Glass-filled rubies appear in investigative report
By Michelle Graff
Feb 10, 2010San Francisco--A TV news report claiming that lead-glass filled rubies were sold without proper disclosure at Macy's stores aired earlier this week on the West Coast, marking at least the second time that the stones made consumer news headlines.
On Sunday night, CBS 5 in San Francisco aired a report on an undercover operation in which members of a covert camera crew purchased ruby rings from Macy's stores in San Leandro, Cupertino and Serramonte, Calif. A similar report aired last fall on ABC News' Good Morning America.
According to the CBS 5 report, each ruby ring purchased contained a 1 3/8-carat ruby surrounded by diamonds with a 14-karat gold band. The rings were priced at $1,200 and the news crew paid between $600 and full price for each, according to the report.
Before each purchase, the reporters asked if the rubies they were buying were natural and all three sales associates answered "yes."
In the Serramonte Macy's store, the sales associate did mention that some stones are color-enhanced.
"I think they use just some liquid to make the color, like, even," she said, according to the report.
Pressed about the exact nature of the treatment, the associate pointed to an index card-sized sign that the report notes was present in all three Macy's stores.
It read in part: "Gemstones...often are treated and/or require special care, ask associate for details."
Later, examination by a master gemologist appraiser revealed that the purchased rubies were what some in the trade are calling "composite rubies," and were a mix of about 50 percent ruby and 50 percent glass. Such stones require special care as household cleaners and products such as lemon juice, soda and regular gem cleaner can cloud the glass filler.
According to the report, however, none of the sales associates provided the proper care advice and one advised cleaning the ring with baby shampoo.
Macy's declined an on-camera interview with CBS 5 but sent the news station a statement that read in part: "Ruby gemstones sold in settings in Macy's Fine Jewelry departments are genuine. We have signs in our precious and semi-precious gemstone departments to inform customers that gemstones may have been treated and may require special care...Rubies sold at Macy's represent an outstanding value for our customers."
The topic of composite rubies--and whether they should even be called "rubies"--was a hot issue at the recent Tucson gem shows, as the industry struggles to determine the proper nomenclature for these stones.
When asked about the CBS 5 report, Cecilia Gardner, president of legal watchdog organization the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, said without specifically examining the rubies sold at Macy's, she is not able to speculate on the company's disclosure requirements but did provide a general statement on the topic.
"If the product is not natural--and if it requires special care--then the seller is required to disclose this information," she said.
In addition to the expose, Macy's Logistics and Operations, a division of its corporate services, faces a lawsuit filed in December 2009 in California Superior Court by gemologist Cortney Balzan who used to work for Macy's West and claims his contract was terminated after he raised a red flag about the quality of the gemstones he inspected, including rubies that he alleges were represented as natural but were heavily filled with glass.
This is the second time in four months a TV news station has aired an expose on the sale of glass-filled rubies at Macy's.
In November, Good Morning America aired a similar story about Macy's in the New York area selling what turned out to be composite rubies without proper disclosure.