sapphire or emerald purchase over $1000.

For stones of lesser value I wouldn’t advise to get a certificate. Besides those famous stones, you can also ask for a certificate for high-quality spinels, certain tourmalines or garnets - provided they have a significant value.

Your gemstone vendor might charge a fee to facilitate this. It’ll be worth it. Not only for your own peace of mind but also if you want to sell the stone later on.

Ensure that the certificate:
1. comes from an international reputable gem lab, like Gübelin, GRS, GIA, SSEF, AIGS and NEVER from a small, local lab

2. states the name of the stone and the treatment, if any

3. states the origin of the stone (if you're a gem connoisseur who is keen to know this)

Origins like ‘Burma/Myanmar' or ‘Ceylon/Sri Lanka’ are desired origins for gem collectors and those stones will be sold at a premium.

I personally don’t care about origin so much as long as I have a very beautiful gemstone! So, I’d leave the famous origins (and their extreme premium prices) for the connoisseurs who almost value the provenance more than the actual beauty of a gem.

To sum up, after you've done some research on your own, feel free to ask the vendor's policy on the above, especially on gemstone treatments!

Don't be intimidated and try to get a specific answer. If that's not possible, go elsewhere. An educated consumer should be welcomed by a knowledgeable gem dealer. 

Did you recently purchase a gemstone? What questions did you ask before finalizing your purchase? Were you happy with the answers? Let me know, I'd love to hear!

And if you'd like personal guidance from a certified gemologist, gem dealer and jewelry designer, book a complimentary 1.5hrs private consultation with me to have all of your questions answered while exploring my collection of fine gems and jewelry pieces.

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