But a composite ruby is not natural; its beauty is created in a lab. The stone is fused with glass to look like a genuine ruby.
Ron Nelson says he had never heard of glass composite rubies when he bought some from a TV auction channel.
“It looked like a beautiful red ruby,” he said.
You can’t spot a composite with the naked eye. But under the microscope, the difference is dramatic.
The natural ruby is on the left, and the composite on the right.
See those bubbles in the composite stone? They’re air bubbles trapped inside the glass material.
“There’s a huge addition of glass in this particular product. And while it looks beautiful, extreme care needs to be exercised when you wear them,” said professional gemologist Antoinette Matlins.
Unlike real rubies, composites are not totally stable. Lynch showed ABC News what happens when a composite is exposed to the chemicals jewelers typically use.
After 2 minutes, the chemicals start to eat away at the glass.
“If it were a regular ruby and just all ruby, nothing would happen,” he said. “You could leave it in there for days.”
Ninety minutes later, even more damage was visible. Lemon juice or household cleaners can also damage a composite ruby.
A Seattle-area woman – let’s call her “Diane” – paid $5,000 for a necklace at a local auction. Based on what the auctioneer said, she thought she bought real rubies.
“He walked around and was showing us the necklace. What he was saying was, ‘Rubies and diamonds set in 14k gold,'” she said.
Ted Irwin, director of the Northwest Gemological Laboratory in Bellevue, examined the necklace and immediately spotted the air bubbles.
“They have a very high degree of lead glass in them, and I would call them composite rubies,” he said.
Irwin also showed me the quality analysis report that came with the necklace. It never says the gem is composite or glass-filled.
But I noticed the bottom of the report was cut off. Diane says that was done right in front of her.
“When I went up to the cash register to use my VISA card, I could see her cutting off the bottom of the evaluation. And I didn’t see what was cut off,” she said.
I got a copy of the full report sent to me by the appraiser. The part that had been cut cut off said, “color enhancement by lead glass fracture filling.”
I contacted Kingston Auctions to find out just what happened. In a statement to KOMO News, the company said it is investigating, but added:
“We suspect this was done by one of our salespersons without the management’s knowledge or approval.”
The company says it is not aware of any similar instances, and it has offered Diane a full refund.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with selling a composite ruby as long as the customer knows exactly what he or she is buying — a ruby that’s fragile and only worth one-tenth as much as genuine ruby.
With so many composites on the market, you need to be really careful if you want a real ruby.
Stick with a reputable jeweler. Ask a lot of questions, including, “Is this a composite ruby?” And get the answer in writing, on the receipt.
If you bought a ruby within the past three years, you might want find out what you got. Ted Irwin at Northwest Gemological Laboratory in Bellevue will give you a free analysis. The offer is by appointment only.