Natural Versus Lab-Created Gemstones: What’s the Difference?

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In the gemstone jewelry market today, there are two main types of gemstones: natural and man-made. Questions of ethics and sustainability have led to many people wondering which type of gem is the better choice for an everyday ring or engagement ring. Join us as we explore the pros and cons of natural versus lab-created gemstones and explain our approach to sourcing conflict-free gemstones.

How Gemstones Form in Nature

The gemstones that are used to create natural gemstone rings are thought to have taken millions of years to form. Made from elemental minerals, including aluminum, silica, carbon, corundum, beryllium, oxygen, and others, gemstones form under volcanic conditions that provide the needed:

  • Materials
  • Temperature
  • Pressure
  • Space
  • Time

The finished gems are generally brought to the surface either through an eruption of magma or a slow rising to the surface combined with natural patterns of weathering and erosion.

Four Ways that Gemstones Form

A dark cloudy red sky above lava and rocks.

Just as lab-created gemstones are formed under different sets of conditions, natural gemstones also form under distinct combinations of temperature and pressure:

  • High-Temperature Gemstones

    The gemstones that form deep within the Earth’s mantle experience the highest temperatures of any gem. Diamonds are thought to form at the greatest depth of any gemstone — at 110 to 150 miles beneath the Earth’s surface — before being brought to the surface via volcanic eruptions. Peridot is thought to form at around 55 miles beneath the surface and is also brought higher in a volcanic eruption.

  • Crystallized Magma

    As the magma (molten rock) in the Earth’s mantle moves upwards and begins to cool, it crystallizes into different gemstones at different points in the cooling process. The first mineral that will usually appear is corundum (blue sapphire and ruby), followed by topaz and finally quartz.

  • Sedimentary Gemstones

    In this process, minerals on the earth’s surface mix with the waters of the ocean and are carried down into the cracks in the earth. Here, they form mineral layers that can ultimately turn into opal, malachite, and azurite.

  • Metamorphic Gemstones

    Made under changing conditions of high temperature and high pressure, these gemstones (the largest category) form as minerals when they are forced together over long periods of time.

Out of these four categories of gems, diamonds are some of the most popular among lab-created gemstones because naturally-formed diamonds are among the most sought-after and expensive gemstones and also those most often implicated in civil wars and human rights abuses.

How Gemstones Are Made in a Lab

Just like mined gems, lab-created gemstones are made up of natural minerals that are applied intentionally under the ideal conditions of pressure and heat. What may take millions of years underground can be achieved in only a fraction of the time in a laboratory and results in gems that are essentially the same as naturally-formed gemstones.

Spotting the Difference

Made from the same materials and under similar conditions, lab-created gemstones are optically almost identical to the stones used in natural gemstone rings. It would take strong magnification and a highly trained eye to spot the difference between a naturally-formed gemstone and a created one.

The primary difference between these two types of stones is that created gemstones have fewer inclusions. This is because the inclusions in naturally-formed gemstones come as a result of gases and other minerals being added to the mix during the molten stage of the stone’s formation.

The Difference between Natural, Created, Simulant, and Imitation Gems

When talking about lab-created gemstones, it’s important to note that these are not the same as simulant or imitation gemstones. Lab-made gems are “real” gemstones, except that they have been made in a lab and not in the earth. When shopping for gems online or in-store, it’s important to be aware of key terms when describing gemstones so that you know exactly what you’re getting.

Natural Gemstones

Natural gemstones are technically gems that have been mined from the earth and have not received any special treatments. However, many gems labeled “natural” have been treated with dyes, wax, lead fillings, and more, so it’s important to ask if the gem has been treated before making any assumptions.

Created Gemstones

“Created” gemstones have been made in a lab but are chemically, physically, and optically identical to a natural gemstone. Sometimes referred to as “synthetic,” these gems are now more commonly described as “created,” as the word “synthetic” can evoke an idea of a gem that’s made from a different material.

Simulant Gemstones

Simulating a gem is nothing new — gems such as garnet have long been used in place of rubies and peridot in place of emerald, for example. Rather than referring to lab-created gemstones, simulant gemstones are generally natural but are not the gem that the seller claims them to be and may have received treatments to change or intensify their color.

Imitation Gemstones

In the world of synthetic and natural gemstone rings, “imitation” gemstones are different from “lab-created gemstones” in that they may have been created from a non-chemically-identical substance such as resin or glass. This is typically the kind of gems that you find in cheap jewelry and children’s toys.

Pros and Cons of Lab-Created Gemstones

Just like anything man-made, lab-created gemstones have their pros and cons. The primary and most important advantage is that created gems avoid the need for mines and bypass the issues of slavery and conflict. A second and equally as important advantage is that gems made in a lab don’t hurt the environment and can be made in almost unlimited quantities. This makes them far cheaper and easier to make (and buy).

The reasons that some people might prefer to purchase natural gemstone rings over lab-created gemstones include the prestige of a gem that took a long time to form and a desire to use the energetic properties of gemstones for enhancing one’s health and wellbeing.

Purchase Natural Gemstone Rings at AZEERA

At AZEERA, we are proud to use conflict-free, naturally-sourced gemstones that have been subjected only to approved AGTA treatments such as heating and oiling. No slave or child labor was involved in the sourcing of our gemstones. You can learn more about our gems by reading our blog and create your very own natural gemstone ring by contacting our founder Puneet today!

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