Natural, Synthetic, or Simulant?

In today’s high-tech jewellery landscape it can be difficult, when making jewelry or gemstone purchases, to decipher the terminology used to describe the origins of a particular gemstone.

To the average consumer all 8 of these stones could be a diamond. In fact, all but one (top left), is a real diamond, while the others are diamond simulants; both natural as well as man-made.(GIA)

To the average consumer all 8 of these stones could be a diamond. In fact, all but one (top left), is a real diamond, while the others are diamond simulants; both natural as well as man-made.(GIA)

The significant differences in price between natural, synthetic as well as imitation stones can easily turn what looks like a good deal into a costly overpriced purchase. Use this article to learn what these words mean when applied to gemstones available in today’s market-place.

NATURAL:

Natural gemstones, whether organic or inorganic, are created by nature without any intervention by man. Generally, a natural gemstone must exhibit some degree of beauty, rarity, and durability.

Natural blue topaz is almost always he result of the heat-treatment of natural colorless topaz. This is considered a standard industry treatment and as such does not need to be disclosed.

Natural blue topaz is almost always he result of the heat-treatment of natural colorless topaz. This is considered a standard industry treatment requiring no disclosure.

If a natural gem only undergoes basic cutting and polishing by man, it is designated natural. However, many gems may undergo some form of treatment before or after cutting and polishing.

From a gemological perspective, these are referred to as natural enhanced. Natural enhanced gemstones are further divided into two sub-categories: those that undergo standard, industry-accepted treatments, and those that do not.

The intense pink color of these three diamonds is the result of a surface coating. This is not standard industry practice, and therefore, the treatment should always be disclosed!

The intense pink color of these diamonds is the result of a surface coating. This is not standard industry practice, and therefore, should always be disclosed! (GIA)

Natural gemstones that undergo standard treatments do not require disclosure. All others must disclosed as treated gemstones.

SYNTHETICS:

A synthetic gem is a man-made material with essentially the same chemical composition, crystal structure and optical and physical properties as the natural gem material. Though in some cases, namely synthetic turquoise and synthetic opal, additional compounds can be present.

Chemical vapor deposition (CVD) is a chemical process used to produce synthetic diamonds. They are in every way a diamond, aside from the fact that they are man-made.

Chemical vapor deposition (CVD) is a chemical process used to produce synthetic diamonds. They are in every way a diamond, except that they are man-made.

Synthetic gem crystals have been manufactured since the late 1800s, and their production is often marked by a need for them in industrial applications outside of the jewelry industry.

Contrary to what many people may think, the word “synthetic” does not mean fake when it comes to gemstones. The term actually comes from the Greek word for “to put together.”

As can be seen from this chart synthetic and natural diamonds are in every way identical in their properties, whereas diamond simulants are very different in that regard.(Gemesis)

As can be seen from this chart synthetic and natural diamonds are in every way identical in their properties, whereas diamond simulants are very different in that regard.(Gemesis)

People “build” or, more accurately, “grow” synthetic crystals. They do this by using chemicals that, given the proper environment, arrange themselves into crystals of essentially the same structure as crystals that grow without human intervention.

Synthetic ruby can be produced via flux growth processes (crystal and cut stone on left), and flame fusion (boule and cut stone on right

Synthetic ruby can be produced via flux growth processes (crystal and cut stone on left), and flame fusion (boule and cut stone on right). (GIA)

Because of this, and because it is possible to confuse them with gems that are naturally occurring, there are strict guidelines regarding how they are marketed and sold.

The Federal Trade Commission requires that any gem material produced in a laboratory be described in a way that leaves no doubt that it was not produced naturally.

Natural amethyst and rock crystal quartz crystals (left) and synthetic amethyst and synthetic rock crystal quartz crystal (right).

Natural amethyst and rock crystal quartz crystals are pictured on the left) and synthetic amethyst and synthetic rock crystal quartz crystal on the right). (GIA)

It is considered to be a deceptive practice if a synthetic gem material’s origin is not clearly disclosed throughout the distribution channel at the time of sale, from the manufacturer to the consumer.

SIMULANTS:

Simulants are other gemstones that are meant to look like other gemstomes, namely diamond, but have different properties. They fall into two categories: natural gemstones and synthetics.

Examples of natural gemstones that simulate or imitate the look of diamond are colorless sapphire (also called white sapphire) and colorless zircon.

Colorless quartz can be subjected to thermal shock that creates a series of tiny fractures throughout the stone. Dye is then introduced, causing the material to simulate many different kinds of gems, in this case—emerald and ruby.

Colorless quartz can be subjected to thermal shock that creates a series of tiny fractures throughout the stone. Dye is then introduced, causing the material to simulate many different kinds of gems, in this case—emerald and ruby.(GIA)

The most common diamond simulant that is a synthetic gemstone is synthetic cubic zirconia (CZ). CZ is readily available and remains a popular choice based on its affordability.

Cubic zirconia, (or CZ) is also manufactured in a variety of colors, though colorless CZ makes the most convincing colorless diamond simulant.

Cubic zirconia, (or CZ) is also manufactured in a variety of colors, though colorless CZ makes the most convincing colorless diamond simulant. (GIA)

Synthetic moissanite, also known as silicon carbide (SiC), is another popular diamond simulant. It is produced in a near-colorless form and its brilliance is only slightly less than a natural diamond.

Diamond hybrid is a term some manufacturers use to describe a product that is a natural or synthetic gemstone coated with a thin layer of synthetic diamond or diamond-like carbon (DLC). These coatings, while durable, are not permanent and can be removed.

(Left) A triplet contains two or more segments of a gem, or different gems, that are joined by layers of glue. (Right)Gilson imitation turquoise makes a convincing substitute for their natural counterpart.

(Left) A triplet contains two or more segments of a gem, or different gems, that are joined by layers of glue. (Right)Gilson imitation turquoise is a convincing substitute for its  natural counterpart. (GIA)

The FTC issues Guides for the Jewelry Industry and sellers are required to disclose treatments and synthetics.

We hope this article has given you a bit more of a background on the differences between natural, synthetic, and simulants, but should you have any additional questions about this or any other jewellery related topics, you can always: “Ask the Jeweller”

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This article was compiled from my personal knowledge as a gemologist, as well as numerous online sources, individuals and textbooks. If you have something to add to this article that you feel would be of benefit to others, please, do not hesitate to contact us.

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