Sunday, October 11, 2015

Synthetic and Imitation Gems: What's it all about?

Synthetic and Imitation Gems: What's it all about?

Long ago, people thought of gemstones as rare and beautiful objects with magical powers.  This idea changed in the eighteenth century, when gem structure and composition became less mysterious.  Scientists began to discover ways of growing crystals of similar composition to the once rare and magical stones.  By the nineteenth century, crops of these new man-made crystals were being grown in labs everywhere.

A synthetic is the term used to describe a gemstone that has essentially the same chemical composition, crystal structure, and properties as its natural counterpart.  These synthetics are all over the market today.  A synthetic ruby IS a ruby, however the cost and value of the two stones differ considerably. The cost of a synthetic gem can vary depending on how it was made. Some processes can yield a large quantity of stones in a short amount of time making them quite affordable.  Other processes such as flux growth requires very expensive equipment and can take up to a year to produce a single crystal.  This method is used in Chatham stones and can increase the cost.

An imitation is the term used to describe any material that looks like a natural gem and is used in its place.  This can be any material including glass, plastic, or other gems NOT being the one imitated.  For instance, a piece of glass or natural quartz could both be considered an "imitation diamond".

A few synthetic diamond crystals have come in to the market in the 80's and 90's, however, scientists have yet to produce a synthetic diamond with properties that consistently and convincingly match those of natural diamonds.  If you are looking for a cheaper alternative to diamonds, I would suggest these options in this order:

1. Diamond - Hardness 10 - Brilliance (RI)- 2.42
       2. Moissanite - Hardness 9.25 - Brilliance (RI) - 2.65 
      3. White Sapphire - Hardness 9 - Brilliance (RI) 1.77
 4. White Topaz - Hardness 8 - Brilliance (RI) 1.64
        5. Cubic Zirconia - Hardness 8.5 - Brilliance (RI) 2.15

You may notice that based purely on the numbers, cubic zirconia might sit higher on the list.  This is purely a personal choice.  I still feel that there is some history and romance with natural gemstones.  The process that natural ones go through to have formed in the earth is an amazing journey that has taken thousands of years.  Having a piece of that is by far adding more sentiment to your jewelry than the bit of extra sparkle a cz might give you.

What does this mean for you?

There are so many choices when it comes to buying jewelry and gemstones.  There is nothing wrong with choosing a piece based solely on its design, beauty, or cost.  The important thing is that you are informed about your purchase.  Don't be afraid to ask if a gemstone is synthetic, natural, imitation, or treated.  These things should be disclosed to you when you're buying, however being proactive ensures that you always know what you're getting.

How does NellMarie Jewelry fit in?

At NellMarie Jewelry, I use natural gemstones 99% of the time. I like to use synthetic emerald and alexandrite in many birthstone pieces as they are created without inclusions and are therefore stronger stones for wear. As I said before, generally I prefer the value of a stone that has made its way to the surface of the earth on its own.  Some of the natural gems have additional treatments such as Paraiba Topaz, Mystic Topaz, and Blazing Red Topaz.  These treatments are always disclosed at NellMarie Jewelry.  Now that you're armed with the right information- go forth and shop with confidence! :-)

For more in-depth information about gemstone treatments from the GIA, click here.

To see the beautiful gemstones of NellMarie Jewelry, click here.