- Artificially manufactured or manipulated
- Pros and cons of synthetic gemstones
- Detecting synthetic gemstones
- Synthetic gemstone manufacturing
- Artificial or synthetic gemstones include:
- Gem imitations include:
- Distinguish real from synthetic gemstones
- A through K
- K to Z
- Recognize synthetic gemstones using equipment and instruments
- Gemstone Microscope – An Important Gemmology Instrument
- Zirconia vs. real gems
Synthetic gemstones resemble real gems so much that it is almost impossible to distinguish. Therefore, it is not surprising that more and more people are choosing the cheaper, yet still beautiful, synthetic alternative.
However, as investments, artificially made gemstones are not suitable. Their real counterparts were created millions of years ago and can never be replaced by synthetic stones. Real gemstones usually have completely different chemical and physical properties than their synthetic counterparts.
Artificially manufactured or manipulated
Strictly speaking, synthetic stones are artificially manufactured gemstones. Colloquially, however, all sorts of imitations and manipulations are summarized under the term synthetic gems. While, for example, the Geneva Ruby is a synthetic stone, processes such as firing or dyeing are commonly used to improve the properties of the inferior materials. You can find affordable fine pieces of synthetic Rubies here.
Below, you will read about the advantages and disadvantages of synthetic gemstones. You will learn how to recognize or distinguish counterfeits from real gems and you will get familiar with several types of imitations. If you want to buy real gems, our gemstone buying guide will help you.
Pros and cons of synthetic gemstones
There are of course both advantages and disadvantages to buying artificial gemstones. The lower price of synthetic gemstones is the main reason many people choose them.
Artificially made gemstones also offer other benefits, such as being more environmentally friendly to produce than to over-mine for natural, ancient authentic pieces.
The main disadvantage in synthetic gems is the lower value and furthermore, the decreased properties by comparison to authentic gems. An artificially made Diamond will never be as hard as a real one, making some diamond related uses, such as cutting hard or abrasive materials, impossible.
In addition, artificial stones always lose value, while real gems become more valuable. This is because the production of synthetic gemstones is getting more and more precise and improved, while the number of true gemstones is limited. If you want to own gems as an investment, you should definitely buy real earth-mined gems.
Pros and cons for the actual purchase
Clearly there are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to buying synthetic gemstones, however the main problem posed in deciding is that many manufacturers are trying to market synthetic gems as genuine gems.
Especially when shopping online, it is impossible to figure out if the gem you’re seeing is actually a natural stone. Customers need to be able to rely on the jeweler. If you would like to buy a real, naturally earth-mined stone, it is advisable to select a reputable manufacturer and make sure your piece of jewelry comes with an independent certificate. On Amazon only approved jewelers that follow the Jewelry Quality Assurance Standards are allowed to sell their products.
Here you can purchase:
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Detecting synthetic gemstones
In order to identify synthetic gemstones, the differences between chemically produced stones, composite gemstones and imitation gemstones should first be clarified.
The main categories here are:
- Real gems: formed naturally over countless of years
- Synthetic gems: made in a lab and produced to imitate the real ones as far as possible (e.g. Synthetic Ruby)
- Gem imitations: appear real to the naked eye (e.g. rhinestones/glass)
- Composite stones: real gems that are pressed or melted with inferior stones or materials to increase their value (e.g. pressed Amber)
Synthetic gemstone manufacturing
The most forgery-proof method is to artificially make gemstones in a lab. With this method the physical properties such as hardness, cleavage or transparency can mimic the natural mineral.
Artificial or synthetic gemstones include:
Processing stones with other materials is a relatively straightforward way to increase the value of a natural gemstone. Less valuable stones or other substances such as glass can be added to increase their weight. Another name for these are composite stones.
A good example of this is the so-called pressed Amber. In this process, which was already in use in 1880, several small Amber pieces are pressed together to form a larger piece. Large natural pieces are much more valuable than small gems.
Overall, the process of squeezing small pieces into one big one is very popular, for example, with Lapis Lazuli.
The situation is different with gemstone imitations. These are similar to the real gemstones when viewed with the naked eye, but have different properties. The imitations are usually made of colored glass, plastic or resin. An example of this is rhinestone (also known as simulant). This is glass which, among other things, looks diamond-like due to special grinding processes. You can find plenty of affordable simulated stones at Amazon.
However, real gems can also be processed as imitations. For example, it is common practice to dye inferior spinel to look like a high quality gemstone.
Gem imitations include:
- African Emerald (actually Fluorite)
- Amazon Jade (actually Amazonite)
- Ballas Rubin (actually Red Spinel)
- Opalite (actually glass)
- Palmeira Topaz (actually Citrine)
Another way to artificially increase the value of a stone is treatment .
- By heating a stone to about 572 to 1112 degrees Fahrenheit, the color can become more intense and uniform. By so-called firing, small defects such as cloudiness or unwanted inclusions are eliminated.
