Ago 16, 2017

After Costco is accused of selling fake Tiffany rings, how to spot a fake diamond

Engagement rings may be a symbol of true love, but that doesn't mean they're real

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Is your engagement ring as real as your love?

Wholesale retailer Costco COST, +0.71%  was ordered to pay jewelry company Tiffany & Co. TIF, -2.89%  more than $19 million in damages after a federal judge ruled Costco allegedly sold counterfeit diamond engagement rings with the jewelry company's name on it. The wholesaler plans to appeal the decision, but in the meantime is barred from selling any products bearing the name "Tiffany," unless it's used as a modifier for a setting, Reuters reported.

Costco said the ruling was the "product of multiple errors." The rings in question had "Tiffany" signage, but the company says it was in reference to a "Tiffany setting," a ring style with a diamond solitaire and six prongs. "Costco intended that the word Tiffany in its signs convey only that the rings had this style of setting — not that the rings were Tiffany & Co. brand rings," it said. Tiffany said it wanted to protect its own brand value and ensure Costco's customers were not being misled.

Engagement rings should come with authentication papers as well as a certificate that states information about the diamond, experts say. Another standard practice: People looking to buy an engagement ring should also make sure the store has a good return policy so that it can be returned if the diamond or, in a worse-case scenario, the brand turns out to be fake. Make sure to get that return policy in writing and, obviously, don't believe everything you hear at a flea market.

Testing the validity of the diamond itself should be left to the professionals. Aside from certificates of authentication and the jeweler's "loupe," a tool that is 10 times more powerful than a magnifying glass, drop the diamond in a glass of water. Diamonds are dense, so they should drop fast to the bottom of the glass, while fake diamonds will float, or fall more slowly. "Heavy cubic zirconia and moissanite have the ability to dupe this test," according to jewelry company Ritani.

And the famous scratch test? That's not so foolproof either. "Invented in 1812, the Mohs scale measures mineral hardness," Ritani says. "Glass is rated a 5.5, and diamonds are a 10. So, genuine diamonds will scratch a mirror. On the other hand, so will quartz (7), moissanite, and cubic zirconia (8)." Heat the diamond to see if it breaks or shatters (real diamonds won't do either). Real diamonds will also refract light, which means it should be hard to see through them, the company adds.

Counterfeit products are becoming a bigger problem these days, especially on e-commerce sites, according to the Counterfeit Report, a consumer advocate and watchdog website. Third-party sellers who use these platforms are selling real and fake products. There is currently a global distribution of counterfeit products worth around $1.7 trillion, according to the report, and the total is expected to grow to $2.8 trillion by 2022.

Tiffany, Cartier and Van Cleef jewelry carries a lot of social status because of the name, brand history and recognition and — of course — the quality, said Afshin Shaddaie, co-founder of antique and estate jewelry company Estate Diamond Jewelry in New York. And, for that reason, they're often a target for counterfeiters. If in doubt about the provenance of a piece of jewelry, seek a second opinion. "A lot are made so well that even professionals miss it," he said.


Market Watch

By ALESSANDRA MALITO