Dyed or Natural Gemstones? How to Tell the Difference

The Story of "Sleeping Beauty Turquoise"

When I first started working with gemstone beads, I went online and ordered some stones listed as “Sleeping Beauty turquoise” howlite. I know, I know. I was young and mercurial and didn’t really know what I was reading in that description—I just saw the Sleeping Beauty turquoise part. You might not be surprised (especially if you read jewelry trade magazines like Colored Stone) to learn that what I received in the mail was “obnoxiously-blue-and-shiny” dyed howlite. Oh, well. I should have at least had the good sense to remember you get what you pay for. Lesson learned.

Has this happened to you? If you ever buy semi precious stones, I’m sure it has at least once. It can even happen at a gem show or bead shop: you encounter a table full of unlabeled strands of stones and unless you know a lot about gems or can drag a knowledgeable someone along with you, it’s a bit of a crapshoot. And if you’re anything like me, you sometimes buy on impulse. (Did I just say “sometimes”?) The key here is to talk, talk, talk to the vendor or shop owner. Ask everything about the gemstones you have your eye on—what type are they? The properties? Are they dyed or enhanced in any way?

American Gem Trade Association's Enhancement Codes

When you order stones from a reputable dealer on their website or from their catalog, you’ll have a little extra cushion if the vendor uses the American Gem Trade Association’s Enhancement Codes to describe them. You just need to know the symbols to look for (see the chart below for a quick overview). A listing with these codes for the funky stones I bought might look like this: Blue howlite nuggets (D). Who knows, I may have still made the purchase, but at least I wouldn't have been so surprised when I received them. Another lesson I learned with that old purchase? Anything in quotation marks means “resembles,” not “the real thing.”

Short of going to gemology school, you can get a great education about stones by reading Colored Stone, a trade magazine that covers the gamut of the gemstone industry, from mining and processing to trends in jewelry design. Check out www.colored-stone.com to get a flavor of the type of in-depth articles you’ll find about the journey some of the beads in our stashes take from ground to store.  Consider subscribing to Colored Stone if you'd like this kind of detailed gemstone information sent to your home every other month. After becoming an "expert" gemologist, use your knowledge to create some amazing handmade gemstone jewelry!

Do you have a story about buying stones that weren't, well, what you expected? Or stone-buying tips for other Beading Daily readers? Share them on the website.

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