Composite Rubies Aren't as Durable as Natural Stones

Rubies fused with glass have been sold as natural stones in department stores.

ByABC News via logo
November 3, 2009, 6:59 PM

Nov. 4, 2009— -- Imagine spending thousands of dollars on a piece of jewelry only to find out it's not what you paid for. It's happening to consumers across the country, and some experts in the jewelry industry said it's time it stopped.

A relatively new category of rubies is being sold as the real deal. You probably aren't aware of them and, as "Good Morning America" found out, neither are some of the people selling them.

"GMA" went on an undercover shopping trip at major department stores with Antoinette Matlins, a professional gemologist and author of "Jewelry & Gems: The Buying Guide."

In a search for ruby jewelry, we were told time and again that what we were buying were real rubies.

"That's a real ruby, oh yes," said one employee at Macy's in Jersey City, N.J. But that wasn't really true.

"With gems, what you see with the eye alone does not begin to tell the full story," Matlins said.

Throughout history, the rarity of rubies has been celebrated. The centerpiece of the Imperial Crown of India is a ruby. In fact, the finest natural rubies sell for more than the finest colorless diamonds. But "GMA" learned that some companies are selling rubies that aren't entirely natural.

They're called composite rubies, a combination of ruby fused together with glass. To the naked eye, there's no difference, but examined under a microscope, gas bubbles that form as the glass cools can be seen in the composite rubies.

Experts say composite rubies are fragile, and that they're only worth a fraction of the value of natural rubies.

"There is a huge addition of glass in this particular product. And while it looks beautiful, extreme care needs to be exercised when you wear them," Matlins said.

"GMA" asked if the rubies we were buying needed special care.

"This doesn't need special care," a Macy's employee in New York City said.

But actually, the wrong care and cleaning can ruin composite rubies.

"These are not nearly as durable as a real ruby would be," said Craig Lynch, accredited senior gemologist at Ouellet and Lynch.