Good Gems, Bad Gems (Or How I learned to separate the glitter from the chickenfeed)

I visited a local vintage clothing store recently and was surprised to find what looked like a green aventurine wrist mala among the collection of costume jewelry. I picked it up, tried it on. It looked and felt similar to the green aventurine beads I used to sell by the strand at Earth, Wind and Bead and have since seen for sale at places like Michael’s… but something was a little off.

Being able to separate facsimile and costume pieces from the real deal is a useful skill for any jewelry crafter or aspiring fashionista to have. And when you shop vintage, you can’t always rely on the price tag to do the job for you. So here’s a few tips I’ve picked up over the years:

Gemstones are usually separated from the fake stuff by four criteria: weight, temperature, texture and color.

Color by itself is easy enough for gem sellers to fake — plenty of people buy dyed howlite, thinking it’s genuine turquoise — but matched against the other three criteria, it becomes easier to parse out the genuine articles from the imitations.

Weight is also very important. A faceted or rondelle quartz bead might look the same as glass and feel as smooth, but the glass bead will be heavier — particularly when there are 27 or 54 of them hanging off of a person’s neck or wrist.

Temperature is probably the strongest indicator. Gemstones tend to be cool to the touch, only absorbing heat when put in direct contact with a person’s skin. Most of the faceted gems like quartz or agate have a smooth, even glossy texture (obsidian is a good example). Other gems like hematite, howlite, sodalite or turquoise will be less luminous or “shiny” on the surface, but still smooth and cool.

The little mala I paid $1 for at the vintage shop ticked most of these boxes. The color was right for green aventurine. The weight was right for gemstone jewelry. The temperature was cool to the touch, like gemstones that have been left in the open air. The texture was.. off. One scratch test later, I found out why:

The beads were clear crystal quartz covered with a plastic green coating.

It was a sophisticated job — plastic coatings done cheaply will usually leave a seam, often on the outside of the beads somewhere, in plane view of a discerning eye. All of the beads on the mala were clean, no trace of a seam anywhere, even on the inside. And if there were, the sight color imperfections were concealed by the green elastic holding the piece together.

Hopefully, listening to my own advice, I won’t get fooled again — and neither will you!

~ by blackmoodcraft on March 18, 2012.

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