The subject is vast and complex, so we will talk in general terms, focusing only on those aspects that may affect some of the most widespread Gems on the market.
The subject is discussed in specific volumes, in books with sometimes hundreds of pages for each category of Stones and Gems.
People often get confused between Artificial and Synthetic Gems, one thinks it is the same thing, instead there is a substantial difference between the 2 categories. Some people prefer to call them simply Imitations, but the term is very generic. I will briefly explain their substantial difference, to be fair.
Of course we are available for those who wish to have more information.
These are gems that have no counterpart in Nature, so we are talking about something totally invented in a lab and created for the sole purpose of imitating Natural gems of greater quality and value, the most common example is the Cubic Zirconia, which many simply (and incorrectly) call Zirconia or Zircon, an artificial stone that mimics the Brilliant-cut Diamond.
Virtually everyone knows the popular "Swaroski Zircons”, exactly, we are talking of Cubic Zirconia.
These are gems reproduced in a lab that have an exact match in Nature
, they have the same Chemistry, Crystalline structure and the same Hardness
as their Natural counterpart. The first Synthetic stone created, with a size great enough to cut gems out of it, was made by A.V.Verneuil in 1888
obtaining a synthetic Ruby Boules (Corundum)
. In the years to follow other people with the same process also managed to synthesize: Sapphires, colourless Corundum and others in various colours, synthetic Asteria Rubies and Sapphires, etc
; the list is very long and to date there has been no stop in the attempts and laboratory research, trying to synthesize even the most complex gems.
They insert into sophisticated equipment the same Chemical elements of a particular gem and reproduce (as far as possible), the same temperatures and pressure that normally occur in Nature.
There are to date several methods to synthesize Gems (about a dozen), some of which not only reproduce the Colour, Chemistry and Crystalline structure but also try to imitate the characteristic signs which initially tended to distinguish synthetic stones from Natural gems.
The birth of these synthesis methods, has resulted over the years in other evolutions, such as: treatment, heating, irradiation (for colouring), etc., this has given the possibility to obtain Synthetic gems treated further to create internal inclusions similar to those of Natural gems, with the aim of reaching as realistically as possible, the look of Natural gems. This technology is the same that has allowed and given the opportunity to produce on scale the "Synthetic Sapphire glass", used on watches and some Technological equipment (e.g. camera lenses of some models of Smartphone).
Reconstructed or Restored Stones
Fragments of natural gems that cannot be used due to their size, fused and pressed to make crystals of larger size, useful to obtain cut gemstones, usable in Jewellery as well.
Generally it is a Gem consisting of 2 (doublets) or 3 (triplets) different materials
, parts of Natural, Synthetic, Artificial gems, assembled together
with colourless or coloured glue, depending on the composition and the desired effect. You obtained a single gem that seemed Natural, having a pleasant aesthetic effect, which could be set in a piece of Jewellery. It is a method used more in the past than today
, as in recent years the production of Synthetic and Artificial Gems
, provided the material necessary to obtain stones suitable to be set in Jewellery. Composite gems, at the moment have a very limited presence on the market.
One of the most used composite gem present and used at the moment is the Opal doublet or triplet
The Opal is a fascinating natural gem, if of good quality and size it has a not-indifferent commercial value; to achieve composite Gems which looks like a natural opal, one produces doublets or triplets in which a very thin layer (sheet) of Opal is inserted
- Opal Doublet: Opal on the top part – lower part in a dark background material, e.g. black Onyx or other (Dark base).
- Opal Triplet: top part in Glass, Quartz Rock Crystal (colourless Quartz) or a transparent material – a thin layer of Opal in the middle part – lower part in a dark background material, e.g. black Onyx or other (Dark base).
Commercially, the most widespread are definitely the triplets, as one can obtain them at very low prices, the price is low, because the part of Opal used is very small. The doublets appear to be, in some cases, already more interesting, the layer of Opal used has a minimum thickness that makes it more beautiful. In addition to doublets that use a dark material such as black Onyx or other, there are Opal Doublets with a bottom in “mother” rock (a rock upon which the Opal might attach itself to in nature); the appearance is certainly more pleasant, aesthetically they resemble Boulder Opals.
The natural Opal is and remains one of a kind, imitations might come close but Cannot reach the same beauty and quality; you can find a wide variety of colours, so great it is sometimes difficult to have a pair that is exactly the same.
