Synthetic vs. Simulated Gemstones

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Synthetic vs. Simulated Gemstones
Natural gemstones are rare and highly valuable elements from the earth. Consumers admire the beauty of genuine stones, especially in jewelry , but cannot always afford these pieces. Over the last century, scientists have developed processes and solutions to emulate their physical qualities and create synthetic replicas of genuine gemstones without the expenses associated with mining them. Two types of man-made gems are synthetic and simulated gemstones.

Similarities of Synthetic and Simulated Gemstones

Both types of gemstones are grown in a laboratory using a variety of materials and production methods. Consumers sometimes categorize synthetic and simulated gemstones under lab-created gems, but this classification is not entirely accurate. Lab-created gemstones are comprised of different materials and maintain 70 to 80 percent of the chemicals found in their natural counterparts. Synthetic and simulated stones offer jewelers, designers, and consumers affordable substitutes for genuine gemstones. The process of mining real gems is expensive, and the high demand increases their value further. Lab technicians can mass-produce synthetic and simulated gemstones to meet consumer demands and lower prices for everyone involved from production to retail. In the early 1900s, people viewed these "fake" gems as lesser objects that could not compare to the real stones mined from the earth. In modern times, consumers accept these man-made replicas as beautiful jewels used to create fashionable accessories. Laboratory methods have advanced to the point where it is difficult to tell the difference between man-made gems and genuine gemstones due to the similarities in appearance and other qualities. Common products in which to find synthetic and simulated gemstones are costume jewelry and fashion jewelry. With mining real gemstones, it is difficult to control the size and quality of the gems. Man-made techniques make it easier to create large gemstones for use in costume jewelry and fashionable accessories. Lab technicians control a variety of other characteristics, including the carats, colors, flaws, and overall quality.

Differences Between Synthetic and Simulated Gemstones

While synthetic and simulated gemstones are both manmade products from laboratories, there are some key differences between the two types. They differ in material composition, average value, and realistic attributes.

What Are Synthetic Gemstones?

Synthetic gemstones are laboratory-created versions of genuine crystals with the same chemical, physical, and optical properties. Technicians isolate the conditions of nature and speed up these processes using heat, pressure, and solutions to create synthetic gemstones. Chemically speaking, these stones are equal to genuine gems except that they are made in labs using sophisticated technologies. Due to the controlled environment, synthetic gemstones contain fewer inclusions, or flaws, than natural gems and feature brighter colors. Common examples of synthetics include the ruby, sapphire, emerald, garnet, and diamond.

What Are Simulated Gemstones?

While synthetic gemstones achieve the same chemical composition of natural stones, simulated gems only mimic their visual appearance. Also known as simulants, these gems use a variety of materials that are grown and composed in a laboratory. Labs often use cheap materials to keep prices low and production high. Simulated gemstones come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors to imitate real crystals and decorate fashion jewelry. These stones contain no flaws and are very beautiful after production. One common example is Cubic Zirconia stones, which simulate diamonds and come in a variety of colors. Other simulants include rhinestones, which look like generic colored gemstones, and Paraiba Ice, which simulates Paraiba tourmaline.

Material Composition of Synthetic and Simulated Gemstones

Since synthetic gemstones contain the same chemical properties as natural gems, they also have the same mineral content. Specialists grow crystals in the lab using one of several methods and add different oxides and solutions to form the right consistency, color, and shape. By controlling the conditions, lab technicians can create very high-quality gemstones that are considered perfect or flawless. Simulated gemstones are grown in the lab using different materials, such as glass, plastic, and synthetic moissanite. Since simulants do not feature the same optical properties of natural gemstones, aluminum or other shiny metals are sometimes added to achieve the sparkle of diamonds. Swarovski crystals are some of the most popular types of simulated gemstones due to their realistic appearance and affordable price.

