Dot-Com Mis-Com

Not everything you read on the Internet is true, and even some information that’s meant to be true may unintentionally mislead. Consider Tanzanite.com. Martin Haske, an appraiser and gemologist in Brookline, Mass., visited the site after a client challenged him to check out its information page “to see what ‘true’ prices are and what a real dealer sells.”

Haske found the selling prices. He also found confusing and incorrect enhancement information. According to Tanzanite.com, “The heat treatment of tanzanite is not used to create color. All tanzanite are heated on a natural fire upon cutting the stones. This heat helps to bring out the color that already exists in the stones.”

That’s not correct. Tanzanite’s blue-violet color-even that of the few naturally occurring tanzanites-comes about only by heat-treating brown zoisite.

“Their information page provides a classic example of convoluted logic or of a simple disconnect in understanding how we get from the raw material to the treated gemstone,” says Elly Rosen, founder of Appraisers Information Service (AIS). His group maintains the online Gems and Jewelry Reference (GJR) and the Appraisers’ Information Network (AIN).

Rosen speculates that the Tanzanite.com page probably went up before the recent FTC Guide’s revision on gemstone treatment disclosure was published. The earlier Guides didn’t require disclosure of treatments that are permanent and that do not create special care and handling requirements. But Rosen points out that there’s a difference between not being required to disclose and “disclosing” misinformation. “I truly think they just don’t get it or don’t know how to explain that natural tanzanite is not the gem color we see and sell, but a post-heated color that finishes in different qualities depending on the stone you start with,” Rosen says.

Yet Tanzanite.com also offers this: “The rough, or rather the actual uncut stones, are taken from the mines in a brownish-reddish color. It is only after being heated that the stones exhibit their distinctive blue-violet color.”

That statement is correct. But it’s at odds with the site’s “heat treatment of tanzanite is not used to create color” statement.

“To give them the benefit of the doubt, we might write this off [as] a language problem,” says Rosen. He adds, “Regardless, they’ve provided a very good example for others of how to avoid a convoluted explanation intended to help the consumer.”

Ironically, the Web site warns consumers that they may not be getting enough correct information from retailers. On its “About Us” page, Tanzanite.com states: “Knowledge is a very important tool for a consumer to have before purchasing anything-and most importantly before purchasing a beautiful gem or piece of jewelry that they may wear for many years to come. We feel that it may be difficult for consumers to gain adequate knowledge of tanzanite by simply visiting a retail store … or a retail Web site. And without having the proper information, a consumer will never really know what they purchased or why they purchased it.”