The advantages to purchasing synthetic gemstones are many. So, what is a synthetic gemstone? By definition, a synthetic gemstone possesses the exact same mineralogical makeup of its natural counterpart. The only difference between the synthetic and natural gemstone is that the synthetic gemstone is “laboratory grown” (per the United States Department of the Interior Geological Survey of 2002) and the natural gemstone is mined from the Earth. Other than that distinction, they are identical in every sense of the word. In fact, if you’re wearing jewelry with a synthetic gemstone that is exactly identical in mineralogical makeup to the naturally-mined gemstone, and someone asks you if the gemstone is “real,” the correct answer is “yes.”
There are many fascinating techniques employed in cooking up gemstones in the lab. The melt growth technique involves combining several different minerals or chemicals, heating them to their melting point, then cooling the mixture so that a crystal, or gemstone, forms. Another method, called solution growth, involves growing crystals in a hydrothermal solution, which is carefully temperature-regulated. The hot water concentrates the mineral deposits and assists with crystal formation. The last most frequently used technique involves “high temperature, high pressure growth.” This technique is mainly used in the production of synthetic diamonds, which is a hot industry indeed. There is a substantial controversy surrounding it, as many synthetic diamonds are much brighter than natural diamonds. In addition, it is possible to obtain a flawless diamond at a much lower price than one mined from the Earth.
The stigma attached to wearing synthetic gemstones is rapidly disappearing. Many prominent jewelers now design with synthetic gemstones as well as natural ones. If the idea of wearing a gemstone produced in a lab bothers you, it might help to consider that the majority of natural colored gemstones are treated in some manner – either heated, dyed, stabilized, or filled with resin. For example, blue topaz rarely can be found in nature, so it must be heat treated and irradiated to produce that serene azure color. The sophisticated lab methods available to us today have produced an entire new class of gemstones that are not found in nature, but are still staggeringly beautiful.
There is an ethical issue emerging with gemstones as well as in other luxury industries, like furs, for example. The production methods affiliated with natural diamonds and other gemstones, which often violate human rights standards, have been covered at length in the press. When you purchase a synthetic gemstone, you have the satisfaction of knowing that no one’s health was jeopardized or threatened in the process of making it. And you also have the satisfaction of knowing that the Earth was not torn up and mutilated to produce the gemstone you’re wearing.
One of the hottest new synthetic gemstones on the market would have to be the hydrothermal quartzes, which come in a variety of colors. Some of them are color-striated. There is a hydrothermal quartz that is a dead ringer for blue topaz, in fact. There are also amazing synthetic versions of the other natural quartz gemstones, including amethyst and citrine. I saw an oblong hydrothermal quartz about a year ago that still haunts me – it was green and a deep rose color – different colors at different poles of the gemstone. It looked something like tourmaline but the colors were much brighter and clearer.
Before purchasing lab-created or synthetic gemstones, make sure you only deal with vendors who are compliant with the Federal Trade Commission guidelines. It is against FTC rules for a vendor to list a synthetic or lab-created gemstone as naturally mined, for instance. I have listed the FTC site as a resource below. I have also listed a summary of the new International Diamond Council rules, which carefully outlines the language pertaining to how synthetic diamonds may be marketed.
So, there are significant advantages to purchasing synthetic gemstones. Keep in mind that many of these gems can not only fool your friends, but many jewelers as well. And they often are produced in such a manner that they outperform natural stones in clarity and color. Thus, they are definitely an option to consider as you build your jewelry wardrobe.