Tips on How to Identify Gemstones in Estate Jewelry

The beauty of a piece of estate jewelry is usually based on the gemstone or gemstones used.  As you prepare to sell your heirloom jewelry or make an estate jewelry purchase there are a few things to learn about gemstones that may help you in your endeavor.

Before you take your inherited jewelry to a retailer to sell or before you make your purchase, you should take a closer look at the gemstones in the piece. 
A small amount of knowledge may give you the power to limit your risk of a bad deal.

There are three types of stones used in jewelry.  First, natural stones are those stones that are created, naturally in the earth.  A close exam of the stone with either a microscope or loupe will help find features that will help identify if the stone is natural.  A second type of stone that should be considered is synthetic stones.  Synthetic stones are made by man in a laboratory using the same mineral components as natural stones, but using heat and pressure in a controlled environment to create a similar gemstone.  A third type of stone is the imitation stone.  Imitation stones take the basic appearance of a natural gemstone. However, imitation stones may be made using anything, including plastic or glass.

Do not make the assumption that the stone is real and therefore the ring is worth a fortune.  Just because an estate ring is old or because it was your grandmother’s special ring that was worn only on Thanksgiving and Christmas when it was taken out of the vault, does not mean that the stone is valuable or real.  Unfortunately, it is not always the case that the stones are natural. We have seen many antique rings and earrings that were considered to be priceless family heirloom jewelry.  However, upon a closer exam we found that the large blue sapphire was really plastic or that the always treasured, huge natural alexandrite was a very inexpensive and poorly made lab created sapphire.
Rubies and Sapphires (both are Corundum)

In order to test a ruby or sapphire to see if it is real, try to find a diamond testing instrument.  Test the colored stone with the diamond testing tool, it won’t actually reach the diamond measurement level, however, it should come close to that level.  Diamonds, rubies and sapphires are heat conductors, so all these gemstones will move the needle on a diamond tester.  Age is not an indication of a natural stone.  Synthetic sapphires and rubies first came to market in the late 1800s.
A close look with a microscope or loupe should help identify whether the stone is natural.  Look for inclusions that will help identify the stone as natural, or lack of inclusions that will lead you to believe that the item may be synthetic.  A large ruby or sapphire without inclusions is very rare and may be synthetic.
During the 1920s to the 1930s, in lieu of diamonds, catalog companies would sell synthetic white sapphires to offer a less expensive product.

Alexandrite is very often misidentified. Two clues should alarm you that a ring is not alexandrite.  The first clue is the stone size.  Rarely will you find a “really huge” piece of alexandrite.  The second clue that you are not looking at Alexandrite is the range of color change.  If the color change is blue and purple, don’t get excited – you probably are not viewing Alexandrite.   Based on the light source, Alexandrite generally changes color from red to green.

Color Zoning
When using your loupe to examine a colored stone, look for color zoning to see areas that the stone does not have an even color distribution.  Meaning that one part of the stone may be darker than the other part of the stone and not have an even color.  Lab created stones generally have an even color disbursement.  Nature is not always even or perfect in the creation of gemstones.  Often colored stones with zoning are exceptionally pretty, though, usually not the most expensive.  Zoning is more obvious in citrine and amethysts.

Stone Cuts
Natural stones have to be cut in order to show the best features of the stone and to maximize the size, therefore not all cuts in natural stones are going to be as precise as those found in a synthetic stone.

When you examine a gemstone and see a round, bubble-like appearance, consider that this is probably a created stone or that it may be glass.  Natural stones would have inclusions that appear to be straight lines or lines that look like falling rain.  Synthetics stones will have curved lines or curvy color bandings.

Doublets and Triplets
A factor to consider while you examine an estate ring’s gemstone is whether a doublet or triplet has been used.  Examine the side of your gemstone with either a loupe or a microscope.  Look for a layered appearance.  These two or three layers may reveal that the stone is a doublet or triplet.  Doublets and triplets are separate layers of different materials that have been fused together to create the appearance of a larger gemstone and to reduce the expense of a gemstone.  The top layer may be a thin layer of a gemstone, while the layer or layers beneath may be glass.   Garnets are probably the most often used stone for the top layer, while other types of layers may be placed beneath to add depth of color.

Synthetic gemstones have become so complicated that not all experts are able to identify them, often with full laboratory equipment.
When you are selling your used jewelry, it is always a good idea to take your jewelry to an independent jewelry appraiser to value your items. Try to interview two or three appraisers to value your jewelry.  Never use an appraiser that engages in the retail jewelry business, this is a true conflict of interest. Ask ahead if the jewelry appraiser is familiar with appraising antique jewelry or colored gemstones.

How to Identify Gemstones Used in Estate Jewelry
By: E. Montgomery
Ten Two Three Estate Jewelry
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