Natural or Artificial?
Modified: November 2017
by Hillary Spector, Graduate Gemologist
Originally written 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.
Let us place gemstones into two basic categories: natural and lab created. Natural gemstones are created by nature without any intervention by man. Natural diamond, sapphire, and amethyst are examples of natural gemstones. Lab created is a broad category that includes all man-made or synthetic gemstones. Lab created gems do not form in nature but rather in a laboratory.
The term natural is confusing because it can refer to the process by which a gem forms, but also to the color of a gemstone. In this article, we are only addressing natural formation, not natural versus treated gemstone color.
How about a better understanding of the terms used to describe gems that are included in the lab created category?
These are Jewelry Television definitions. The industry may have slightly different definitions for these terms. Keep in mind that these terms often overlap in their definitions.
Synthetic gems –manufactured material that contains the exact chemical composition and atomic structure as its natural counterpart. A natural diamond is composed of carbon; therefore, a synthetic diamond is also composed of carbon. A natural ruby is a 9 on the hardness scale. Therefore, a synthetic ruby is also a 9 on the hardness scale. A synthetic emerald IS an emerald, the difference is it formed in a laboratory setting NOT in nature. Of course, there is another significant difference – the price tag! Synthetic gems are considerably lower in cost than their natural counterparts. It is also important to note that not every gem has a synthetic counterpart.
Manmade - a material that has been manufactured and does not have a natural counterpart. Plastic or Swarovski crystal are good examples of manmade gemstones. They are created in a laboratory and do not possess the same chemical composition and atomic structure as their natural counterparts.
Lab created - a term used to describe any gemstone created by man; synthetic or manmade materials may be described as lab created.
Simulant - a “look alike” or imitation that mimics the appearance of another more expensive gemstone; it may be a natural or lab created gem. It does NOT contain the exact chemical composition and atomic structure as the natural gemstone. An example of a lab created gem used as a simulant is glass as a simulant for diamond. An example of a natural gem as a simulant is light blue topaz as a simulant for aquamarine.