I love gemstones. I have my favorites that seem to have an ability to charm and enchant me such that I can just stare at them in a hypnotic trance. I have been using genuine stones for decades and still am excited about them. It seems there are always new discoveries, new stones, new looks. Gemstones/genuine stones have a learning curve like most things in life. You learn to recognize them by name and the learning grows and continues. But here are some things I’ve observed that you might find useful if you are new to using genuine stones in your beading or you just love them.
Most stones are enhanced. Typically, they are dyed to bring out the color or smooth it by coloring areas that are lighter. Some stones take dye very well and this is not an issue related to the future appearance, the dye permeates the stone and it will look the same today as 50 years in the future. Others don’t take dye as well and if exposed to sunlight (like in a window display in a store) may change the color by either fading or changing the hue. Unfortunately dyed stones are almost impossible to avoid since there is no requirement to label the stones as dyed. And sometimes it doesn’t matter since the dye is so permanent. I have observed that dyes that are pinks, reds, and purples tend to be the most sensitive to sunlight exposure. And… one of my general rules is: If the stone is pink (especially hot pink), bright red, or purple AND if it isn’t super expensive, then the color is a result of a dye. This is because nature rarely produces these colors so while they do exist, they are really expensive. (lol, my general rule is if I can afford it, it probably is not natural!).
Only gemstone grade garnets are natural. ALL other garnets are dyed. Always wash any garnet beads in soapy water before using them in your designs. If you don’t, you will find any neck sweat will quickly turn your neck red…
Labels Labels Labels. As I said before there is no requirement about labeling stones as dyed or enhanced in any way. You can purchase your stones from a trusted source, but I have found issues there too… They can only report what they know and sometimes they simply are not told the truth. So, it is not a bad idea to wash every stone strand you purchase in soapy water…. Or, do as I do: wash all garnets, wash all pinks and purples, and wash anything else that I have even a suspicion of. It won’t hurt the stones and could be a help. If you see the water tinting to a color, you know you were right!
Names of stones:
This is a pet peeve of mine, but I also recognize it is a complicated area. So, first let me explain the complication. A stone is scientifically identified by its molecular components. It has a MOH (hardness) rating and a structure for the stone. Quartz for example has a crystalline structure. You can take the same recipe of stuff that is in quartz and lab-create something… the problem is that it won’t have the crystalline structure which typically can only be tested by crushing the piece. This became an issue with Strawberry Quartz which is a natural stone BUT is very expensive and was re-created in glass and labeled as “Strawberry Quartz” in quotes. But the quotes typically didn’t make it on the label. Many stores/suppliers began to call these created pieces Strawberry Quartz Glass but not all did. This is one type of complication.
Another type is the “assembled” type of complication. The best example of this is amber. Amber is very soft. When you carve or otherwise shape a piece of amber into a round bead or other form, then there are leftover shavings/scraps. You can take these scraps and press them together is form a new piece of amber. This is “reconstituted” amber. Natural amber and reconstituted amber are both expensive (it’s amber after all…. ) and you have no way of proving that reconstituted amber is not natural, there is no test that differentiates the two. So trust in your supplier is the key here. While both are expensive, natural amber is even more expensive.
This same issue is involved with turquoise versus chalk turquoise. Turquoise is an extremely soft stone, therefore it is always permeated with a resin. If it wasn’t, it would simply crumble. So, natural turquoise bead or cabs are made of turquoise and resin. Chalk turquoise is the remnants, of carving/shaping turquoise and is infused with resin and reconstituted. Typically, dye is also added. If you do a chemical test on each you get the same answer: turquoise with resin. And there is no requirement to label chalk turquoise as chalk turquoise versus just saying turquoise. If this matters to you, then check with your supplier but keep in mind, they may have been misled too.
Another complicated factor is that some stones scientifically are one stone but can have many appearances. Probably the best example of this is Serpentine. So, from a practical point of view for beaders, it isn’t helpful or useful to call it all Serpentine when one piece looks so different from another. Therefore, Serpentine has nick-names depending on its appearance. Yellow Turquoise, New Jade, and Olive Jade are all examples of Serpentine. This is NOT Turquoise that is yellow any more than it is Jade. Again, these names are in “quotes” but the quotes get left off, they are all Serpentine. Rhyolite is another stone with many appearances and has nicknames for the various looks such as Rain Forest Jasper and Noondrite.
So, this brings me to a pet peeve of mine. You will quickly notice that nicknames and new names for stones (you find it, you name it) are intentionally misleading. Key words people use are jade and opal because there is a familiarity and general belief in the value of these stones. So, call Serpentine “New Jade” or brown-green chalcedony “Green Opal”. This elevates people’s opinion of the stone but it is not real. I at least understand a certain need here to more adequately describe the appearance of a stone, but in the case of “Blue Labradorite” there is no such need. This is actually Larvikite and is mined in only one area…. it has only ONE appearance and this nick-name is solely (IMHO) to mislead.
So now I will get off my soapbox (which is carved chalk turquoise with inlaid mother of pearl – gorgeous!) and hope you have learned a few things. Remember, you can always do some web-searching to explore or learn… just do it with a lapidary or scientific site that doesn’t sell anything so they have no other motivations.