From Books to Broadcast, Antoinette L. Matlins Tells It Like It Is
If you’ve been in the jewelry industry for a decade or more, you possess a strong dedication to the craft. If you write about the industry and are consistently published, then add a die-hard passion for gem and jewelry art. Some take it the next level. These are the teachers, the truth-tellers; those compelled to project widespread awareness on fraud and misrepresentation. One woman could easily check “all of the above.” Enter Antoinette L. Matlins, PG and FGA, an internationally respected gem and jewelry expert, author, and lecturer.
By Dan Scott
By Dan Scott
Antoinette traveled extensively with her father Antonio Bonanno. Shown here, they are onboard the QE2 in 1985 to lecture passengers during the world cruise. She and her father lectured aboard top cruiseliners for about 15 years, including the QE2, Royal Viking lines and Crystal Cruises, focusing on what to look out for when buying, what to ask for in writing and where/how to verify their purchase when passengers returned home.
A much more controversial conversation was now unleashed—people were paying top dollar for rubies that were not real. Some were even, at times, more glass than gemstone. The news of lead glass used to fill fractures had not been publicized, but now it was, and in a viral way.
Terms such as “counterfeit merchandise” paraded down every major department store jewelry-shopping aisle and into jewelry chains and corner shops. Plus, this riveting reveal was wrapped around the Valentine’s Day holiday, the second most popular jewelry-purchasing period in the United States and many parts of the world.
From Main Street to Wall Street, hearts were racing and not in a good way. One wonders how many jewelers grabbed their chest watching the evening news with Matlins stating, “These aren’t real rubies,” and “experts estimate that over 90% of rubies sold in jewelry stores worldwide have been treated in some way.” But she also stressed that these were "treated" with techniques that were considered acceptable and used routinely for many decades. The new treatment with lead-glass was a different story altogether, and many jewelers and even gem dealers did not realize what they really were. This red stone news caused many red faces. Anger and shame led to a drop in ruby sales for quite a while and bruised the trust of many consumers buying from anyone.
The Ruby Exposé caused local news networks to race to local jewelers around February 14 to air investigative reporting. Caught on tape, lies ran rampant as news feeds forced major jewelry chains to clearly display counter signage disclosing that the rubies set in their rings, necklaces, and earrings were filled with a percentage of lead glass. Matlins says there are untreated or “naturally beautiful” rubies, but these stones are among the rarest of the rare and are often priced in seven-figures.
“The lead-glass fillers are invisible to the naked eye,” Matlins says, “ and are very different from minuscule amounts of other fillers introduced a few decades ago, and which are considered an acceptable practice if properly disclosed.” Matlins has lectured extensively to jewelry trade groups about these adulterated stones and how easily they break and chip, or worse. She’s not kidding. A ruby with 20% or more lead-glass will crack apart when immersed in a jeweler’s cleaning solution, and should anyone accidentally splatter lemon juice onto one of these rubies, the damage is visible and irreparable. “Lead-glass also weighs much more than ruby, so even the represented weight of ‘ruby’ is greatly inflated. In short, lead-glass forever alters, conceals and changes the stone," Matlins adds, noting that this is a “very serious consumer problem facing the trade these days, but she’s working hard to help change that.”
She has long pointed out to the trade that for jewelers to continue to suggest that treatment goes back millennia remains a seriously misleading statement. "While treating does go back millennia," Matlins adds, "to suggest that extensive, routine treating dates that far back is a false statement. Routine heating of sapphires started in the 1960s and that of rubies in the 1970s." Matlins won’t comment on whether this is deliberate or the result of ignorance, but whatever the case, she points out that to continue this myth reflects badly on any jewelry store. Matlins also suggests that it is such behavior by the jewelry trade itself that will undermine consumer confidence, not her efforts.
With Matlins’ nonstop ethical drive, be prepared for more eye-opening news and a message ignited by pure, personal passion.
All images are courtesy of Antoinette Matlins unless otherwise indicated.
Dan Scott is a brand architect with Luxe Licensing with current or past clients including Chanel, Gucci Jewelry and numerous young brands. He welcomes conversation and may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.