Should your Gem Purchase Come with a Certificate of Authenticity?

Should your Gem Purchase Come with a Certificate of Authenticity?

Does this gem come with a certificate of authenticity? This is a question we are being asked almost every week, especially on Etsy. This used to be a rare question aimed at high value items, but now it is common, even for items as low as $1.50 a piece (I am not joking!). The context of the question is understandable given the number of gems sold under false pretenses. With just photos and description, and perhaps a U.S. drop ship location but no other legitimate business information online, it is difficult to know when you are being sold what you bought, and when someone is trying to cheat you.

Personally, the number of gems I buy from companies without referral is zero. Even on location I start with people I know or people I know through others. As a reseller that lives in the U.S. and is bound by U.S. consumer protection laws, I have to be able to stand by my goods. Also, if Etsy were to close or censure my shop due to a complaint about cheating, I could not just open another one the way vendors from other countries do. As a U.S. business, I would need a new tax I.D. for that. Then I’d have to create a whole new business identity and start over, which is not worth my time or effort. It’s way cheaper and easier to just be honest, whereas if I had a foreign account on Etsy or sold direct on Instagram from overseas, I would not have a tax I.D. in the first place. I could therefore create as many identities as I wanted to. On Instagram this is particularly common as zero references are needed. It’s easy to just add photos from other accounts or anything else downloaded, attract customers with those, then pretend the gems are sold and offer one’s own cheaper, and unverified goods. I continue to be amazed at how many buyers there must be for that kind of thing.

When I get asked to provide certificates, however, I am in a predicament. The AGTA rules of ethics prohibit me from offering any home-made printout that says ‘certificate.’ So I can’t just go to Staples and get laminated cards printed - nor would I want to but let’s set that aside for the moment. According to the AGTA, I must also disclose all treatments at the point of sale (i.e., in the Etsy listings). Furthermore, I cannot claim that a gem is ‘investment grade’ or any other type of grade, like triple A or whatever people use as marketing terms. Nor may I use the now obsolete term ‘semi-precious.’ Lastly, I must provide full disclosure and I cannot use hyperbole or self-referencing. (There are actually a lot more rules but this gives you a basic idea).

So what is it that CRD can offer by way of guarantee for its gems? Let’s review the legitimate options.

  1. A written bill of sale with all the details. We are often asked for a separate bill because Etsy does not automatically add all that information to the invoices, and we do not have the ability to change what you can print. A written bill of sale or invoice will be helpful if you want to add your gem or jewelry piece to your homeowner’s insurance policy.
  2. An appraisal from an independent appraisal service such as Gemological Appraisal Laboratory.

Appraisals cost about $60 and will include all relevant information such as type of gem or gems used in the jewelry, the dimensions and weights as well as the current estimated insurance replacement value (or another value of your choosing). The limitations of an appraisal report, however, are that while most appraisal labs can I.D. a gemstone, diamond or metal, and can make sure that nothing is fake, they cannot determine details such as origin or in some cases, treatment of gems. For origin determination, a lab needs to have a library of comparative scans and expensive X-Ray equipment. Most appraisal labs do not have these. Heat treatment or fillers are usually detectable by an appraisal lab, but the type or degree of filler used is another matter. For example, an appraisal report can say that the gem is an emerald that is oiled, but not that it is a Colombian emerald with a moderate amount of cedar wood oil. The only exception I want to mention is that if you have a gem that already has a laboratory report stating origin and treatment, you can hand that to the appraisal laboratory together with the gem and/or the jewelry it is in, and get it appraised for value. CRD sometimes gets appraisal reports for expensive items so that clients can have the satisfaction of knowing they are paying a fair price.

  1. A report from a gemological laboratory such as GIA, GRS, AGL, etc. These reports typically do not state value. They often come in two forms, such as a smaller report card like AGL’s Gem Brief for $70, which will provide ID, photo and measurements, as well as enhancement information.

    For AGL, the minimum gem size is .25 carats and up, probably because it is difficult to get accurate reads on anything smaller. (Some labs, such as GIA, offer batch testing for smaller gems). A gem brief will not state gem origin or degree of enhancement, however. When it comes to the question of heat/no heat, no further qualification is needed, but with fillers, the type or degree of filler can be valuable information. If origin or degree of enhancement are needed, AGL offers a Prestige Origin Report that starts at $230 for a single gem.

    A matched pair will require two separate reports, though one can request the reports be combined into one. Many of our more expensive gems come with an AGL Gem Brief or Prestige Report, depending on the value of the gem and the information we thought would be most valuable for you to have.

    A cheaper alternative to the AGL colored stone report is GIA, which tends to be in the range of $85 (GIA offers only full-size reports, no laminated cards). 

    So: where does this leave the buyer of a $3 no heat tiny sapphire who demands a certificate of authenticity (or whatever else they call it)? Honestly, there will not be any guarantees other than those made by the seller unless there’s an independent way for the buyer of vetting the seller him or herself. The gem cannot be verified in any way that makes financial sense for either the buyer or the seller to pursue.

    And how do you vet a seller? Depending on where you live or where are buying from, you might look into fair business practices of the relevant country and what kind of protection these provide for you as a foreign buyer. In the U.S., Europe, Canada and Australia, for example, the law provides some safety for you, and as I said above, cheating is not so easy to do. You might get away with it once or twice, but not on a continuous basis.

    Also, you can look into what organizations the seller is a member of. For U.S. sellers the most prestigious is the AGTA, which has fairly strict membership guidelines. But there are others, such as the American Gem Society or IGS, the International Gem Society. I’m not the best person to ask about these, but all of these societies have their guidelines posted on their websites and you can ask if a member is in good standing.

    If I was to spend more than a few bucks on a gem, or if it was very important to me that the jewelry I am making contains even small gems that are what a seller says they are, I would buy only from sellers that meet the following conditions: they come with references that I can check, they sell within countries that have consumer protection laws and/or are members of a reliable gem association. I would simply skip the other sellers.

    Does that mean that at times you will be paying more for a gem because you are buying from a more reliable seller? Yes, it will mean that, and that’s the trade off you need to decide for yourself. The source countries for most gems are developing nations and these cannot necessarily offer the assurances you want. This is why experienced gem sellers have the role of functioning as a middle man, and as the guarantor of your purchase. That is the only way.