Macy's Accused of Selling Fake Rubies
By Dhyana Levey
Daily Journal Staff Writer
SAN FRANCISCO - Consumers and gemologists nationwide have accused Macy's, the nation's No. 1 department store chain, of knowingly selling fake rubies.
San Francisco plaintiff's attorney Thomas J. Brandi filed a class action last week in San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of two classes of Macy's customers within California and the rest of the country who purchased jewelry containing the stones in question from the company's stores.
The company was warned by gemologists that the rubies it offered for sale in its stores weren't natural rubies, but instead heavily glass-filled and often lead-glass treated stones that were mixtures of true rubies and composites, which would break down if repolished, recut or cleaned by certain solvents, stated the lawsuit filed Jan. 7. Mimi Lowe v. Macy's, Inc et al, CGC-10-495868.
"This is a simple case of fraud, and it's a sad case, because Macy's was a trusted name," Brandi said. "They are clearly selling something that is not what they say it is."
A Macy's spokeswoman said she couldn't comment on pending litigation or answer questions regarding the purity of the company's gems.
The lawsuit also states the company was passing off a heated form of quartz as untreated "green amethysts," as well as "sapphires" that were actually fracture-filled glass and "black diamonds" that were actually black sapphires. Macy's various stones and gems were filled with so much lead that they violate California laws, according to the complaint.
Consumers aren't the only ones complaining.
San Francisco gemologist and appraiser Cortney G. Balzan, an independent contractor for Macy's West from 1983 to May 2009, accuses the company in a separate lawsuit of terminating his contract for quality control and appraisals after he reported discrepancies in the stones from 2007 through 2009. Cortney G. Balzan v. Macy's Logistics and Operations et al, CGC-09-495171.
"The reason we are independent from Day One is to not have any bias," Balzan said. "And what we were seeing was that [Macy's] was having some problems with its goods."
Not only did he send some of the gems back to the company's vendors, but he also warned Macy's officials that if they chose to use the stones, they were obligated to disclose to the public their quality so customers could care for the stones properly, stated his complaint, filed Dec. 11 in San Francisco Superior Court.
"When you sell something, you have to give the customer a choice and say, 'This is what you are buying,'" Balzan said.
However, the company ignored his recommendations and began steadily decreasing the number of gems it sent to him through the spring and summer months of 2009, eventually terminating his contract in June, according to Balzan's attorney, Robert M. Tobin of Los Gatos.
"He explained that they can't be advertising they are natural, whole gemstones," Tobin said of Macy's. "After that, they canned him."
The suit seeks damages for breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
The retailer's gem problems and the two lawsuits are becoming well-known among the nation's gemologists, said Vermont-based gemologist Antoinette Matlins, author of several gemstone books including "Jewelry and Gems: The Buying Guide."
Matlins took an interest in Macy's rubies after Arizona appraiser Craig Lynch mentioned during an international gemological conference that some of his clients had brought him composite rubies purchased as natural rubies from the stores.
"I was surprised anybody would be selling these," Lynch said Wednesday. "There are going to be many more lawsuits about this."
Matlins contacted "Good Morning America" and appeared on an episode that aired in November showing her and a reporter going undercover to various Macy's stores and buying rubies they were told were real.
But after examining stones collected during the television investigation and on her own, Matlins said she discovered these "rubies" were actually just pieces of low-quality rubies heavily infused with tinted lead glass.
While many stores sell treated rubies and price them accordingly, this was a different situation, she said. Matlins described Macy's "rubies" as porous, nondurable stones and even demonstrated on television in November that their flaws can be detected under a microscope as little bubbles within the gems.
"What we are talking about is material not of a color or quality to be defined as a ruby to begin with," Matlins said Wednesday. "Then it's treated. The end product is more glass than ruby."