Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Knowledge and Experience to Identify Fakes

    A long time ago I learned my first lesson about fakes--the hard way of course.  I was on my first trip to India with a group of women.  We had already visited Delhi, Agra and Kashmir, and were headed to Gulmarg for a hike into the Himalayas.  In the town a friend, Susan, and I ambled in and out of shops.  I was looking at necklaces, and especially wanted to find a bargain in lapis lazuli.   While I had encountered plenty of turquoise on trips to Arizona as a child, I had very little experience up close with lapis.  The shops did indeed display the blue stone, and we enjoyed looking at it, but the prices were high.  Outside, a street vendor had a small display, and there I spotted the stone I was looking for.  He told me it was lapis and we determined that it was a bargain.  I bought the beads, very pleased to be able to bring home the deep blue stone prized by Nefertiti and Cleopatra.
    Some days later, I showed my strand to another shop keeper.  “You were cheated” he said.  My eyes widened and I said nothing.  I knew it was very possible I had been swindled because I had been impulsive.  “See,” he said.  And he took a cloth and rubbed my blue beads.  I watched the cloth become blue and the beads become white.  Oh it’s lapis,” he explained to me, “but it’s very bad lapis, and they colored it.” 
    That was over twenty-five years ago, and I still have some of those beads.  I am very fond of them.  It was not a terribly expensive way to learn about fakes.  Now I know that there are a LOT of fakes out there.
First and foremost there is fake amber (see blog post, “Let’s Talk about Amber”).  In the case of amber, the antique fake amber, indeed early Bakelite, is valuable and expensive in its own right.  Most the red coral nowadays is dyed.  On the street they will tell you that it’s coral, and it probably is.  It just isn’t naturally the red coral that is appears to be.  Silver, especially silver from the developing world, often has a very low silver content.  Jet, the black organic material, made popular by Queen Victoria, is often substituted by black glass.  There are chevron beads from the 14th century and there are chevrons newly made from India.  I have collected some old glass in Africa which is meant to pass as old carnelian stones.
The beads on the far left are glass, the other two necklaces are made of carnelians
    Often it is easy to know the difference by recognizing the prefix.  French jet is black glass; Whitby jet is the real deal.  Sterling silver is 9.25 silver; German silver has a very low silver content.  African amber is plastic, Baltic amber is 50 million year old resin.  But, as in many things, knowledge and experience are the best guides.  Looking back, my dyed lapis  had a lot of value.

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