Most important Artificial Stones
As one can imagine, the more a Natural Gem is valuable and on demand in the market, the more numerous its imitations will be, it is the case with the Diamond considered the King among precious stones. As already mentioned the main Diamond imitations known are: Lead Glass (Rhinestones), GGG (Galliant), Lithium Niobate (Linobate), strontium titanate (Fabulite, Diagem), YAG (Diamonair, Cirolite), Cubic Zirconia (Dievalite, Phianite, phianites) commonly (and incorrectly) called zircon, synthetic Moissanite, synthetic Diamond.
In the majority of cases we are talking about Artificial gems whose appearance mimics the Diamonds, but hardly ever equal their splendour and beauty, while in other cases, we can grow very close, as with synthetic Moissanite and synthetic Diamonds, having by now reached levels of excellence.
Let’s talk a moment about the 2 Artificial stones that are the most popular and widespread in the Jewellery and costume Jewellery market, Rhinestones and Cubic zirconia.
It is an Artificial
product created by man, a piece of leaded Glass
(picture on the left), what many would call a simple crystal with a high lead content in order to increase brightness and “resistance”, to this crystal is applied a standard cut with some facets, and the lower part (canopy) is coated with materials to increase brightness. The purpose is to beautify "jewels" built with materials that are not particularly expensive, we find it often in the production of metal costume jewellery and silver costume jewellery
The goal is to have the maximum effect “possible” at a very low price, the application and fixing of these "stones" takes place using glue, in this way it is very quick to put together objects even with several dozen rhinestones .
The effect, durability
and beauty of the "jewel" in itself, is not comparable with other types of products
, they are low-end products. The possible maintenance of rhinestone "jewels" is fast and cheap
, should it be necessary to replace some rhinestones.
Many call Rhinestones, even "stones" that have Nothing in common with "real" rhinestones, they are simply Very cheap products, in plastic (usually), with a flat bottom that adheres through simple adhesive (picture on the right). These can be commonly found in shops like Fabric stores, Stationers and the like, they are often used to decorate low-end clothing.
Rhinestone: Mohs - hardness 5
Cubic Zirconia (“Zircon”)
This Artificial stone is definitely the best by far among the "poor" imitations of Diamonds, Cubic Zirconia, very widespread on the market today, is wrongly called Zircon, this terminology has by now spread and established itself, being used regularly by everyone, including those working in the field. Especially Gemmologists (but not only), try to maintain the correct terminology as there is a Natural Gem named Zircon, which has nothing to do with Cubic zirconia, different Chemical structure, Crystalline qualities and Hardness.
has had in recent years a very large circulation and significant productivity improvement, to date we have achieved an excellent production quality.
There are however different degrees of quality in the market
, we talk about 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice, where those in the 1st choice are the most beautiful and absolute brightest.
Fortunately one uses the 1st or maximum the 2nd choice, but over the years many Jewellery manufacturers have progressively raised the quality, very often using Cubic Zirconia of 1st choice
Commonly when we talk about Swarovski stones, gems or jewellery (or sometimes simply Swarovski), many mean or think about stones, jewellery of great effect and brightness, without distinguishing well the actual product; we need to point out that Swarovski is among the best producers, both of Rhinestones and of Cubic zirconia, but not the only one !
Swarovski has become known over the years for the high quality of its "crystals" and was among the first to produce 1st choice cubic zirconia, considered among the best.
We all know, the market adapts easily and to date in addition to Swarovski there are also other manufacturers of 1st choice cubic zirconia.
Careful, we have here mentioned the quality of Swarovski only in reference to stones (Rhinestones and Cubic Zirconia), there is no reference to other Swarovski products that would require further insights.
Cubic Zirconia: Mohs - hardness 8.5
It is a synthetic gem that definitely requires further explanation, suffice it to say for the moment that among all gems, synthetic Moissanite ("Moissanite") is the one that comes closest to the Diamond
(except for synthetic diamonds), for Brilliance, Resistance and Hardness, with White shades that are comparable to those of H-I-J Diamonds
Synthetic Moissanite: Mohs - hardness 9
A real problem of our time ?
As already explained the Synthetic gem features the same Chemistry, Crystal qualities and Hardness
of the corresponding Natural gem, so it is recognizable only with complex analysis and professional equipment.
