Natural or Artificial?

Modified: April 2011
by Gerald Sisk, Graduate Gemologist (GIA), Co-Founder of Jewelry Television

Have you ever been confused over the usage of gemological terms? Well, you are not alone. Gemological and mineralogical terms are often misunderstood, even within the gemstone and jewelry industries.

I once asked a prominent jewelry sales person what I thought was a simple question. He was offering JTV® a ring with a lab-created alexandrite as a center stone. I asked, “Is this gemstone a simulant, or is it synthetic alex?” He looked at me blankly and repeated that it was lab-alex. He had no idea what the difference was. The stone was actually a simulant: synthetic color-change corundum to be exact. He had worked for many years in the jewelry trade but had no idea what the difference was between stimulant and synthetic. I had to explain, because it made a substantial difference in cost.

All gemstones can be broken down into two basic categories: natural and artificial. Natural gemstones, whether organic or inorganic, are created by nature without any intervention by man. Artificial is a very broad term that includes all man-made or lab-created gemstones or gem materials.

Generally, a natural gemstone must exhibit some degree of beauty, rarity, and durability. Beauty however is in the eye of the beholder. It is therefore subjective and can vary from culture to culture. The degree of rarity and durability is also subjective and relative. It is a topic that is often debated as new gemstones are being added every year.

Now back to the term natural. If Mother Nature’s creation only undergoes basic cutting and polishing by man, it is designated natural. However, many gems may undergo some form of treatment before or after cutting and polishing. From a gemological perspective, these are referred to as natural enhanced. Natural enhanced gemstones are further divided into two sub-categories: those that undergo standard, industry-accepted treatments, and those that do not.

What is a standard treatment? – Heating of rubies, oiling of emeralds, bleaching of pearls to name a few. Standard treatments have been used for many decades, or even centuries. Natural gemstones that undergo standard treatments do not require disclosure. It assumed, unless otherwise noted, that all natural gemstones have been subjected, respectively, to some form of industry-accepted practice.

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