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