NATURAL VS SYNTHETIC VS SIMULANT/IMITATION GEMSTONES
I thought I would start my first journal entry with this gemological topic which I am often asked about. Gemological terminology can be a bit confusing so I hope this short guide will help you in your search for the right type of stone for your budget.
Firstly, what determines the preciosity, and by default price of a gemstone, is it’s rarity, durability and most importantly it’s aesthetic beauty. The wonderful coincidence that the right minerals, chemicals and conditions were present at the right time to form a beautiful gemstone makes it all the more desirable. Often people chose natural gemstones over synthetic ones for this very reason- they want something created organically and by chance. However, synthetic stones are considerably cheaper and can exhibit much finer clarity and colours, due to their controlled laboratory environment.
A natural gemstone is quite literally produced by nature, whether discovered in earth or water (e.g. coral and pearls), whereas a synthetic gemstone is one that is manufactured in a laboratory, but which shares virtually all chemical, optical, and physical characteristics of it’s natural mineral counterpart. Now this is where I believe confusion arises: any gemstone whether created in nature or in a lab can be classified as “real” if it contains identical mineral makeup. So if you ask to buy a “real” gemstone, you may not be offered a “natural” gemstone. It’s always good practice to ask for the stone’s origin for this reason, or simply to satisfy your curiosity about where in the world it grew.
Furthermore a natural gemstone can undergo some common form of treatment or enhancement in order to improve it’s appearance. This does not change the fact that it is still “natural”. Sapphires, for example, can be heat treated to intensify their colour, and topaz is usually irradiated to make it blue. In general, synthetic gems don’t need to be treated like the natural ones (with exceptions like Emerald for example, which will need to be oiled) because they have been grown to have the desired colour on demand. It is important you are aware whether your stone has been treated or enhanced as this will be vital information should you need your jewellery repaired.
Another term you might encounter is “simulant” or “imitation” gemstone. Diamonds can be rather pricey, and an affordable simulant would be Cubic Zirconia, as they are white, sparkly and to the untrained eye- look just like Diamonds. Materials like plastic, glass, resin and dyes are used to imitate the colour, shape or look of a natural gemstone (like Turquoise or Opal). Because they are made with such substances, and have no actual chemical similarity to the natural stone, they are called imitation stones (never “real”) and will be sold at much lower prices.
Overall, when deciding whether to opt for a natural, synthetic or imitation gemstone, your choice can be narrowed down depending on three main factors: your budget, whether you want or don’t want inclusions or a particular colour, and if you are open to purchasing man-made stones.
If you have further questions, or would like help sourcing and purchasing your unique gemstone please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org
* Gemstones pictured are natural, untreated bi-coloured sapphires. Available to purchase now.