Las Vegas Overwatch: Natural Turquoise-Plastic Composite?
A re-print of the investigation from our JCK Las Vegas report
Editor’s Note: After yesterday’s newsletter on dyed quartz, I received many requests to re-run the original article on the fake turquoise sold at JCK Las Vegas referenced in that article. Below is the article from 6 August 2014, along with the certificate issued by the GIA calling the material “Natural Turquoise”. The article is under our original ISG name and I have left that intact in order for continuity of the information.
During our initial report on the JCK Las Vegas show I reported on a set of bracelets I purchased from a dealer (name will be withheld) a couple of rows over from the Navajo Arts and Crafts Enterprise booth. The issue was that the seller had the bracelets clearly marked as “Turquoise” and “Stabilized Turquoise”. The problem was that, under magnification, the material was obviously not natural turquoise. The bracelets were made of either plastic, or a plastic material made with the powdered remnants of the turquoise cutting process.
The other issue is that the term “Turquoise” should properly be used to refer to the natural turquoise gemstone, while the term “Stabilized Turquoise” is the term used to describe a natural turquoise that has been surface stabilized to minimize the “chalkiness” that can affect natural turquoise. Both of these terms are used to describe specific types of turquoise, and neither applied to the material in these bracelets. But the seller’s tags were (and still are) on these bracelets.
Upon reading my review the folks at JCK contacted me to learn the identity of this seller, and apparently contacted them with our information. Last week I received an email from the seller informing us that they had submitted two comparable bracelets to the GIA and….“The identification reports from GIA proved that they were Natural Turquoise…,” an issue I would not have believed possible except that the seller included copies of the GIA reports.
I responded by sending the following picture to the seller, showing the plastic nodules in the bracelet that I believe to be the reconstituted turquoise powder from the cutting process of other turquoise, mixed with plastic-type resin, and formed into these blue nuggets. To that email I got the follow response today:
Dear Robert, Thank you for your email. However, we cannot agree with your findings. Please see the photo of “7_with marks”, all red circles are the nuggets of turquoise, which are absolutely not “mix turquoise powder with glue”. According to our experience, the process of making turquoise powder and mix with glue is more complicated and expensive than cutting turquoise into piece, it is not reasonable to do such powdering.
Above is the actual image returned to me with the seller’s red circles added. Based on this seller’s contention that these bracelets are “Natural Turquoise” I cut two of these bracelets apart and performed an in-depth analysis. After spending two days on this I shared the information with our ISG Community during our Journey Thru Gemology last night, and was reminded that there is a simple solution to the question of whether this material is natural turquoise or plastic: Burn it with a hot point!
The only hot point we have in the ISG office is a battery powered soldering iron that uses 3 AA batteries. If this was plastic, even this low power unit should give a reaction. So I took this and put new batteries in it to ensure that all testing would be fair and equal.
Then, I turned to Alan Hodgkinson’s donation to the ISG Student Reference Collection…..
Below you see a specimen of Cornwall Turquoise from the United Kingdom donated to the ISG by Alan Hodgkinson a couple of years ago when we were doing our original study on turquoise that led up to our ISG Turquoise Buyer’s Guide. Please note the formation of the two holes in the image below right and keep those in mind. Colors in all photos vary slightly due to lighting variables.
Below are the results of applying our battery powered soldering iron to the surface of this specimen at full power for two (2) minutes. The dark material is residual solder left on the soldering iron from setting up our ISG sound system. As you will immediately note there is no mark or impact on the actual turquoise specimen from this hot point being pressed into it for two (2) minutes. But I went one step further….
Below is a turquoise nugget from the White Water mine in Arizona, supplied to us by the Nevada Turquoise Company at the Tucson Gem Shows two years ago. Again, full power applied pressing the hot point to the turquoise for two (2) minutes. No response other than some still-residual solder on the soldering iron.
Given that we now have predictable and repeatable control test results from known Natural Turquoise, it was time to turn to the claimed “Natural Turquoise” from the seller’s bracelets.
Below is the before and after picture of applying our soldering iron hot point to the specific area that the seller claimed as Natural Turquoise for twenty (20) seconds. The image on the left has an arrow to show you the “before” spot that I hit with the hot point. At right….the image speaks for itself. Below next is a high magnification of this point.
At left is a 90x view of the main blue “nugget” in the image above right.
This claimed piece of “Natural Turquoise” melted like a hot knife through butter.
It took 20 seconds to melt this hole on this material. But again, I did not want to stop there, so I continued.
At left is a 60x view of another hole I melted in this material through what is supposed to be “Natural Turquoise”.
Again, the time it took with our battery-powered soldering iron was about 20 seconds.
The seller claimed that the blue material seen in layers of this slice from the second bracelet was also Natural Turquoise. So I applied our battery powered soldering iron once again. This time for fifteen (15) seconds. The results are below once again with the “before” picture below left and “after” below right.
Here is a 90x image showing the melted hole in this material, along with cracks created by the hot point heat.
I could not duplicate this kind of damage on any natural turquoise in our office, and we have a very large collection.
I could duplicate this same reaction with just about anything plastic.
Considering what you have read so far, let’s see what the Federal Trade Commission says about the use of the term “Natural” when referring to a product that has been manufactured:
US CFR Title 16 Section 23
§23.24 Misuse of the words real, genuine, natural, precious, etc.
It is unfair or deceptive to use the word real, genuine, natural, precious, semi-precious, or similar terms to describe any industry product that is manufactured or produced artificially.
So it’s considered unfair or deceptive to use the term “Natural Turquoise” to describe a product that has been manufactured. OK, let’s read the GIA Gemological Report that this seller is relying on to base their claims of Natural Turquoise with this piece:
On the “Species” line the GIA describes this piece as:
Natural Turquoise-Plastic composite.
And on the “Comments” line says:
A manufactured product….
Go up and read that FTC Guide again.
As you can surmise, there are many issues here. Seller claims this is all solid, natural turquoise in plastic base on the GIA report.
GIA report does use the term “Natural” to describe this manufactured product.
Geez…..we could really get into this. However……
You folks decide for yourself, I have been told that I need to play nicer on these issues, so I will make just one more comment on this: The FTC specifically says “deceptive” to call this material “natural turquoise”, which is exactly what the GIA called it, so the seller is selling it as such.
I believe that these bracelets are mostly made from the block of material you see at left. This is created in China by accumulating the powder from turquoise cutting, and mixing it with plastic to create a turquoise-looking block that is then fashioned into jewelry. The material is very convincing, and actually makes a nice imitation of natural turquoise when properly disclosed at the time of sale. But it is my position that this material should not be sold as “Natural Turquoise” when it is, indeed, a manufactured product. Apparently, the US Federal Trade Commission agrees.
3 May 2019 Update: To date, I find this material is still being sold as natural turquoise by several dealers from China. I also found these sellers present at the JCK Las Vegas show last year, and anticipate they will be there again this year. Why the JCK allows what the FTC calls “deceptive trade practices” at their show is something they will have to answer. That the GIA helps these dealers pull this off, is sad for everyone.
Robert James FGA, GG
President, Insurance Institute of Jewelry Appraisal Inc.
Property and Casualty Insurance Adjuster, Texas Department of Insurance #1300433
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