Saturday, February 4, 2012

***** 100th POST ***** Playing Detective

I went to start this entry and realized it was my hundredth post! I certainly never envisioned sticking to it this long. But, here we are ... Thank you everyone for following along. I didn't plan anything special because, well, because I didn't realize this was number 100, but I do have an interesting post that I think you might find useful.

I was perusing eBay lately and ran across an auction that I thought was a sweet deal. It was a straight out auction, no buy it now or make offer. It was at 20.00 when I saw it, with lots of bids. The picture left a bit to be desired, but sometimes that can play to your advantage. I have worked with plenty of Sonoran Sunrise, so I knew the colors were right. However, the pattern was cream of the crop. For Sonoran Sunrise, a natural stone comprised primarily of chrysocolla and cuprite, this seemed like really outstanding stuff. I took the risk and won 6 big, choice cabs for 30.00. I was pretty stoked.

My parcel arrived quickly. The cabs were gorgeous!! Breathtakingly awesome! Could I have been THAT lucky?? I would expect to pay at least 30-50 a piece for each big cab.

I immediately set my sights on one of them to wrap . I looked it over, while considering the job ahead of me, and noticed that the cutter left some of the dopping wax (used to hold the stone while working it) on the back of the cab. Ok, sloppy. I can live with that. No biggie. I took a blade and scraped it off. I wondered, though,  why someone would be so sloppy with material so choice.

Brown dopping wax left on one of the stones.

Looking more closely, I noticed that between the blade passes, a nib about 2mm high was left. Hmmmm. Not good. How to get rid of that nib? I got an ordinary emory board out, thinking there was a remote possibility of being able to sand it off. I began to sand the high spot and it came off like butter. Really, my nails are harder to file!!! Ok, this definitely sent up alarms.

This is where the nib was. See the blade marks?

I sent an email to a legitimate lapidary artist, who asked not to be identified, and asked him what he thought. I know Sonoran is soft, but not THAT soft! He agreed. I also told him that the seller called it "stabilized". Sonoran is not known to be stabilized. He checked out another auction by the Sonoran seller, who had listed some more, and noted that the cabs are of a quality he had never even seen after examining 100s of pounds of rough. He said he was going to ask someone else their opinion and get back to me.

In the meantime, I ran a few experiments that I had up my sleeve. I got a Q-Tip with finger nail polish remover (acetone) and ran it over the back of the stone to see if any of the color would come off. No color came off. But, a gray sludge did and so did the shine.

The shine came right off the right one.
Can you see the fine scratches/brushstrokes in the stabilizing material? I've seen this in cheap turquoise, too. 
 Alright, I could understand that whatever was used to stabilize the stone could have come off with the acetone. So, I tried the hot pin test. If it is plastic, or a composite WITH plastic, the hot pin will sink in and smell of plastic. Well, it passed, but only barely. No plastic smell with the pin or with the sanding. But, the pin did leave a mark. It didn't sink in, but it did penetrate. It wouldn't do this with stone.

See the pin marks?
I'm pretty convinced that it isn't plastic. I examined the stones some more and noticed  a few things that I had overlooked, but taken together really add up to someone not being very concerned about the quality of their work with potentially very expensive material.

Polishing rouge/sludge left on the stone.
More black polishing sludge.

I emailed the seller and asked him if the beautiful "stones" were actually some kind of composite. I mentioned my hesitation to sell them to my customers as the real deal. I got an email from him and the lapidary friend at the same time. Both the lapidary friend and myself had pretty much concluded that my stones were not Sonoran Sunrise, but some man made material. To me, they seem like some kind of pressed, chalky, material. The color is through and through and seems to be stable, but if I left a stone in acetone overnight, I really believe it would just dissolve.

The seller claimed that upon further examination, he believed the stones to be manmade and offered me a refund. He has 100% feedback. I don't know that he was deliberately defrauding myself and others. He took the rest of the suspect auctions down. I won't name him, giving him the benefit of the doubt (reluctantly) but now that you have seen these stones-- do yourself a favor and avoid them. The raw material is probably coming from China, en masse, as we speak. (Just as their cheap, inferior version of Mojave Turquoise is.)

I rarely need to do this kind of detective work. I'm pretty good about buying stones. I find no shame in being ripped off. The shame would be in passing these off again as the real thing. The steps I went through will almost always prove a stone to be something other than stone. If you get that uneasy feeling about a stone, follow your instincts and do some detective work. And, for Pete's sake, if you get a fake stone, eat the cost and chalk it up to learning. Don't pass it off as real again. People who are selling these stones are counting on YOU to do just that. If we want to put these guys out of business, we need to stop reselling their stones.  There are lots of honest lapidary dealers that need and appreciate your business.

Update- the seller has already refunded my full purchase :) Glad I emailed him. He stood behind his guarantee.


  1. Congratulations on your 100th post! So happy you have stuck with this as it reaches so many.

    What a super sleuth you are with your great detective work. So sorry you were sold fraudulent stones..the good news is the seller offered a refund and took the other stones down. It is sad there are so many items out there meant to defraud the unsuspecting buyer. If something looks too good to be probably is seems an old but true adage. You are so right to pass on the message to stop reselling these fake stones to other unsuspecting buyers.
    You are a good woman Tela T

    1. Thanks Christine :) Wish I had planned something. Seems like some kind of party is in order, LOL!

      I have a handful of people who I do a lot of repeat business with because I know I will get the real deal. I don't mind paying what a stone is worth and sometimes getting a great bargain, but you are right- If it's too good to be true.....

  2. Happy 100th, Tela!

    I'm so glad you got your money back on those stones!

    I absolutely agree about not selling fakes as the real thing. I've gotten a few fake stone beads in my time, and I refuse to pass them off as real -- and when they're really bad, they just stay in the bead drawer as a reminder to check stones over carefully before I buy them.

    1. Beads are the worst for getting ripped off. I wish I had a nickle for every junk bead I've gotten. Then I could buy some genuine ones. I've NEVER sold anything as real that I thought was fake. I hate getting ripped off and I won't do it to anyone else!

      One time I went bead shopping without my xtra strong readers. Oh, baaaaaad move!!! I still have most of those crappy beads. The ones I didn't give to the kids to play with :) LOL!

  3. This was a great post Tela. I agree that bad pictures on ebay often work to ones advantage, but in this case....

    You really thought this through with great detail and your experience with stones really shows!

    1. Thanks Mary :) The picture was slightly blurry, but the colors were good and you could see the (too) fabulous pattern. Hey, ya win some, ya lose some. The seller was really awesome about questions and giving me my money back, though. I think he was ripped off, too.


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