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Gemstones that fool us

Updated: May 9

Not everything is as it seems!

Thanks to novelists, poets, dramatists and song writers throughout history, we are all familiar with the proverb ‘All That Glitters is not Gold’. Chaucer, Shakespeare, JR Tolkien and even Prince have used it as a salutary reminder not to be fooled by outward appearances.

Even at the center of the fire, there is cold

All that glitters ain't gold

All that glitters ain't gold

So this got me thinking - All That Glitters is not Gold - the same goes for some gemstones too!

The gemstone pyrites in its raw state
Pyrites or Fools Gold - all that glitters is not gold

Fools Gold

The gemstone Pyrites is also known as Fool’s Gold. It’s a glittery gemstone and, yes, it’s gold in colour. And when those prospectors were panning for gold, they were all too often seduced by its appearance. When they saw those glittery nuggets, they were often fooled into believing that they had struck it rich. They fell for the exterior showiness of the mineral Pyrites – but were quickly disappointed. They soon understood the meaning of the phrase All That Glitters, is not Gold. Real gold (in its raw form) is dull in appearance – but worth a whole lot more than the 'showy' Pyrites!

The Master of Disguise

August’s birthstone, Spinel, has a reputation for being the ‘master of disguise’ and is an excellent example of a gemstone’s exterior fooling the beholder. Depending on its colour, Spinel is commonly mistaken for either Ruby or Sapphire. Certainly, until the 18th century, red Spinel and Rubies were pretty much interchangeable and equally prized. They share their red colour from the presence of chromium, they are often found in the same sort of locations and both have a sparkly brilliance.

But remember - All That Glitters is not Gold!

The confusion between these glittery gemstones was put to rest in the late 18th century, when their unique properties were finally revealed. Shortly afterwards, the relative hardness of the two gemstones was confirmed with the Mohs Hardness Test. The value of the slightly harder Ruby shot up, and Spinel’s reputation spiralled. Many people felt that Spinel had been ‘pretending’ to be Ruby:- they felt cheated.

Spinel or Ruby? image thanks to 4300834 © Dasfoto |

It turned out that Spinel had indeed fooled a lot of people – even the Royal family. When the red gemstone called the Black Prince's Ruby in the Imperial State Crown turned out to be Spinel, there may well have been a sense of disappointment in the royal palace!

All that is blue, isn’t turquoise

The gemstones Magnesite, Howlite and Variscite may not have a ‘glittery’ exterior, but they can still fool us into thinking they are another gemstone – turquoise.

Both Magnesite and Howlite are naturally white to pale grey in colour, with spider web veining. Their porous nature means that they readily accept dye and they often appear in a variety of dyed colours. When they are dyed blue, they are often used as a very convincing substitute for turquoise (and even lapis lazuli). This 'deception' may or may not be disclosed and all too often their appearance fools people into believing that they are buying real turquoise.

If you are buying turquoise jewellery, ask for a certificate of authentication. Turquoise has a very different refractive index to Magnesite and Howlite, so it is possible to tell them apart using a refractometer.

Another gemstone which is frequently confused with Turquoise, is the rarer Variscite. Both Variscite and Turquoise are often found in the same geographic locations. Indeed they can look so similar, that sometimes you will see the seller hedging their bet and referring to Variquoise!

All that is black, isn’t onyx

Dying gemstones to their enhance natural qualities, can be traced back to the Early Roman Empire. Not intended to ‘deceive’ as such, some treatments have become standard practise in the gem trade.

One example is the most common black gemstone in the jewellery trade:- Black Onyx.

Black Onyx is known for its dense even colour and glassy surface. But natural onyx very rarely occurs in this black colour. Indeed, Black Onyx is almost never onyx at all. It is most commonly a treated and dyed version of its close gemstone ‘cousin’ – agate or grey chalcedony. The gemstone is usually dyed to enhance its hue and produce a uniform colour.

So, remember that phrase All That Glitters, is not Gold. Even in the gemstone world not everything is as it seems. Sometimes that shinning, authentic, and perhaps very convincing, exterior may not be the precious gem you think it is. Look closer, ask questions and don’t judge or place worth on the outward look alone.

And just to reassure you, all Indigo Berry gemstones are ethically sourced from a reputable supplier. When you buy a piece of my jewellery, you will receive information about the gemstones used and if you would like a certificate of authentication - just ask! I am happy to supply one.

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