FTC Seeks Tighter Rules on Lead Glass–Filled Rubies, Rhodium Plating, Gemstone Varietals

Also in the works: new rules for pearl treatments and alloyed metals

The Federal Trade Commission has released its proposed revisions to its much-used jewelry guides, which tighten existing regulations on lead glass–filled rubies, rhodium-plated metals, and gemstone varietals such as yellow emeralds.

Jewelers Vigilance Committee president and CEO Cecilia Gardner stresses that the agency’s proposed revisions to its Guides for the Jewelry, Precious Metals, and Pewter Industries are not final, noting the 152-page document ends with 75 questions seeking further input on a variety of issues. But the proposed changes, which are the guide’s first significant reworking since 1996, “show where they want to go,” Gardner says.

All proposed revisions can be seen here.

?Gardner says these revisions struck her as most significant:

Lead glass–filled corundum can no longer be called ruby.

“A lot of these products are starting off with corundum rather than ruby,” she says. “Under the current guides there was a lot of ambiguity in this area. Some argued that these are just rubies even if they started as corundum.”

But the FTC argued that lead glass–filled corundum should be called either that or lead glass–filled composite corundum. Lead-glass rubies must be labeled either that or lead glass–filled composite ruby. As in the past, special care requirements must be disclosed.

This falls short of the standard sought by some industry groups, which wanted the terms composite or manufactured to be mandatory along with lead glass–filled.

The proposed note says that it’s deceptive to call a lead glass–filled ruby by the unqualified name ruby, a treated ruby, a lab-grown ruby or related name, a manufactured or hybrid ruby, or composite ruby without the lead glass–filled qualifier.

The terms yellow emerald and green amethyst will be disallowed.

The proposed guides issue strict new rules on gemstone varietals, saying that yellow emerald should not be used to describe a golden beryl or heliodor, nor green amethyst to describe prasiolite.

“This is a significant clarification,” says Gardner. “It says that emeralds are green, amethysts are purple.”*

Pearl treatments must be disclosed.

“The FTC has made it clear that gemstone treatment disclosure standards should apply to pearls,” Gardner says. “They have basically determined that pearls are gemstones.”

Rhodium plating of gold or silver must be disclosed.

If gold or silver is rhodium plated, consumers should be told, the FTC said, as this coating tends to wear away over time. Consumers must also be told that the surface of the product may not be permanent, it added.

Cultured can be used to describe lab-grown diamonds, but only if immediately accompanied by one of the allowed terms.

The FTC seeks to formalize the guidance, first issued in 2008, that lab-grown diamonds can be called cultured if that term is immediately accompanied by another one of the approved names for those stones ([company name]-created, laboratory-grown, or synthetic). 

This represents something of a compromise between the requests of lab-grown diamond company Gemesis (now Pure Grown), which sought to use the term cultured without a qualifier, and industry groups, which wanted the term banned outright. (On an international level, some groups, including CIBJO, already forbid the term.)

Marketers can list the metals used in an alloy, even if they fall below the minimum standards.

Despite the proliferation of below-threshold metals, the FTC wants to keep existing metals thresholds (10k for gold, .925 for silver, 500 per thousand for platinum).

But the FTC’s proposal says that if an alloy contains a below-threshold metal, the company can list it as long as it accurately discloses that metal’s purity and notes that the metal may not have the same attributes or properties as an above-threshold metal.

Gardner gives Tiffany’s Rubedo alloy as an example.

“In theory, Tiffany could not describe this alloy is having below 10k gold,” she says. “But they did in written explanations to the trade. It was very awkward.”

Reenah Kim, FTC staff attorney, says that if the proposed revisions have any theme, it’s exploring the effects of technological advancements and changes in the marketplace, and that the FTC’s guiding principle is preventing consumer deception. 

She says that any answers to the FTC’s questions have to be received before April 4. After that, they will be evaluated, and she says it’s “hard to predict” if final revisions will be issued this year.

Says Gardner: “I think it’s good news they decided to retain these guides. Other industry guides have disappeared. But the FTC has understood the role the guides in our industry.”

Adds Kim: “One of the questions we always raise is should we keep the guides. Here, nobody wrote in saying no.”

* – This sentence has been corrected due to the speaker being inaccurately quoted. We regret the error.

JCK News Director