According to the Gemological Institute of America any gemstone whether created in nature or in a lab can be classified as "real" if it contains identical mineral makeup. This means that synthetic gemstones are classified and sold as "real", although not as "natural." To be labeled natural, stone must be produced by nature. Learn the differences between lab-created and natural gemstones to make better buying decisions, even when both types may be known as "real".
What Makes a Gemstone Real?
When gemstones are created in nature, they contain specific types of mineral makeup, which gives them their color, clarity and appearance. These natural gemstones are always classified as "real" gems - there is no dispute about their origins or their mineral makeup.
Some gemstones can be created in a lab to have identical mineral makeup as the ones found in nature. These "lab-created" or "synthetic" gemstones can be called real if their mineral make up is identical to those found in nature.
If a lab-created gemstones contains other materials, however, such as spinel being passed off as a ruby, the gemstone is not considered real and is usually called 'simulated' rather than "synthetic" by the seller. Simulated gemstones may also include natural gems passed off as others, such as cubic zirconia being passed off as a diamond.
Comparing Synthetic and Natural Gemstones
With nearly identical mineral makeup, most synthetic and natural gemstones are fairly indistinguishable to the naked eye.
The biggest difference between the two is that the synthetic gemstone is usually of better clarity, with fewer inclusions and often better color. This is because the process of making the gem is controlled; minerals that cause inclusions or color differences in the stones are not introduced, which makes synthetic stones appear to be more "perfect" than their natural counterparts. While a natural gem may need to be heat treated to bring out its color, a synthetic version can be grown to have the desired color on demand.
Despite the fact that all lab-created gemstones are typically flawless, popular culture still prefers natural gemstones over the lab-crafted variety, simply due to the fact that the natural stones are "rare" and therefore considered more valuable. This keeps the cost of some lab-created gems low in comparison to natural stones.
The cost of various synthetic and natural gemstones varies widely depending upon the gem in question.
If a gemstone, such as rubies or sapphires, is easy to create in a lab, then they can be produced fairly cheaply, which makes a synthetic or lab-grown ruby or sapphire much less expensive than the real thing.
- This .49carat sapphire from the Natural Sapphire Company sells for about $370, unmounted. In comparison, the 1 carat lab-created sapphire pictured right retails for just under $20 at Amazon.
- This natural ruby from Gem Select is just over a carat and sells for about $725. In comparison, this lab-created ruby of about the same dimensions sells at Esslinger.com for about $68.
In the case diamonds, which are difficult to grow, cut and produce, there may be very little cost difference - or a significant difference - between a synthetic diamond and a natural diamond because diamonds are graded on many different factors (color, cut, clarity and carat). There can be a 30-percent reduction in price for a synthetic versus a naturally grown diamond of the exact same specifications. However, lab-created diamonds compared with natural diamonds that have less brilliant clarity or that contain flaws will actually sell for more.
A few comparisons in cost include:
Know What You're Purchasing
Understand that if you are purchasing a gemstone labeled as synthetic or lab-created, that you are purchasing a quality gemstone with the same mineral makeup as the type found in nature. If you are looking for a less expensive alternative, then a simulated stone may be the way to go.