Learn the difference between Natural, Cultured and Imitation Gemstones

Learn the difference between Natural, Cultured and Imitation Gemstones

Learn the difference between Natural, Cultured and Imitation Gemstones.

It can be difficult, when buying jewelry or gemstones, to decipher the descriptions sellers use on their products. The most obvious difference is usually the price. However, this is not always the case, as sometimes unscrupulous sellers could easily turn what looks like a good deal into an over-priced nightmare. This summary will give you the meaning of the terms as a guide for future reference on this website and others for gemstones and jewellery on the market today.

Natural Gemstones

Alex Soldiers Flower of Life

ABOVE: ALEX SOLDIER's one of a kind design featuring all Natural Gemstones: The Flower of Life

The term "natural" refers to a gemstone that is found growing or naturally produced in nature without the influence of human activity. These would be gemstones mined from the earth as well as those discovered naturally occurring in the water (such as pearls and coral). Natural gems have the allure of rarity when compared to their cultured counterparts – a natural pearl harvested from the ocean can be hundreds if not thousands of times more expensive than a cultured pearl.

A natural star sapphire, likewise, will be at a premium because of its rarity next to a lab created star sapphire. Whilst a gemstone is natural, it could have still undergone treatments and enhancements to change its appearance. An example would be a natural Tanzanite or Sapphire that was heated (a treatment) to deepen its color intensity or natural diamond that has been laser drilled to bleach out an inclusion (An impurity) - This is called an enhancement.

Cultured / Lab Created or Man-Made / Synthetically Grown Gemstones

Synthetic Gemstone Ring

ABOVE: A beautiful ring coated over 925 silver, with 18K gold and set with cultured Gemstones.

Cultured gemstones are physically identical to their natural gemstone counterparts that are mined from the Earth. They have the same physical properties and chemical composition as naturally occurring gemstones. The sole difference is that these are gemstones that are grown and manufactured in laboratories under controlled environments. In these controlled environments, all of the chemicals, minerals that are present in the natural environment are introduced into an environment at the right temperature and pressure levels, allowing cultured gemstones to “grow”.  ~~ In the same way you would make ice in your freezer, instead of fetching some naturally grown ice from the lake, gemstones are grown from crystals in compartments in a laboratory under specifically controlled conditions. These conditions certify a flawless product, with a more vivid, deeper colour than their natural counterparts. Being man-made, these stones will typically command a lower price than their naturally occurring counterparts.

Commonly found cultured gemstones include:

  • Pearls – Usually called Cultured Pearls, these pearls are formed by introducing a foreign substance into an oyster with the sole purpose of having the oyster form a pearl. Nearly all, some estimate up to 99%, of the pearls currently on the market are cultured pearls. An x-ray is required to determine if pearls were formed naturally or were cultured.
  • Sapphires and Rubies – Cultured / Lab-created rubies and sapphires are widely found in the current jewelry market. Cultured sapphires and rubies offer vivid colors and fewer inclusions than their naturally occurring counterparts. Star Sapphires are commonly found as cultured as well.
  • Emeralds – Lab created emeralds are widely available and immensely popular for their depth of color and fewer inclusions in comparison to the more ‘included’ counterparts found in nature.
  • Diamonds – Cultured Diamonds are currently being manufactured, but the production cost is still very high, prohibiting them from being a viable less-expensive option to natural diamonds.

Cultured gemstones are also sometimes referred to as “Cultivated”, “Synthetic” and “Man Made”.

Simulants and Imitations – these are the cheap, fake imitations.

Typically made of plastics, glass, resin and dyes, these substances are used to imitate the color, shape or look of a natural gemstone. These gemstones are easily identified as such via tests within a laboratory by a qualified gemologist.

  • Cubic Zirconia (commonly called “CZ”) is a common diamond simulant. Though they are colorless like white Diamonds, they do not have the same chemical or light refracting properties of Diamonds and they are used in jewelry to imitate the look of Diamonds.
  • Swarovsky beads, sometimes loosely called "crystals", also fall into this category.
  • Moissanite is also a widely available diamond simulant.
  • Additionally, you will find glass and plastic cut and dyed to resemble natural gemstones ranging from sapphires to opals. These are called imitations because they, other than trying to mimic a color or similar characteristic, have no actual chemical similarity to the natural stone.

Natural gemstones are beautiful, in part, for their rarity and the fact that the right chemicals, minerals and conditions were present in the ground at the right time to form a unique gemstone. This rarity is highly sought after and can make a stone much more valuable.

Cultureds are also impressive, as they are often created with noticeably fewer inclusions and have vivid color. Cultureds can often be had for a fraction of the cost of a naturally occurring gemstone. Knowing these differences will make you a more informed and discerning gemstone and jewelry buyer!

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