I had an inquiry from a client today about acceptable misnomers within the industry. This particular issue was about coated quartz being sold as coated topaz. He felt that since brown quartz and citrine have often been called “Smokey Topaz” or “Yellow Topaz” logic would say that it would be alright to interchange the species at will. But those terms are misnomers–or street names–and are not allowed under strict adherence to FTC guidelines so the basis of the logic is at fault.
We see misnomers like this all the time in the gem industry. Rose quartz is sometimes called “Pink Jade”, “Soft Jade” can be quartz or marble. There are hundreds of them in the gem industry and in most cases they are meant to mislead and enhance the perceived value of the material. Unfortunately, many of these terms are deeply rooted in the consumer mind.
The problem comes when the customer discovers that their Smoky Topaz is really quartz or their Soft Jade is marble. They all have entirely different characteristic. The customer should be informed of the true identity of the material. The misnomers or street names can be mentioned as an interesting fact, but they need to know what they are actually buying.
What are the best way to protect yourself and your reputation? Just be absolutely sure of what you are selling. Ask your suppliers if they are using street names or will they guarantee the identity of the stone. Take gemmology classes or hire a trained gemmologist. Keep up to date on new stones. Use only proper terminology in your sales and marketing. In your customer’s eyes you are the expert whether you actually know anything or not. The customer is paying for your knowledge and assurance. Because of that you are held to a higher standard. Most courts of law will see it that way as well.
Training and communication are vital. Make sure that the sales team understands the gemmological and legal differences. Communicate with your suppliers to know what you are buying. Get it in writing. Communicate with you customers by clearly tagging the item with the proper identification. Signage and display cards can help the sales staff engage the customer in a discussion about names and treatments. You may want to use street names as part of the lore. Use phrases like: “In the past, Rose Quartz was known as Pink Jade…”
Keep learning. If you are going to be viewed as an expert you might as well become one.