In the 18th Century the chemical make up and structure of gemstones became of interest in those who wanted to create these beautiful gemstones. By the end of the 19th Century scientists were duplicating crystals with appearance and physical properties of their natural counterparts. Laboratories grew up devoted to synthesizing some of the most common and valuable gemstones we see today.
Many consumers today purchase synthetic gemstones as part of their jewelry collection, as they are low cost and the quality of some synthetics are excellent. The challenge comes when synthetic gemstones are either deliberately or through lack of knowledge sold as natural gemstones. This article will discuss some of the more common varieties of synthetic gemstones, so that you can be aware they do exist. Most will require a gemologist or a laboratory to be able to detect if the gemstone is real or synthesized. If you are not sure have the gemstone authenticated by a gemologist or a reputable grading laboratory like GIA or EGL, two of the worlds leading authority on gemstones.
There are many different ways to synthesize gemstones and as the processes are very technical I will just mention some of them by name only. These are Flame Fusion, Pulling, Floating Zone, Skull Melt, Flux Growth, and Hydrothermal Growth. These processes can produce synthetic gemstones such as Ruby, Sapphire, Spinel, Alexandrite, Cubic Zirconia, Emeralds, Amethyst, Opal, Turquoise, Lapis and many others.
One of the key developments of synthetic Ruby was to accelerate the growth and reduce the cost of components for Lasers. Today, nearly all ruby lasers use synthetic Ruby. These lasers are used in everything from your supermarket scanner to Medical Diagnostic Tools.
From Synthetic to imitations, these can be either man made or other natural gemstones. For example Red Spinel can imitate Red Ruby, Amethyst can imitate Tanzanite, Garnet can imitate Ruby. Most people will associate color with a gemstone and make an assumption that if is has a rich red Ruby color it is Ruby.
In the previous paragraph we discussed how laboratories can product synthetic versions of the real gemstone. It is also common to see synthetic gemstones used to imitate other natural gemstones. Synthetic Sapphire has been used to imitate Tanzanite by changing its color in the synthesizing process. Glass is probably the largest imitator of them all, as it can imitate most gemstone colors and is very cheap to produce. You will also see a lot of plastics used to imitate, Turquoise, Malachite, Peal, Amber, Jade etc.
One other set of imitations are assembled stones, these assembled gemstones use combinations of natural and synthetic material, to produce the desired effect. This process involves making gemstones of 2 or 3 different materials and cementing them together. An example might be a Sapphire and Synthetic Ruby Doublet, where the crown is Natural Sapphire and the pavilion is synthetic Ruby. To the unaided eye it looks like the natural gemstone but to a trained eye the assembled stone will soon reveal its secrets.
Should you buy Synthetic or Imitation gemstones? Absolutely, as they offer good value and you can assemble a colourful collection of them to match your mood and accessories at a very low cost.
Just make sure that you are aware that when you purchase a natural gemstone that you do not receive an imitation or a synthesized version.
Derek Parnell is a Graduate Gemologist (GIA) and owner of Jewels by Truros a division of Truros Corporation