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Specific Gravity Testing Part 4: Refining Your Specific Gravity Testing Techniques

Factors like liquid temperature and inclusions can affect a gem's density reading. These specific gravity testing techniques can improve your accuracy.

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HomeLearning CenterGemologyGemstone Testing and IdentificationSpecific Gravity Testing Part 4: Refining Your Specific Gravity Testing Techniques

Choosing Liquids for Specific Gravity Testing

Distilled Water

You can use any liquid for your tests. Water is used frequently. However, don’t use tap water. Its density or specific gravity isn’t constant and is always higher than distilled water. Note that the temperature correction table below refers to pure, distilled water, which you can find in any supermarket. If you use distilled water, you can minimize the surface tension by adding a bit of liquid soap or detergent. Two or three drops in a quart or liter won’t make a significant difference in the density of the water.


For the most accurate results, use toluene. Its surface tension is much lower than water’s. B. W. Anderson, founder and first director of the Gem Identification Laboratory of the London Chamber of Commerce, recommends the use of toluene in his book, Gem Testing. Keep in mind that toluene is a solvent. Therefore, don’t use it with delicate or porous gems, such as pearls and turquoise, or stones with fracture fillings or glued doublets. (Editor’s Note: Toluene is also toxic. Follow the safety instructions for this product).


Dr. Raul Berenguel, PhD.

Dr. Raul Berenguel holds degrees in History (Scientific Branch, 2008) and Contemporary Art (PhD, 2012) from the Universidade Aberta. He has specific expertise in the fields of history, gemology, and contemporary art. In addition, he’s also an expert in applying traditional gemological techniques to investigating art objects made from gem materials.

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