Beware Glass-Filled Ruby, Trade Warns



Industry groups have teamed up to issue an urgent message: Glass-filled ruby is out there, and it’s not being disclosed.

On Dec. 20, a coalition of six industry associations published a consumer advisory noting the increased amount of lead-glass-filled rubies in the marketplace, warning they are often sold without disclosure, “with no information on the required special care to maintain the appearance of the product.” The release notes that certain actions, including common exposure to heats, acids, and polishing, can drastically alter and even ruin the appearance of these products.  

The six groups behind the statement are the American Gemological Laboratories, American Gem Trade Association, Gem Research Swisslab, Jewelers Vigilance Committee, Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America, and the New York Gemstone Association.

The statement called on ruby sellers to disclose any and all treatments, noting that nondisclosure is a violation of Federal Trade Commission guidelines. “There is, and always has been, a legal responsibility to disclose not only the treatment but also the special care required with this product,” Douglas K. Hucker, CEO of the AGTA, tells JCK.

In fact, depending on the level of treatment and lead glass filling to which this material has been subject, it may be improper to use the name ruby alone to describe these products, the statement notes.

Nondisclosure can also cause financial loss to retailers and consumers who think they are buying rubies at bargain prices, and damage overall consumer confidence in the industry, according to the statement.

Undisclosed treated ruby has been a problem for a long time, according to Bear Williams, director of Stone Group Lab in Jefferson City, Mo. Williams says the material started showing up in the trade seven years ago. He worked with industry leaders to help strengthen disclosure language when he saw that much of it was not being revealed for what it was.

“If you know what you’re buying, it’s okay and the product should not be demonized,” he explains. “But if people are buying what they think are natural rubies, then we’ve got some serious issues.” 

Gemologist and author Antoinette Matlins, who aided Good Morning America in a nationwide investigation of undisclosed ruby composite products in 2009, notes that even lemon juice can damage a lead-glass-treated ruby.

“Clearly in the gemological community, there is growing concern about communicating that these are not like any other ruby,” she tells JCK. “If a product no longer behaves like a ruby, then it can’t be called a ruby. Ask any bench jeweler about how lead-glass-treated rubies behave. Their chemical composition is no longer essentially that of a corundum.”

The groups behind the statement noted that while FTC regulations do not mandate exact wording to identify the products or disclose treatments, a compilation of descriptions and classifications used by some gemological laboratories and trade associations are outlined here:

American Gem Trade Association: “Glass filled composite ruby, special care required.” See Gemstone Information Manual.

American Gemological Laboratories [as printed in AGL reports]: “Composite Ruby” – With comments. “This stone represents a composite of natural corundum and glass, also known as Hybrid Ruby.” Additional comments – the material is heavily treated … vastly improving the apparent clarity and adding weight. With special care warnings.

Gemological Institute of America: For a vast majority of this material (LMHC Info Sheet 3 Levels 2 & 3), GIA will not issue ruby reports but will issue identification reports and the description “a manufactured product consisting of glass and ruby” and that “this product is known to be unstable” and requires special care. 

Gemological Research Swisslab: “Synthetic Glass/Treated Ruby” (GRS–type “Hybrid Ruby”) with comments heat-treated and filled with a colored foreign solid substance (including lead). Special care required when handling, also known as composite ruby.

For tips on how to spot this material, check out JCK’s earlier reporting on the topic, “The Ruby Slip.”

JCK News Director