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Synthetic Gems: The Whole Story

Ruby, sapphire, emerald and alexandrite are very beautiful gems and very rare in their stunning beauty. These four gems have been coveted by rulers and the rich for thousands of years. But, what if anyone could own them?

At gem shows and museums, I have seen jaw dropping rubies, sapphires and emeralds. These gems in high quality have put ownership beyond most people to justify the price. Just a one carat gem could cost $3,000 and more. Most of the time people don’t wear them as an engagement ring where people can spend over $10,000 routinely. The answer was to find a less expensive way to have these gems. It took over a hundred years and millions of dollars of research to create what nature can produce.

Man made gems come in many forms. Every thing from simple glass to plastic to high tech chemical tongue twister like gadolinium gallium garnet (also called GGG) and the modern diamond simulant Moissanite, a man made silicon carbide. In gemology, any material used to look like a gem is called a simulant. So clear glass, rock quartz, GGG, and Moissanite are all diamond simulants. They look like diamonds, but they are not diamonds. These simulants are easy for a well trained and equipped gemologist to detect. But if you had gem material that is the same chemically, optically and crystal structure as a natural gem, it would be very hard to tell them apart. In gemology we call this a synthetic gem.

Synthetic gems are not bad, fakes, or the curse of a modern society.

So a man made synthetic ruby has the same exact chemical formula and crystal structure and optical characteristics as a natural ruby. How can a person tell them apart? I will tell you it is very very hard. It takes a lot of training, very good equipment and an extremely careful examination of the gem. Some synthetics are poorly made and can quickly be identified. Other synthetics are so well made it is impossible to id them in jewelry and can only be positively identified in gem labs with millions of dollars worth of equipment and world class personnel.

Synthetic diamonds on the high end and synthetic quartz on the low end are both very difficult to positively identify as synthetic. Both, I feel, are impossible to identify in a piece of jewelry. Synthetic ruby, sapphire, alexandrite and emerald are very complex because there are different ways to make them. The inexpensive way to make the synthetic gems cost only a few dollars per carat and is generally easy to identify. But there are ways to make the synthetic gems that cost hundreds of dollars per carat to produce and the only reason to spend that kind of money to make a synthetic gem is because it is very good. These high priced synthetic gems look very much like the nature gems. The color and sparkle of these synthetics look like the best nature can produce. This is sometimes the first clue it is a synthetic.

Synthetic gems make excellent jewelry because they have the same property as the natural gem. Synthetic gems make owning beautiful jewelry affordable. But synthetic gems are not natural; they are manmade. Knowing what you are buying is key. Shopping for jewelry in this 24/7 gem networks on cable or satellite or internet sites can be over whelming. Another tricky way to buy is estate jewelry; many private sellers don’t really know what they have when they sell on e-bay or the newspaper. The other places I have seen synthetics sold as natural are overseas tourist shops and live auctions. Unfortunately paper work is no guarantee of the facts of the gem. Some gemologist made an honest mistake on appraisals or I have seen gem reports that are just fraudulent.

In conclusion, synthetic gems are not bad, fakes, or the curse of a modern society. The story of how hard it is to make synthetic is one of mankind’s stories of perseverance and creativity. Synthetic gems are used in science and industry every day. Gem quality synthetics make affordable jewelry that looks like high end gems that only your gemologist can tell if it natural or manmade.

What people are saying

  1. M. E. Bruce says:

    Really enjoyed reading through all of the Gemstones write-ups, which are a pleasing mixture of fact and opinion. Hope that more stones become profiled sometime….


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