- Porous gemstones are colored directly to form, for example, very colorful Agates. Unfortunately, the coloring is not subject to any labeling obligation, so it is very difficult to identify.
- Another way to change a gemstone color is to irradiate it with radioactive or x-ray radiation. These gems, however, become radioactive and have to be put in quarantine (sometimes for years) before they can be used. Irradiated gemstones should be marked as “irradiated” or “treated”.
The so-called doublet and triplet are also imitations of gemstones. In their processing, different layers, partly of real gemstone and partly of other materials – are formed into a new gem. This not only saves material, but protects the gemstone from damage.
- For a doublet, a very thin layer of real gemstone is glued to a backing pad. The pad can, for example, be made of plastic, synthetic or cheaper gemstones.
- For the triplet, only the middle layer consists of the real gemstone, which is bound by a top and a bottom layer. This protects the gemstones from wearing.
Doublets and triplets must be declared!
Distinguish real from synthetic gemstones
Synthetic gems are generally very similar to real gems in their physical properties when viewed with the naked eye. There are usually no obvious differences in terms of color, hardness, gloss, or transparency.
In some cases, just taking a look at the often misleading name helps. For example, the Chatham Diamond is a synthetic gemstone, or the African Emerald is in fact Fluorite.
A through K
- African Emerald (actually Fluorite)
- Amazon Jade (actually Amazonite)
- Australian Jade (actually Chrysoprase)
- Balas Rubin (actually Red Spinel)
- Biron Emerald (synthetic Emerald)
- Blue Moonstone (colored Quartz)
- Blue Chalcedony (colored Quartz)
- Bohemian Ruby (actually Garnet)
- Ceylon Diamond (clear Zircon)
- Chatham Ruby (synthetic Ruby)
- Chatham Sapphire (synthetic Sapphire)
- Chatham Emerald (synthetic Emerald)
- CVD Diamond (synthetic Diamond)
- Cubic Zirconia (synthetic gemstone)
- Czochralski (synthetic gemstone)
- German Lapis (actually Jasper)
- Diamondite / Diamandite (synthetic Sapphire or Rutile)
- Djevalite (cubic Zirconia, synthetic gemstone)
- Douros Ruby (synthetic Ruby)
- Emeralda (synthetic Spinel)
- Emeraldite (actually Verdelith)
- Emerita (Beryl with synthetic Emerald)
- Emsprit (synthetic Emerald)
- Erinit (synthetic Spinel)
- Fabulit (synthetic Diamond)
- Galliant (synthetic Diamond)
- Geneva Ruby (synthetic Ruby)
- Gilson Opal (synthetic Opal)
- Gilson Emerald (synthetic Emerald)
- Gold Topaz (actually Citrine)
- Hamburger Turquoise (imitation)
- Hematine (imitation)
- Herkimer Diamond (actually Quartz)
- Hexagonal Diamond (carbon modification)
- Hydrothermal (synthetic gemstone)
- Igmerald (synthetic Emerald)
- Inamori (synthetic gemstone)
- Indian Jade (actually Aventurine)
- Cape Emerald (actually Prehnite)
- Cape Ruby (actually Garnet)
K to Z
- Kashan Ruby (synthetic Ruby)
- Knischka Ruby (synthetic Ruby)
- Cultured Emerald (synthetic Emerald)
- Kyocera (synthetic gemstone)
- Lechleitner (synthetic Emerald or Corundum)
- Lennix (synthetic Emerald)
- Lime Emerald (synthetic Emerald)
- Linobat (synthetic gemstone)
- Lithium Emerald (colored Hiddenite)
- Madeira Topaz (actually Citrine)
- Matura Diamond (actually Zirconia)
- Moissanite (synthetic Diamond)
- Neo turquoise Turquoise (imitation)
- Novo Emerald (synthetic Emerald)
- Opalus Opal (imitation)
- Opalite (actually black glass)
- Oregon Jade (actually Jasper)
- Palmeira Topaz (actually Citrine)
- Pastoral Opal (imitation)
- Polybern Amber (imitation)
- Pool Emerald (synthetic Emerald)
- Ramaura Ruby (synthetic Ruby)
- Smoke Topaz (actually smoky Quartz)
- Regency Emerald (synthetic Emerald)
- Rio Grande Topaz (actually Quartz)
- Rosa Jade (actually Rhodonite)
- Red jade (actually Carnelian)
- Ocean Opal (actually Paua mother-of-pearl)
- Siberian Jade (actually green glass)
- Sinterspinell blue (synthetic Spinel)
- Smaryll Emerald (imitation)
- Slocum Opal (imitation)
- Rhinestone Gem (Imitation)
- Symant (synthetic Diamond)
- Titania (synthetic Rutile)
- Ural Emerald (actually Chromium Diopside)
- Vasar Emerald (synthetic Emerald)
- Verneuil (synthetic gem)
- Water Sapphire (actually Iolite)
- Viennese Turquoise (imitation)
- YAG (synthetic Diamond)
- Zirconia (synthetic gemstone)
Recognize synthetic gemstones using equipment and instruments
Gemologists, as well as laymen and collectors, can use various gemological tools to verify the authenticity and test properties of stones.
