From the President of the
Queensland Sapphire Producers Association - 17 November,
Hon. John Howard, Prime
Minister of Australia. QLD. 4702.
Hon. Peter Beattie, Premier of Queensland.
Sale of Artificially Treated Gemstones Without Disclosure.
We wish to bring to your
attention the availability of artificially treated,
chemically modified and radiation enhanced gemstones in
Australia without any form of disclosure as to the
treatments given or to the true nature of the gems.
Whilst the U.S.A. (and other countries) have recognised this
rapidly growing problem and have introduced strong.
legislation to protect consumers, Australian jewellery and
gemstone buyers have no clear protection from the actions of
unscrupulous traders and, in fact, many buyers are not even
aware of the very existence of these modified materials on
Some of the treatments used have been around for a long time
and have either been recognised by the gemstone industry or
have been readily identifiable.
However, some of the newer forms of artificial modification
are very sophisticated and are much more difficult to detect
by other than trained gemmologists. This has enabled
uncaring traders to pass them off as "real, natural gems",
and so achieve a significantly higher price than would
otherwise have been achieved.
Some of the newer forms of artificial modification involve
various levels of radiation treatment, which can sometimes
be extreme. The factories involved in these radiation
modifications say that they hold the treated gemstones back
from sale until after the radiation decay has reached an
"acceptably safe level", but this is not always true.
The consequences of this deception can be separated into two
1. Financial Deception.
The value of any gemstone is, in the most simple terms, a
product of the inherent beauty of that gem and of its
Whilst the primary aim of carrying out the artificial
modification of a gemstone is to improve its colour or its
clarity (or both) in order to increase the beauty and
therefore the saleability of otherwise lower quality
gemstones, the very fact that the final appearance is a
result of man's interference greatly reduces the rarity and
therefore lowers the value.
Many consumers are not made aware of this lower value and
believe that the article that, they have purchased contains
a genuine, natural, valuable gemstone and are often
unpleasantly surprised at a later date when their "precious"
jewel is presented to a qualified gemmologist for
identification or valuation to find that it may only be
worth a fraction of the purchase price.
2. Health and Safety
Many gemstones are now altered by radiation treatments and
some of these treatments are extreme.
Most gemstone buyers would not be aware that almost all the
modified blue topaz sold as "London Blue" or "Super Blue"
are produced by direct neutron radiation, or that other
gemstones including diamonds, beryl, sapphire, tourmaline,
zircon, quartz and even pearls may have been subjected to
radiation in some form to produce the "desired" result.
Whilst all experienced and qualified jewellers and
gemmologists are fully aware of this radiation treatment, it
is extremely rare to find it acknowledged in any sales
information despite the obvious importance for the consumer
to be made aware of it.
We were even made aware at one public gem show of the severe
health problems and eventual death of one Queensland lady
which was directly attributed to the wearing of a ring with
an irriadated blue topaz which was found subsequently to
still be highly emissive.
3. Chemical Treatments.
The range of treatments applied covers almost all gemstones
and would require several volumes to cover completely.
For example, a. significant proportion of sapphires offered
for sale here in Australia have been chemically. modified by
a bulk diffusion process which principally used beryllium,
but may also include other elements such as lithium,
The modification process, we understand, involves heating
the sapphires to some 1850 degrees Centigrade, in the
presence of powdered beryllium or crushed beryllium
During a recent Canberra gem show, we were visited by
scientists from the Australian National University who had
heard of this process and were enquiring as to whether it
was really true that this was done.
These ANU personnel advised us that, not only is beryllium a
highly toxic material, but all the beryllium salts are known
to be carcenogenic. As a result of this, the release of any
beryllium or vaporised salts during the high temperature
treatment process would have significant health
consequences, and there was even some concern that the very
small residual amount in the treated gemstone may have
lasting health consequences.
Of particular concern was the fact that, whilst the bulk of
the treatment is carried out overseas, there are beryllium
treatment furnaces operating here in Australia even here in
We have discussed the necessity for full and adequate
disclosure of all treatments with representatives of the
Gemmological Association of Australia and of the National
Council of Jewellery Valuers. The people with whom we have
discussed this have unanimously stated that there should be
strict legal requirements for clear and adequate disclosure
as part of a responsible gemstone and jewellery marketing
We have also contacted the
Jewellers Association of Australia, but have had no
effective response from that body despite the fact that
their members (whilst admittedly. some may be profiting from
sales of undisclosed modified gemstones) are the people who
will have maximum exposure to litigation as a result of
legal actions by disillusioned or aggrieved buyers.
Australia, although we only have a small population, is seen
by Asian processors as an affluent society where gemstones
can be sold at relatively high prices with no necessity to
disclose any artificial treatments to modified gemstones in
fact, we are seen as a "soft target"!
We attach copies of the face page, of a detailed article in
the Gemmological Institute of America magazine "Gems and
Gemmology" which gives some detail of the legislation
introduced to protect U.S.A. consumers.
We also attach a copy of information taken from the G.I.A.
website which gives detail on the legislated testing
requirement for radiation treated gemstones which are
intended for sale in the U.S.A..
The introduction of clear, enforceable legislation demanding
testing of any radiation treated gemstones and full
disclosure of all treatments applied will not only provide
consumer protection against unscrupulous or uncaring
traders, but will also assist in protecting our Australian
natural gemstone industries.
Since the undisclosed sale of artificially treated gemstones
touches on legal, commercial and consumer issues as well as
the obvious health and safety related matters, we are
sending this information to you as heads of your Governments
with the fervent plea that you initiate action to protect
the interests of Australian consumers and producers without
There are alarge number of genuine, caring jewellers who
take the interests of their clients to heart and issue
Certificates to guarantee their products and provide full
details on the origin, treatment and authenticity of their
It is not in the interests of these genuine jewellers, the
consumers or our own natural gemstone producers, that this
misinformation and deception be allowed to continue.
(Mrs) Jenny Elliot,
Gemmological Association of
National Council of Jewellery Valuers.
Jewellers Association of Australia.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Australian National University.
Australian Medical Association.
Australian Facetors Guild.
Member for Maranoa.
Member for Gregory
Quoted from Gems and
Gemmology - Summer 2004, Volume 40, Issue 2
Gem Treatment Disclosure and U.S. Law
Thomas W. Overton
In recent years, the
obligation to fully disclose all gem treatments has changed
from a mere ethical responsibility to a legal one. The U.S.
Federal Trade Commission Guides for the gem and jewelry
trade, which were fairly simple rules in the early 20th
century, now require disclosure of any treatment to a gem
material that substantially affects its value. In addition,
all state deceptive trade practice regulations in the U.S.
require that vendors not mislead customers as to the
treatment status of gems they sell. Finally, vendors should
also be aware that insufficient disclosure can subject them
to substantial civil liability for fraud by nondisclosure.
Several case studies demonstrate the serious risks involved
in not complying with this body of rules and regulations.