How to Differentiate Between Natural And Synthetic Gemstones?


According to the FTC, any gemstone whether created in nature or in a lab can be classified as "real" if it contains identical mineral makeup. This means that synthetic gemstones are classified and sold as "real", although not as "natural". To be labeled natural, stone must be produced by nature.

Educating yourself on the differences between these types will make you a more informed gemstone buyer and seller and make sure that you are getting the best value when you are considering selling your gemstone jewelry.

Natural Gemstones:

The term Natural refers to a gemstone that is found growing/produced in the natural world without the influence of human activity. These would be gemstones mined from the earth as well as those discovered naturally occurring in the water (such as pearls and coral). Natural gems have the allure of rarity when compared to their synthetic counterparts – a natural pearl harvested from the ocean can be hundreds if not thousands of times more expensive than its synthetic counterpart. A natural star sapphire, likewise, will be at a premium because of its rarity next to a lab created star sapphire.




Treated or Enhanced Gemstones:

Although a gemstone could be natural, it could also be treated or enhanced. This could mean that the gemstone was heated, which is a treatment, to increase the intensity of its color. This is especially common with sapphires. Another common treatment amongst gemstones is the practice of oil treating emeralds to allow the natural beauty of the stone really shine. In other cases that are not as typical, a stone could be enhanced where a laser drill removes an inclusion (this practice is more commonly used with diamonds than with gemstones).

Heat treating a natural gemstone is a very common and widely accepted practice in the industry. For example, when Tanzanite is mined, it’s actually brown. To get that beautiful blue hue, it must be heat treated. In addition, heat treated stones are still considered natural! Any gemstone that originates in the Earth is considered natural, the difference is in that they could be natural and untreated or natural and treated. Today, more than 90% of all natural sapphires are treated to enhance their clarity and color.

Synthetic / Lab Created or Grown Gemstones

Synthetic gemstones, sometimes called cultivated, cultured, man-made, lab-made, or lab-created gemstones, get their name because they are produced in laboratories. These labs use advanced techniques to recreate in a controlled setting the time, pressure, and temperature on carbon and different elements to produce different types of gemstones. What is the most interesting about synthetic stones is that scientifically, they are chemically identical in properties to the gemstones that are found in the Earth.



Because of their growth within a controlled environment, as opposed to the chaotic and random natural world, synthetic gemstones will usually have fewer inclusions and more vivid color than their natural counterparts, mainly because ‘impurities’ have not been allowed to impact the stone. Being man-made, these stones will typically command a lower price than their naturally occurring counterparts.

Simulants and Imitations

If a lab-created gemstones contains other materials, however, such as spinel being passed off as a ruby, the gemstone is not considered real and is usually called 'simulated' rather than "synthetic" by the seller. Simulated gemstones may also include natural gems passed off as others.

Cubic Zirconia (commonly called “CZ”) is a common diamond simulant. Though they are colorless like white Diamonds, they do not have the same chemical or light refracting properties of Diamonds and they are used in jewelry to imitate the look of Diamonds. Moissanite is also a widely available diamond simulant.

Additionally, you will find glass and plastic cut and dyed to resemble natural gemstones ranging from sapphires to opals. These are called imitations because they, other than trying to mimic a color or similar characteristic, have no actual chemical similarity to the natural stone.




Commonly found synthetic gemstones include:

  • Pearls – Usually called Cultured Pearls, these pearls are formed by introducing a foreign substance into an oyster with the sole purpose of having the oyster form a pearl. Nearly all, some estimate up to 99%, of the pearls currently on the market are cultured pearls. An x-ray is required to determine if pearls were formed naturally or were cultured.
  • Sapphires and Rubies – Lab-created Rubies and Sapphires are widely found in the current jewelry market. Synthetic Sapphires and Rubies offer vivid colors and fewer inclusions than their naturally occurring counterparts. Star Sapphires are commonly found as synthetics as well.
  • Emeralds – Lab created Emeralds are widely available and immensely popular for their depth of color and fewer inclusions in comparison to the more ‘included’ counterparts found in nature.
  • Diamonds – Synthetic Diamonds are currently being manufactured, but the production cost is still very high, prohibiting them from being a viable less-expensive option to natural diamonds.

How To Tell If Your Gemstone Is Natural or Synthetic:

Because natural gemstones can range so greatly in price depending on their color and clarity, it is first important to determine if your gemstone is natural or synthetic. Although it is difficult to tell the difference without a microscope between a lab-created gemstone, a natural gemstone, and a treated or enhanced gemstone, there is one thing you could look for. Synthetic gemstones are more likely to be rich and vivid in color, and are virtually inclusion or blemish-free when you look at them. Almost always, natural gemstones will have some type of inclusion or color differentiation.

If you are looking to sell your gemstone, it is advised to include a certification of authenticity from an accredited gemologist. If you purchased your gemstone jewelry from a jeweler, they are required to disclose whether a natural gemstone has been treated or not. Although it is required by the jeweler, we will always recommend asking your jeweler if your gemstone is natural, or if it has had any treatments or enhancements. This way, if you ever choose to sell your gemstone, you will be knowledgeable and prepared.


See also:
This Gemstone Switches Colours in an Instant
How the Color or Clarity of Gemstones Is Altered?
What Causes the Colour of Gemstones?
 
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