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  • Feature Story

‘All That Glitters Is Not Gold’ — UL Experts Test for Jewelry Fakes


May 11, 2016

In Maricopa County, Arizona, a crime ring purchased large quantities of stainless steel bracelets and necklaces, stamped the jewelry with 14k and 18k marks, and then sold them for up to $500,000 in cash. The Property Crimes Unit in the Chandler Police Department believes the individuals either pawned or sold the items to licensed dealers as gold scrap, ending up in the jewelry supply chain and with some unsuspecting consumers.

As the global market place expands and supply chains grow more complex, there’s potential for various sourcing risks for manufacturers, dealers, retailers, and consumers. With a growing demand for accountability and supply chain transparency by consumers, there’s an even greater need for companies to instill buyer’s confidence through improved traceability and due diligence practices, especially in the luxury market.

So how does the jewelry industry reassure the consumer that an item’s precious metal content meets its advertised claims? And how can a consumer know that their sterling silver necklace is not in fact base metal? Many jewelry manufacturers are turning to third-party providers not only for their regulatory compliance testing but for the development of supply chain tracking and materials verification systems.

Beginning with state-of-the-art metal testing and scientific evidence, UL verifies the precious metal contents in fine jewelry to protect the integrity and quality of products, helping to ensure that jewelry manufacturers receive the alloys and elemental compositions agreed upon with suppliers

Jewelry manufacturers are concerned about the contents of their products for other reasons as well, including regulatory compliance and corporate social responsibility. The use of lead, cadmium and other heavy metals are all limited by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the European Union’s REACH regulations over concerns about their impact on human health.

Among the many metals tested and verified, platinum, karat gold and sterling silver are the most common because of their popularity in the marketplace. Various metals are also tested such as lead, cadmium and nickel for their health implications.

“Nickel is a known allergen and is estimated to affect 15 percent of the population,” explained Marla Hedworth, UL’s global business lead, the jewelry and watch industry. “For example, state and industry legislation regulates nickel in children’s jewelry that is sold in the United States. For our clients, we scientifically test to ensure that that the metals used in the creations of fine and fashion jewelry for children are safe and pose no potential health risks.”

For many major global manufacturer and retailers of fine jewelry, UL conducts tests for its children’s jewelry to determine levels of restricted heavy metals, such as lead and cadmium. In addition, UL performs physical and mechanical testing on jewelry products’ “break-away” features to check for strangulation hazards.