Value of Synthetic and Simulated Gemstones

The value of these gemstones is directly related to their materials and production processes. The methods for creating synthetic gemstones take longer and produce higher quality stones than simulants; therefore, synthetics are more valuable and cost more. Genuine stones maintain the highest prices because of their rarity and the cost of mining. Overall, synthetic gemstones have a wide range in value depending on the quality and carats. Simulated gemstones carry a relatively low value due to the cheap costs of materials and production. Some of the higher-end simulants use synthetic moissanite, or silicon carbide, which features crystalline properties similar to quartz. Due to the low value of simulated gemstones, several different types can be added to a single piece of fashion jewelry for beautiful and affordable results.

Comparison to Genuine Gemstones

Before testing evolved to meet the technology used in creating fake gemstones, jewelers and consumers were often fooled into paying more for cheap gems. When looking at synthetic gemstones, it is difficult to spot the differences from real stones. Jewelers must use Refractive Index tests to distinguish between natural and synthetic gemstones. Some consumers prefer synthetics over genuine gemstones because it is easier for laboratories to create higher quality gems by controlling the conditions of growth, and there are ethical factors involved in diamond mining that deter some individuals. However, lower-quality natural gemstones are still more valuable due to their rarity. It is much easier to spot the differences between simulated gemstones and natural gems with just a visual inspection. The average consumer can usually tell when a piece of jewelry contains simulants. These gemstones are not as hard as their genuine counterparts, and they do not sparkle or refract light. Some consumers may be fooled by stones featuring moissanite, but trained jewelers can easily tell the difference.

Production Methods of Synthetic and Simulated Gemstones

There are three types of methods that laboratories use to grow synthetic and simulated gemstones. These processes use melting, solutions, and combinations of extreme temperature and high pressure. The following table highlights some of the more common methods and their products.

Method

Processes Involved

Gemstones Produced

Verneuil flame-fusion process

A single crystal, or boule, forms under the flame of a specialized blowtorch. Aluminum or titanium oxides are melted in a furnace with other oxides for color and control. Boules are typically 75 to 250 carats.

Synthetic ruby, sapphire, rutile, strontium titanate, and spinel

Bridgman-Stockbarge solidification method

This method is a simple melt-growth technique that uses a cylindrical tube filled with powdered chemicals. The tube is slowly passed through a furnace to melt the materials, which eventually solidify into a single crystal.

Metallic oxide crystals for use in other production methods

Czochralski pulled-growth method

This method uses powdered ingredients inside of a crucible made of platinum or other non-reactive metals. A seed crystal is placed inside the crucible so that it just touches the powders. The seed attracts the powdered materials to grow the crystal as everything is heated. This method grows large and high-purity crystals.

Ruby, sapphire, spinel, garnet, and alexandrite

Skull melting method

The skull method is used to create gemstones that require an extremely high temperature to melt. Water circulates inside the walls of a copper cup to keep it cool during the process. Powdered materials are exposed to a heat source within the cup and form crystals as the melted chemicals solidify.

Cubic Zirconia

Finding Synthetic and Simulated Gemstones on eBay

Sellers on eBay offer a large variety of loose synthetic and simulated gemstones along with fashion jewelry containing these gems. From the home page, browse all categories to find the Fashion section. Click on the link for Jewelry & Watches. Browse through the Loose Diamonds & Gemstones subcategory, and click on either CZ Simulated Stones or Diamonds (Lab-Created) to see results for synthetic and simulated gemstones. To find jewelry featuring these gems, navigate to Fashion Jewelry under the Jewelry & Watches category, or check out the Costume Jewelry section under Vintage & Antique.

Conclusion

Even though synthetic and simulated gemstones are created in laboratories, they still possess beautiful attributes and make fashionable jewelry. Creative individuals enjoy buying loose gemstones to make their own jewelry or decorate their picture frames and other accessories. The benefits of synthetic and simulated gemstones are their beautiful qualities and affordable prices. Consumers have grown to appreciate synthetics and simulants for their exceptional attributes.

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