About Unique Semiprecious Stones: Fake Gemstone Beads

One of the oldest techniques for enhancing or faking stones is dying.  It’s relatively easy with porous stones like howlite which can be dyed to look like turquoise where the pores and spaces between the micro crystals allow dye to penetrate.  However, single crystal gems like aquamarine and quartz are not good candidates because the dye will only penetrate surface fractures.  We want to share our experience identifying fake beads purchased in the heart of aquamarine and tourmaline pegmatite mining country in mineral rich Minas Gerais , Brazil.

Our trip to Brazil was a group tour specifically organized for studying and purchasing gemstones and mineral specimens.  It was sponsored by the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History so we were among several gem experts.  Over a two week period, we visited numerous gemstone mines, dealers, museums, and gem shows.  At every location in every town we were eagerly greeted by 5 to 10 persistent “street dealers” offering cut gemstones, beads, and mineral specimens at ridiculously low prices.  We were fully aware that some offerings were fakes and some were real, but the prices were so low it really didn’t matter much at the time.  Because aquamarine and other beryl gemstones were abundant in the area, one of our purchases from a street dealer was aquamarine, citrine, green tourmaline, and amethyst chip beads. 

 Recently we decided to use these beads to make an attractive necklace.

Necklace Before Tumbling

After finishing necklaces our standard practice is to use a rock tumbler with steel shot to clean and polish the silver.  After the short tumbling process we looked at the necklace and discovered that the beautiful aquamarine and citrine was only clear quartz.

Necklace After Tumbling

This was the bad news. The good news was that we made the discovery and not one of our customers.  Our mistake was to assume that these beads were real instead of checking them out.  In less than 5 minutes we could have identified the fake beads by simply wiping them with a cloth soaked in rubbing alcohol or acetone. When wiped with the cloth the aquamarine turned white and the cloth turned blue.  Both the citrine and aquamarine were fakes, but the tourmaline and the amethyst were real.  One further surprise, we like the necklace better without the dyed beads!

Silver and Stones is always interested in learning more about how to identify fake gemstones.  Can you share a similar experience?

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