Currently the high production costs in the difficulty to obtain beautiful and large crystals
, creates a cautious peace of mind regarding the arrival of large quantities of gems born from this Synthesis. Peace of mind and serenity, comes when you purchase Trademarks / Brands or anyway from serious and professional sale channels, where it is possible to identify a preparation not only due to experience, but to the important professional training and to an adequate supporting equipment that can help the verification and analysis.
The “figure” of the Gemmologist
is and will be increasingly important not only due to his preparation but also to the informative and cultural aspect that he can provide; let’s hope this professional “figure” is more and more present and widespread in the future.
Using known and safe channels gives peace of mind due to the fact that quality controls are carried out along the production chain
, the higher the value of the stone the more frequent the testing, nothing is left to chance.
Synthetic diamond: Mohs - hardness 10
Assessing the situation:
I think we should not be particularly afraid of these Imitations and Synthesis, if the there is transparency in the market and you know exactly what you are buying, one should not have prejudices regarding the use of Natural, Artificial and Synthetic gems in more or less precious Jewellery, the important thing is that everything is stated, official, certified.
I would never give up the pleasure of buying a piece with particularly beautiful Natural gems, these transmit a deep emotion that goes beyond the appearance of the "simple" gem or of its commercial value.
Why give up the chance of having spectacular-looking gems at reasonable prices ?
There are Natural, Artificial and Synthetic gems, each with its own characteristics, properties and prices, with the possibility of creating and wearing jewels of various kinds and shapes to satisfy single needs and reflect the personality of anyone in various occasions.
So let's use them all, without limits, without worries or particular problems.
Sophistications and Treatments
The matter in question is very complex and long, treatments and adulteration increase over the years, constantly improve, so the topic requires continuous updates.
All one needs to know is basic information to understand the topic of which we will explain some basic points.
Many commercial gems, not all, are improved with heating treatment, annealing, filling and various "embellishments", many solutions to obtain more beautiful and valuable gems, some treatments only intensify the colour and speed up those processes that can occur even in Nature, others instead are profound changes that modify greatly the initial appearance of the gem.
In the case of heating and annealing, many now consider it, a standard and normal treatment since it helps the stone intensify colour and transparency (sometimes), but it is not considered a "heavy" treatment, some have defined it, saying: a help from man in completing what nature didn’t finish doing !. So commonly considered like a conventional and recognized treatment.
Some stones with fairly low market price, are subjected to those "strong" treatments
, which profoundly alter
the initial appearance of the stone, obtaining the aesthetic appearance of gems with a much Greater value
We must point out that some of these "strong" treatments are not stable, so over time, or even on the occasion of simple and normal maintenance, they might undergo (even easily), an aesthetic alteration
like a change in hue and colour, clear lines or superficial veins that were invisible before, or other. In these cases it is Not possible to blame the professional for the alteration
, after a maintenance session or Technical intervention
, as these "strong" treatments, are Not visible or recognizable to the naked
eye or with a simple magnifying lens.
As mentioned above, there are no problems if one is aware and well informed, of what one is buying.
These treatments can be applied to various types of precious and non-precious stones, in some cases even Diamonds, can undergo treatments that require sophisticated technological application.
They carry out heat treatments (patented, that do not reveal the exact process), that change the colour even of some Diamonds that are brownish or not pleasing in colour, giving them an appearance of a good commercial white.
In some large Diamonds, in the case of single dark and well visible inclusions, one can apply laser perforations, clean up the dark inclusions and then fill the cavities with an optical material with features similar to the Diamond’s, to make the process invisible to the eye and almost invisible to the magnifying lens.
This treatment, is applied to Diamonds whose commercial value can vary a lot, depending on whether these inclusions are visible or not to the naked eye, properly marketed, these diamonds will never have a list price of a natural diamond of equal size and
All these treatments and embellishments aim at obtaining better stones and gems from an aesthetic point of view, to use in Jewellery.
Fears? Doubts? No, shop with peace of mind and no worries, only through trusted and professional channels and you will see that there will be No problems of any kind.
Sophistications and treatments are many, varied and complex, evolving and updating; the topic to be thoroughly covered, requires dozens, hundreds, of very Technical pages.
I wanted, to approach the subject, “inconvenient to many”, to make one understand, give clarifications and clear explanations, to those who might have read, heard, found information (sometimes unclear and not precise), without the right Technical explanation.