Natural gemstones have been prized for their rarity and beauty for many thousands of years, and the natural processes that create them often take much more than thousands of years. As with anything of value, imitations have been a part of gemstone history since the very beginning. While many early attempts to ‘fake’ a gemstone were crude and easily spotted, today’s technology makes things much less clear.
Basic Definitions of Natural, Synthetic, and Simulated Gemstones
Simply put, natural gems are the stones formed by the natural process of heat, pressure, and time, and are generally mined from the earth and then cut and polished. Both synthetic and simulated gemstones are created by man-made processes, so technically, they are not ‘natural.’ Synthetic gemstones refer to crystals made in a laboratory that share virtually all the chemical, optical, and physical characteristics as the natural minerals they replicate. Simulated gemstones are simply materials made to mimic the visual appearance of their natural counterparts. As a result, synthetic gemstones are generally much more highly valued than simulated ones.
Synthetic gem crystals are made in laboratories, using the same processes that create natural ones: heat, pressure, and the presence of the right chemical mixtures. Synthetic gems have been ‘grown’ in labs since the early 1800s, with many produced for industrial applications. Because of the carefully controlled environment in which they are produced, synthetic gemstones are likely to be of a better size, consistency, and quality than naturally occurring ones. And because they are virtually chemically identical to natural gems, they are difficult to distinguish from them.
As a result, there are a number of safeguards protecting the consumer. Industry organizations such as the American Gem Trade Association and the World Jewellry Confederation have produced specific guidelines regarding the disclosure of synthetic gems at the time of sale.
Though there are a number of different ways to produce synthetic gems, most methods fall into one of two categories: melt or solution. In the Verneuil melt process, crystals are formed when powdered chemicals are dropped through a flame and melted to produce synthetic crystals. In the Czochralski process, chemical nutrients are melted in a crucible and synthetic crystals are grown from a seed that is dipped into the solution and slowly pulled away as the crystal grows.
In the flux growth solution process, a flux is used to dissolve materials that then crystallize into synthetic gems. This process is expensive and lengthy (taking up to a year), but can produce stunning results.
Simulated gemstones can be naturally occurring or man-made, but the resulting stones only mimic the look of the naturally occurring gemstones, and share nothing of their chemical or optical properties. Also known as simulants, simulated gemstones can be produced using plastic, glass, or resin and dyes, but some are made of synthetically grown crystals.
Synthetic spinel is often used as a simulant because it can be created in different colors to mimic other gems, including sapphire, zircon, and aquamarine. Cubic zirconia is a synthetically produced simulant which can imitate a number of gems. When colorless, it is often used as a simulant for diamonds, but also makes a convincing alternative for gems in green, purple, and even black.
At Diamond Estate Jewelry Buyers we only purchase fine jewelry set with high-quality authentic gemstones, such as rubies, emeralds, diamonds, and sapphires. If you have valuable gemstone jewelry that you would like to sell for a generous cash offer, please contact us now for a free appraisal.