Many shops found to be selling fake Bohemian garnets

Garnets, one of the world’s most ancient gems, come in a dozen varieties - but none is more precious than the fiery-red Pyrope variety which has been mined in the mountains of Bohemia for over 600 years. The Bohemian garnet, found in royal jewelry collections around the world, is given to visiting statesmen and every year thousands of tourists buy Bohemian garnet jewelry for someone special. Now Czech trading standards inspectors have issued a warning that they may not be getting the real thing.

One of the souvenirs that the American First Lady Michelle Obama took home from her visit to Prague in 2009 was a Bohemian garnet brooch. The piece that she received reflects a tradition dating back to the 13th century –perfect stones honed by the best stone-cutters and set by master jewellers. However not all visitors who are tempted to buy Bohemian garnet jewellery in one of the many garnet shops around the country are so fortunate. Those who are not wary may acquire a less precious type of garnet – the Almandine variety- which comes in an orange-brown colour, a synthetic stone or, worst of all, worthless glass. The results of a recent inspection of 15 jewellery shops selling Bohemian garnets produced a shocking result – 13 of them were not selling the authentic product. Tomáš Vozáb is the spokesman of the Czech Inspection Office:

Tomáš Vozáb
“We conducted inspections –together with customs officials - in the towns of Karlovy Vary, Mariánské Lázně, Plzeň, Prague, České Budějovice and Český Krumlov – and the result was a very high number of fakes. Not all of them were worthless stones, in some cases it was even a Pyrope garnet but it was not the famous Bohemian garnet which has its trademark. In some cases it was an entirely different stone and in others it was coloured glass. In view of the alarming results we now intend to focus on garnet shops and intensify inspections.”

The true Bohemian garnet –which cannot be found anywhere else in the world – is a clear, fiery red stone with a high refraction of light. Bohemian jewellers place great emphasis on the arrangement of the garnets which dominate metal settings in individual creations –covering the entire jewel. The result is a blaze of fiery red colour, be it in modern pieces or antique-style settings. However someone who is not an expert may easily be duped by imitations. Genuine Czech garnets are hallmarked with the letter G or G1 but unless you are an expert Tomáš Vozáb’s advice is to always request a certificate and take good care of your receipt.

“My advice is – if you are buying jewellery, particularly something expensive, then always make sure you get a certificate and dated receipt – because that way if you go home and find you have been duped – you can ask to get your money back or else you can demand that the item be exchanged for the authentic product you wanted to buy in the first place.”

The authentic Bohemian garnet is mined by a single Czech company – Český Turnov which says it sells its products to a restricted number of firms –and never stones in their crude form. The company’s vice president Miloslav Šorejs says they have plenty of complaints about fake stones.

“A great many so-called Bohemian garnet jewels are bought up by tourists and taken abroad. When people realize they were duped, they find us on the Internet and write to us to complain about stones that never came from us.”

Garnet shop owners who were found to be selling fake stuff or less valuable varieties of garnets claim they bought them in good faith or that they never claimed they were selling the Bohemian variety.

Inspectors and lawyers dealing with these cases say they suspect there’s more to it than just fake stones. Tomáš Dobřichovský, a lawyer specializing in industrial property rights, says its very likely a thriving business linked to organized crime.

“There is a high probability that this is part of an organized crime business – whether we are talking about money-laundering or white slavery.”

Clearly this is a matter for the police – and looks like a long-term investigation. And even if the worst suspicions do not materialize, the results of the said inspections may irreparably damage the reputation of the famous Czech garnets and the skills of craftsmen handed down from generation to generation.