Fracture Filling of Gems
Fracture filling is the filling of surface-breaking cavities or internal fractures with some foreign substance to improve a gem's appearance. Literally thousands of products are used to fill fractures. They range from complex proprietary formulas to 3-in-1 oil.
The effect of fracture filling is dramatic. Disturbances that mar the entire stone, making it quite unattractive overall, seem to vanish. The enhancement makes the gem much more appealing to the naked eye and greatly increases its (apparent) value.
Fracture filling can be done on virtually all types of gemstones-diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, rubies, and others. The treatment is easy and inexpensive. It disguises a flaw, making an inferior gem look clearer and more valuable, but the flaw can readily be seen under a microscope.
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) is currently studying the effects of fracture-filling on emeralds. Of the thousands of materials in use, they are concentrating on the 39 most popular ones! They've had to wade through confusing terms and patented ingredients. In some cases, they report, it is not possible to identify the filler because artificial resins can mimic natural ones and a mixture of fillers can conceal the features of the ingredients.
Identifying fillers is only the first step of the GIA study. The GIA's next investigation is more important to both insurers and consumers: determining the durability and stability of the fillers. However, knowing the durability of a filler is relevant only if you know a filler has been used-that is, if you have a reliable appraisal with full disclosure in the first place.
In one legal case, a consumer brought suit against a retailer for selling a ring with a fracture-filled emerald as though it were an untreated, high quality gem. Some time after the sale the stone showed damage and the purchaser filed an insurance claim. The insurer had the stone examined in a gem lab and found it to be fracture-filled. The insurer refused to pay the claim, and in turn sued the retailer, arguing that the policyholder should have been informed that the stone was filled with some foreign material and that such a treatment might not be permanent.
The original retailer insisted that the emerald he sold was a high quality, untreated gem. He said the stone must have been damaged subsequently, perhaps when the ring was sized, and then fracture filled to conceal the damage. The case became a battle of expert witnesses and hinged on responsibility for disclosure of the fracture filling treatment. Ultimately, the plaintiff won a quarter-million-dollar judgment and the retailer went bankrupt.
In this case, the insurer was fortunate that the claim had been made on a damaged stone. The stone in question was available for examination and the jeweler hired by the insurer was knowledgeable. But most jewelry claims-probably 99%-are based on total loss rather than damage, so it is crucial that fracture filling be disclosed on the appraisal.
FOR AGENTS & UNDERWRITING
Fracture filling is not one of the enhancements "usually" or "always" used in treating gems, according to the Gemstone Enhancement Manual, the jewelry industry's standard reference. This treatment adds a foreign substance to the gem, it may be temporary, and it should always be disclosed on the insurance appraisal. The ACORD 78/79 appraisal warrants that all non-commonplace treatments are specifically disclosed. If the gem in the case above had been accompanied by an ACORD 78/79 appraisal, the suit need never have been brought.
The ACORD 78/79 also warrants that the gem was examined in an independent gem lab by a Graduate Gemologist who is a Certified Insurance Appraiser™. In this appraisal, the insurer has first party legal rights in the event of an error.
All damaged stones should be examined in an independent gem lab by a Certified Insurance Appraiser™. It is wise to suspect fracture filling if:
- damage appeared after the jewelry had been cleaned or the stone reset. (Heat or pressure often disturb the fracture filling treatment.)
- the policyholder's purchase price seems unusually low for the stated quality of the piece. (He may have gotten a "good deal" on the jewelry because it was low quality to begin with.)
A competent jeweler will be able to see whether or not a foreign substance was injected into the gem. The destruction of a fracture filling treatment is not considered damage to the stone, and the insurer is not liable.
From Warren Finley, CIA™:
Customers often bring in for repair jewelry that we did not sell. Our staff is trained to closely inspect stones for fracture filling, because the treatment can break down during the repair process. If we know the stone is fracture-filled, we can treat it differently. For example, if a mounting needs repair, we would remove a fracture-filled stone before heating the mounting, because heat might damage the filling.
Sometimes fracture-filling is not easily apparent, perhaps because it's concealed by the mounting. As a precaution, our store has prepared a release form stating that it is the customer's responsibility to make us aware of fracture filling. Not all customers volunteer information on the treatment, but when the jeweler states that the stone is fracture-filled, the customer does not contest it. I don't think these customers are deliberately concealing the treatment, they just aren't aware of the fragile nature of fracture filling.
5112 E. 2nd Street
Long Beach CA 90803
Established in 1924, Finley-Gracer is a full-service jeweler offering diamonds, colored gemstones, gold, appraisals and jewelry repair.
The January issue of IM NEWS discussed deceptive pricing practices, in which retailers artificially inflate their "regular" prices so they can advertise huge discounts. J.C Penny was the defendant in a legal case on this issue, although the practice is quite widespread.
In response to increased attention from the Better Business Bureau, J.C. Penny agreed to change its pricing practices. A spokesman for the chain announced that its "reference prices," against which sales prices are measured, would be offered at least 50% of the time, and that prices in effect less than 50% of the time would not be called "regular" prices. These are very careful rephrasings, and consumers will still have to examine advertising very closely. J.C. Penny also eliminated jewelry from its spring catalog, and this is taken to be a bow to the Better Business Bureau.
However, excessive "discounts" still prevail in the marketplace. For insurers, inflated valuations (like inflated selling prices) are still common, and all the caveats mentioned in the January newsletter are still in place.
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