One of the most common forms of altering gemstones is to dye the stones to increase their appeal (and price) to the general public. Opinions differ greatly on this subject but I personally believe anyone who attempts to sell dyed gemstones without informing the customer ahead of time is literally stealing from their customer.
Some of the more commonly dyed gemstones includes quartz, agates, jadeite & nephrite, howlite, feldspar, dalmatian stone, granite, ruby, emerald, chrysoprase, lapis lazuli, alabaster, coral, banded calcite, marble, and magnesite.
From a metaphysical standpoint, dyed gemstones can have some value, but in most cases it will not bring the results the stone was purchased to bring.
Examples of some dyed gemstones
If you take a stone such as Lapis Lazuli and dye it to be a darker shade of blue, that is not a huge problem (except when they raise the price) because Lapis Lazuli is a naturally blue gemstone. In this case it is only enhancing the “look” of the stone and is not presenting a false metaphysical property.
On the other hand, if you take howlite which is a natural white stone, then dye it turquoise blue and sell it as turquoise rather than admitting they are dyed gemstones, there is a major problem. The stone would have some of the properties you could receive from a blue stone simply because of the color. However the properties of turquoise would not be present in the stone. Since you purchased it for the properties of turquoise, you in effect, had your money stolen for fake merchandize.
Sadly, it can be hard to tell which gemstones are dyed gemstones and which are natural, especially if you are reasonably new at working with them. This is why it is important to work with a reputable dealer you know you can trust rather than simply buying the cheapest item you can find on Ebay. While there are some tell tale signs (see below), the people altering stones are getting very good at their trade. New techniques are being developed on a regular basis making it hard to know with 100% certainty with some stones.
I do purchase some stones from Ebay, but I have been working with stones for over 40 years now. yet my experience does not guarantee I never get dyed gemstones. The fact I only have a photo to base my buying decision on has lead to my purchasing many dyed gemstones unknowingly.
The American Gem Trade Association expects its members to be honest with customers when a stone has been altered. They have developed a list of codes to be used when selling any sort of stone. In most cases, an altered stone will have a 1 letter code in parenthesis in the name of the stone, however the code can be up to 4 letters.
An (N) code is signifying the stone is natural. An (E) code signifies the stone is enhanced, however it does not tell the specific way the stone was enhanced. A (D) indicates the stone was dyed which is most often done to intensify the color or to make the color more uniform across the entire stone.
Keep in mind this is what the American Gem Trade Association expects. There are thousands of dealers around the world from countries that do not belong or adhere to the AGTA specifications and you could easily buy dyed gemstones from them, whether they use the codes or not.
How to Spot a Dyed Gemstone
While it can be hard to spot dyed gemstones with 100% accuracy, there are some key factors to look for.
- Extremely intense or unnatural colors: I’m sure you have seen brilliant blue, purple and yellows shades of stones in the past. These can often be found in those little tumbled stone boxes they have in gas stations in any tourist town. A large percentage of these stones have been dyed. In fact if the stone in question is a beautiful shade of dalmatian stone, crackle quartz or looks like turquoise except for its wild color, you can bet the stone has been dyed. This is also true for the wildly colors agate slabs in tourist areas. If nature makes an electric blue or brilliant royal purple in a gemstone, it would be too valuable to simply cut into slices and sell for $10 apiece.
- A second thing to look for is tiny fractures or depressions in the stones where the color is much darker or bolder than on the remainder of the stone. This happens because the dye puddles in the natural cracks and crevasses of the stone where is is much harder to remove of be worn away.
- The third way is a little harder to notice unless the stone happens to be cracked or broken. Please do not intentionally damage a stone if you do not see one that is already damaged. If one is damaged and the stone you see inside the damaged area is a much lighter color than the outside of the stone, rest assured it was dyed.
- When Lapis Lazuli, chrysocolla or malachite are dyed and you have the stone with you, put a cotton ball soaked in nail polish remover on top of the stone and leave it for a little while. If the blue color comes off onto the cotton ball it is a dyed gemstone. This is not a 100% sure this method to return a positive result at all times. Sometimes the color is so well attached to the stone it will not bleed. But it happens often enough to make it a worthwhile test to try.
- If you find a very high priced stone being sold extremely cheap, there is a good chance it has been enhanced. For instance turquoise is a reasonably abundant gemstone and can be found fairly cheaply. However some shades of stones and some stones from specific mines cost much more than others. Stones from the Sleeping Beauty mine fit in this category. If you find a stone claiming to be from this mine at a very cheap price, there is a very good chance it is actually from a different mine and was dyed.
If you happen to find any other ways our readers can easily test for dyed gemstones, please submit the idea and the source it came from. If we can train everyone to spot the enhanced stones before they buy them the people making the fakes will lose interest in making so many of them.