In 2004, a “ruby-glass composite”–basically a mixture of ruby and leaded glass–hit the jewelry market. At the time, a jewelry industry watchdog group “concluded that the stones could not be sold as rubies or precious gems under Federal Trade Commission guidelines, since they lacked the durability and value of bona fide rubies.” But Macy’s has been selling them as good old-fashioned rubies, and its salespeople have been neglecting to tell shoppers the truth at the moment they purchase the pieces, writes David V. Johnson of the SF Public Press.
The San Francisco Public Press conducted its own, independent investigation of Macy’s gems, which substantiated Balzan’s claims. This investigation found that Macy’s salespeople at all three of its San Francisco-area locations did not accurately describe its products and sold lead-glass-ruby composites as bona fide rubies, without disclosing their true nature.
In the past year, Macy’s gemstones have garnered some media scrutiny, though none in the general-circulation press. Two televised sting operations, one by “Good Morning America” last November and another by San Francisco’s CBS5 in February, supported Balzan’s allegations. In both shows, reporters purchased gems at Macy’s stores that were sold as natural rubies but found under testing to be composites.
Macy’s may be trying to get around any controversy by posting information on the glass composites on its website (under “Gemstone Treatment & Care,” not “Warnings to Shoppers”) and in sales circulars. But the SF Public Press notes that FTC guidelines require jewelers to disclose that same info at the point of sale without prompting, which it documented did not happen on three separate visits to different Macy’s locations this past May.
Macy’s wouldn’t grant an interview to the SF Public Press, but issued a statement that said their rubies are genuine but “may be fracture-filled with glass or a glass-like substance during the heating process to improve the overall quality of the stone,” and that they represent “outstanding value” for their customers.
Here’s a Good Morning America investigation from November 2009:
And here’s an example, from a February 2010 story by CBS 5 in San Francisco, of what the purchasing experience can be like for consumers trying to find out the truth before making a purchase:
…before each purchase, we asked the sales associate if the ruby was natural.
[The Macy's associate in Serramonte, CA] responded with “It should be, yes. All the stones are natural. But some are color-enhanced.”
When we inquired about that, her response was, “I think they use just some liquid to make the color like even.”
When we asked what liquid, she said, “That I don’t know.” She then pointed out an index-card sized sign we had seen in all the stores’ display cases. It read in part:
“Gemstones… often are treated and/or require special care, ask associate for details.”
“Macy’s sells rubies ‘filled’ with glass” [SF Public Press]
“Fractured: Macy’s Sued For Gemstone Fraud” [CBS5 San Francisco]
“Composite Rubies Aren’t as Durable as Natural Stones” [ABCNews.go.com]