Caveat emptor

After a long time I recently leafed through the coloured gem auctions of our favourite online auction platform.

I used to do this when I was in a blue mood. The gemstone descriptions found there never failed to drive tears of laughter to my eyes.

Well, since my last visit, the bunkum used to praise gems of dubious quality has even gained in entertainment value, thanks to online translation tools. On second thought, though, I could feel the anger rising in me.

Some sellers candy-coat their worthless junk with truly stunning chutzpa. A totally opaque piece of corundum, recognizable as bluntly dyed at first sight, readily turns into a "Super Sapphire" of "fantastic colour" with only "small inclusions".

Well, at least there is a photo of the "gem", which so blatantly contradicts the description, one might assume that any bidder either has not read it or just does not care about the stone not being eyeclean at all.

Another well-known trick is to operate with absurdly inflated figures. Some sellers have refined the method, though. I found a 12 carat smoky quartz with an alleged value of € 1.490,00 and a 7 carat amethyst cabochon with an "appraised" value of € 1.090,00. In the descriptions headline the seller offers to "buy now" for these prices even though the "buy it now" option is not activated in the auction.

Obviously the seller hopes that buyers will reckon that at a winning bid of a mere € 120,00 nothing much can go wrong, can it?

Ok, you might say, the buyer could have informed himself about the real value beforehand. After all, in times of the internet, he does not even have to leave the seat.

Nothing new either about the fact that massively manipulated stones are declared untreated and natural. I found dozens of offers of "mystic topaz", red topaz and "aqua blue quartz" and not a single one said that these stones owe their colour to vapour deposition and that it can be removed by the scratch of a fingernail. London Blue topaz was declared "unheated" which actually is the truth because the colour is due to irradiation rather than heating…

Equally infuriating I found the way by which synthetic stones are being auctioned to innocent customers. Yes, there is a well-stocked "Lab-Created" category but alarmingly often synthetic gems can be found amongst natural stones. A lot of them carry descriptions like "TOP FI AMETHYST".

In case you wonder what FI means, it stands for "Fianite" the very first tradename of cubic zirconia, a man-made diamond simulant, first produced in 1937 by the Physical Institute of the Academy of Science "FIAN" in the Soviet Union.

To cut a long story short: in German right there is the principle of culpa in contrahendo (fault in conclusion of a contract) which regulates the sellers duty of disclosure and due diligence before a contract is signed. In the case of online auctions, however, it seems the old anglo-saxon principle of caveat emptor (buyer beware) is still valid…