A gemstone is, in essence, a mineral.
Over the course of many thousands of years and a series of geological processes, it is formed underground, exhumed through mining and refined by cutting. Gem cutters are able to cut raw minerals in extremely precise ways, which results in a gemstone’s characteristic glassy sparkle.
Nowadays, geological processes which normally take thousands of years can be simulated in a laboratory for a much shorter time period. Gem buyers now have the option to choose between natural and lab-created (a.k.a. synthetic) stones.
Natural stones are formed underground through environmental processes. They are obtained through mining, selected for quality, and cut accordingly. Because only a small percentage of rough material is “gem-grade,” natural stones can be quite expensive — especially if they are “precious” (read: sapphire, ruby, or emerald). The more perfect they appear, the higher their value.
Why get a natural stone? Some people prefer natural stones because they consider them investments. Others just like the artistic allure to natural gems, especially those which are imperfect and contain inclusions.
If you decide to buy a gem for its investment or monetary value, be prepared to invest a considerable amount. It is preferable to buy a gem that is certified, or to have an existing gemstone certified by a reputable gemstone laboratory.
Here at Borealis Crystals, we sell inexpensive natural gems. These gems do not come with certificates, since certification can be costly (in our case, even more expensive than the gem itself). However, we can guarantee that our natural gems are authentic since we get them from reputable sources (local importers and gem sources in Pakistan).
Lab-created stones have the same chemical composition as their natural counterparts, yet they are much cheaper. Because they are formed under highly controlled conditions, they don’t have the inclusions that are normally found in natural stones. As a result, lab-created gems usually look near-perfect.
Lab created does not always mean cheap, however. Some gems only exist in lab-created form. Colored Signity stones (high quality cubic zirconia) are one such example. Pink Signity is a very lovely gem, with its attractive baby pink hue, intense sparkle, and sharp facets (the result of precise machine cutting). It may be more expensive than its white counterparts due to its rarity.
Lab Alexandrite is also a good-looking gem with properties closely resembling natural Alexandrite. Because Natural Alexandrite is very rare, occurring only in one specific region in Russia, gem traders can command insanely high prices per carat weight. Lab Alexandrite is a great alternative if you are on a budget. That way you can still afford the interesting color-changing properties of Alexandrite (often from bluish green to purple).
Moissanite, while naturally-occurring in microscopic amounts, is usually lab-created as well. Moissanite is an excellent diamond alternative for those looking for a stone resembling a diamond at a fraction of its cost.
Why get a lab-created stone? One misconception is that lab-created gemstones are fake. No, they are not! Lab-created stones are the real deal. They’re attractive, and yet they’re cheap. Some buyers, however, are not fond of their lack of flaws which make them appear “artificial” (even though they’re really not).
Beware of gemstones which claim to be synthetic but are actually simulants. Simulants can be colored glass, or a cheaper gemstone masquerading as a more expensive one (e.g. cubic zirconia as a diamond simulant).
We mention whether gems are lab-grown, and sell them at regular prices. Some lab-grown gems, such as lab alexandrites, may be slightly pricier, due to their rarity.
Inclusions are other materials trapped inside a gemstone when forming naturally. They are usually other minerals, but can also be gas or petroleum.
Natural gemstones may also have cracks. Cracks usually extend to the surface of the gem, whereas inclusions are only found inside.
The presence of inclusions and/or cracks affects the value of the gem. The more inclusions or cracks present, the less expensive the gem will be. This does not mean, however, that the gem isn’t worth getting! Some buyers like the eccentric character of included gems. Cracks are also fine, for as long as they are not too large; otherwise they will significantly weaken the structure of the entire gem.
Natural gemstones are quite often treated to improve their appearance. Some common treatments are as follows:
- Dyeing, or color treatment. Introducing dyes to a cracked or porous gemstone to improve its color.
- Heat treatment. Subjecting a gemstone to high temperatures to improve or change its color.
- Surface coating. Applying a thin film is applied over a gem to change its color or appearance.
- Filling. Injecting a glass, resin, wax or oil into surface-reaching fractures or cavities to conceal them and improve a gem’s apparent clarity.
Some of these treatments are not disclosed by the source and are hard to identify without laboratory analysis.
Source: Gem Treatment, GIA