Treatments and enhancements
Improving the quality of gemstones by treating them is common practice. Some treatments are used in almost all cases and are therefore considered "acceptable". During the late 1990's, a large supply of low-cost materials caused a sudden surge in supply of heat-treated rubies, leading to a downward pressure on ruby prices.
Improvements used include color alteration, improving transparency by dissolving rutile inclusions, healing of fractures (cracks) or even completely filling them.
The most common treatment is using heat, most if not all rubies at the lower end of the market are heat treated on the rough stones to improve color, remove purple tingle, blue patches and silk. These heat treatments typically occur around temperatures of 1800°C (3300°F). Some rubies undergo a process of low tube heat, when the stone is heated over charcoal of a temperature of about 1300°C (2400°F) for 20 to 30 minutes. The silk is only partially broken as the color is improved.
A less acceptable treatment, and one which has gained notoriety in recent years is "Lead Glass Filling" of Rubies. By filling the fractures inside the ruby with lead glass the transparency of the stone is dramatically improved making previously unsuited rubies now fit for applications in jewelry. The process is done in 4 steps:
The rough stones are pre-polished to eradicate all surface impurities that may affect the process
The rough is cleaned with hydrogen fluoride
The first heating process during which no fillers are added. The heating process eradicates impurities inside the fractures. Although this can be done at temperatures up to 1400°C (2500°F) it most likely occurs at a temperature of around 900°C (1600°F) since the rutile silk is still intact
The second heating process in an electrical oven with different chemical additives. Different solutions and mixes have shown to be successful, however mostly lead-containing glass-powder is used at present. The ruby is dipped into oils, then covered with powder, embedded on a tile and placed in the oven where it is heated at around 900°C (1600°F) for one hour in an oxidizing atmosphere. The orange colored powder transforms upon heating into a transparent to yellow-colored paste, which fills all fractures. After cooling the color of the paste is fully transparent, that dramatically improves the overall transparency of the ruby.
If a color needs to be added, the glass powder can be "enhanced" with copper or other metal oxides as well as elements such as sodium, calcium, potassium etc.
The second heating process can be repeated three to four times, even applying different mixtures. When jewelry containing rubies is heated (for repairs) it should not be coated with boracic acid or any other substance, as this can etch the surface; it does not have to be "protected" like a diamond.