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Geosciences LibreTexts

14.1: Synthetic Gemstones

  • Page ID
    3256
  • A Brief History of Synthetic Gems

    From the earliest records in human history, attempts have been made to imitate precious gems. The ancient Egyptians used convincing colored glass and porcelain to mimic their most sacred stones, lapis, turquoise, and coral. Mining, in ancient history, had profound limitations, not the least of which was the limited amount of travel most cultures accepted as a reality of their lives. Early imitations were attempts to recreate the beauty found in nature. It is really doubtful that fraud was a motivation. Until the end of the 19th Century, glass and porcelain remained the mediums for imitating precious gemstones.

    Chemical elements were discovered at the end of the Middle Ages. Developments in analytical chemistry were widespread in the 18th century. In chemistry, breaking a substance down to its elemental composition is known as "analysis". The composition of a substance from its basic elements is known as "synthesis". Synthetic gems are composed of the same elements as their natural counterpart. In addition, they also possess the same crystallographic and physical characteristics.


    Technological advancements exploded in the 19th Century and provided the techniques for actually synthesizing gemstones. Early chemists were attempting to manufacture a synthetic product with the hardness and toughness of gems which would have industrial applications. Early synthetic gems were seen as an excellent and inexpensive alternative for watchmakers, not jewelers! Verneuil, a French chemist was the first to synthesize ruby in the late 1800's, and his technique, the " Verneuil Process" was mastered in 1902.

    IG Dye Trust, in Germany, developed a diffusion melt process (utilizing R. Nacken's method) and synthesized the first emeralds in 1935. This method was also used by Chatham (USA), Gilson (France) and Zerfass (Germany) to synthesize gems. Further research by these firms, developed the more sophisticated flux fusion method which is still utilized by most manufacturers today. This method requires the use of fluxes which commonly leave a variety of natural looking inclusions in the synthetic gems.

    Synthetic Gems Include

    Diamond
    Ruby
    Sapphire (all colors)
    Emerald
    Aquamarine
    Red Beryl
    Spinel
    Quartz (all colors including Amethyst, Citrine, and Ametrine)
    Alexandrite
    Opal
    Fire Opal
    Forsterite (used as Tanzanite imitation)
    Peridot (not commercially available)

    Artificial Products

    Artificial Products are defined as crystalline gems produced by an artificial process which have NO natural counterparts. Their primary function is to imitate other gems, but their physical and chemical properties are not related to the stones they imitate.

    Artificial Products Include

    Moissanite
    Strontium Titanate
    Yttrium Aluminum Garnet (YAG)
    Gadolinium Gallium Garnet (GGG)
    Cubic zirconia