Some of these devices include the microscope, the reflectometer, the refractometer, the spectroscope and the dichroscope.
Ultimately, testing differs depending on the type of gemstone or the type of processing used.
To recognize a synthetic gem, you can, for example, determine the density or the refractive index (using a refractometer), as imitations and synthetic gemstones have a different density and refractive index than their natural counterparts. Another way to determine the refractive index is the immersion method.
In addition, spectroscopy can be used, which measures the distribution of the frequency spectrum of absorption lines, so the absorption line spectrum can be determined. Certain gems can also be identified by fluorescence – some minerals show special colors when exposed to short or long-wave UV light. For this purpose, a UV lamp can be used. However, the fluorescence is only used as one of several methods for identifying the authenticity of gemstones.
The most important devices for determining genuineness in gemology are:
- Gem microscope
- Spectrometer or spectroscope
- FTIR (Fourier-Transformed Infrared)
- EDXRF (Ene-disperse X-ray fluorescence)
- Raman microspectrometry
- LA ICPMS (Laser ablation inductively coupled mass spectrometry)
- LIBS (laser induced breakdown spectrometry)
Gemstone Microscope – An Important Gemmology Instrument
A microscope can be used to detect if the growth structures are artificial or natural, therefore, whether a gem is authentic or synthetic. Inclusions or scratches on the surface of the jewelry give information about its authenticity as well. For hobby collectors and gemstone lovers the mini-microscope or jeweler’s magnifying glass are suitable.
Gemmologists and Lapidarist use more sophisticated gem microscopes. These are specifically designed to study minerals and are significantly more expensive than the magnifying glass or mini-microscope.
A particularly high magnification is not the central feature in gemstone microscopes – 10 x to 50 x is usually sufficient. Rather, the image should be as distortion-free as possible. In addition, such a microscope requires a dark field illumination, from below, which allows a shadow-free display.
Furthermore, the gemstone microscope should be equipped with a 5500 Kelvin daylight lamp to ensures no color change takes place. Microscopes are not only used to distinguish genuine from synthetic gemstones, but Gemologist, Lapidarists and jewelers use them almost daily for their work to identify and classify inclusions.
The refractometer and refractive index
Another very important tool for detecting synthetic gems is the refractometer. This device is essential in gemmology, and is also used for the general classification of minerals. The refractometer can be used to determine the refractive index or optical density.
The procedure is based on the following principle:
When light passes from one medium, such as air, to another medium, like a gem, light rays are refracted. This you can see in everyday life:
Looking at a glass of water holding a spoon from the side, it looks like the spoon is bent. Or, it looks as if the part that is in the water is not linear to the part that is in the air.
This is called refraction of light. The light in the water is refracted and reflected differently than in the air, causing velocity and propagation changes.
The refractive index is very revealing, since each gemstone shows specific values. With a refractometer these values can easily be determined. The values can then be read on a special scale and compared. Such a scale is usually included with the refractometer.
Analog refractometers usually only allow a determination of values up to 1.8 but with digital instruments a value of up to 3.0 can be determined. As previously described, a Diamond has a refractive index of 2.42 while Zirconia has a reading of 2.18. To detect whether it is a Diamond or Zirconia, a digital refractometer is needed.
Zirconia vs. real gems
Cubic Zirconia (Zirconia or Fianit) – Not to be confused with the natural gemstone Zircon!
Probably the most well-known of the laboratory manufactured gemstones is the Cubic Zirconia. It boasts a Mohs hardness of 8 to 8.5, which is harder than most natural gems! Its production process is quite complex, producing counterfeit high quality jewelry at low prices. A well-known jewelry manufacturer that relies on synthetic gemstones like Zirconia is Swarovski.
The so called cubic stabilized zirconia (CSZ), a sort of zirconium dioxide, is available in all sorts of colors, shapes and sizes. Sometimes even artificial inclusions are integrated. While a diamond costs on average 8800 $ per carat, the price for an equally heavy Zirconia is only about 1.1 $ per carat! Thus, cubic zirconia is about an 8-thousandth cheaper than its real counterpart (as of 2018).
To distinguish cubic Zirconia from true gemstones is difficult even for experts.
In particular, the thermal conductivity and the refraction methods may show differences. Both methods are not destructive, so the stone is not damaged. A Diamond conducts heat very well, while Zirconia has very poor heat conduction properties. Furthermore, the two stones refract light differently. The Diamond has a refractive index of 2.42 while Zirconia is 2.18.
There are also differences in the density of Zirconia and natural gems. The Diamond has a density of 2.023 ounces per cubic inch, zirconia weighs 3.35 ounces per cubic inch. So if you measure the volume of the stone accurately, it is possible to gauge whether it is authentic by weighing it as well, though the volume measurement is not always easy.