Once again, lead glass–filled rubies are the subject of unflattering media attention, this time from NBC’s Today show.
On July 28, the morning show broadcast a report from consumer reporter Jeff Rossen that criticized J.C. Penney, Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, and Littman Jewelers for selling the treated stones as genuine rubies.
As with the similar report in May on Inside Edition, the program featured gemologist Antoinette Matlins, as well as Chris Smith of American Gemological Laboratories and appraiser Gary Smith, arguing that the high amount of lead glass in these stones makes them less durable than natural rubies and unsuited to be called natural.
Gary Smith called one of the stones “ninety percent glass…almost all glass” that can be damaged by cleaning solution. “If you left [the stone in solution] long enough, it would literally fall apart,” he said.
“These are not real rubies, period,” Matlins said on the show. “They are not rare, they are not valuable, and they are not durable.” In the broadcast, Lord & Taylor—which was also featured on the Inside Edition segment—and J.C. Penney salespeople both verbally noted the pieces were “lead-glass rubies.” However, according to the show, both of them also called the stones natural when asked for further information, as did the salespeople from Littman and Macy’s. None of them disclosed special-care requirements, Matlins says.
The Federal Trade Commission is examining the subject of lead glass–filled rubies. While it is legal to sell the stones, the Guides mandate disclosure of the treatment and any special-care requirements. The Jewelers Vigilance Committee says that, under the current Guides, the stones should always be described as composite or lead-glass filled ruby. “For composite ruby, the words natural or gem are probably inappropriate descriptors,” it adds.
Fred Meyer Jewelers, which owns Littman, tells JCK: “We were very surprised and disappointed to hear that one of our associates failed to disclose the treatments used in a lead glass–filled ruby ring. We have a long-standing, strong, and clear policy about this, which we are immediately reissuing companywide…. Every single lead glass–filled gem that is sold is tagged with information clearly identifying it as such, and our salespeople have been instructed to educate consumers about the difference in treated stones and the specific care requirements associated.”
The company said that it will revisit its sales training to ensure this “is an isolated incident.”
J.C. Penney admitted that the item was incorrectly labeled.
“It was never our intention to mislead the customer,” a statement said. “Moving forward, we will update the tags on our lead glass–filled rubies by removing any references to genuine so that customers clearly understand the nature of this enhanced gemstone.”
Macy’s, which has faced issues with lead glass–filled rubies in the past—including a consumer lawsuit and segment on Good Morning America—said in a statement that it is training its sales associates to bring any relevant information to customers’ attention.
“Almost all of the ruby merchandise sold in Macy’s Fine Jewelry department has a base of the mineral corundum and is lead-glass filled,” it said. “In addition, some have been heated to improve appearance. Macy’s does not carry synthetic lab-created rubies that are sold by some other retailers. We have signs in Macy’s precious and semiprecious gemstone departments informing our customers that gemstones may have been treated and may require special care.”
Lord & Taylor did not respond to a request for comment from JCK by press time but told Today it will refund purchases if customers aren’t satisfied.
Jewelry manufacturer Effy, which was cited once in the broadcast, says the “report contains numerous factually inaccurate, unfair, and misleading statements,” which it will address at a later date, and it says it is considering “all options, including legal remedies.”
“Effy branded lead glass–filled ruby jewelry complies fully with FTC requirements,” the company adds. “Effy also adheres to acceptable industry guidelines relating to disclosure of ruby jewelry to all its retail and wholesale customers.”
It stresses that it does not manufacture the filled rubies itself, but buys them from suppliers, and adds the company is “making every effort to facilitate and improve the disclosures necessary to fully educate the consumer.”
Matlins tells JCK that lead glass–filled rubies are “the most misrepresented product ever sold in my lifetime in this industry,” but says that she has no plans to do more shows like these.
“I don’t look for these stories,” she says. “I have done so many of these that my name pops up. When they call me, I feel honor-bound to participate because of what is going on out there.”