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To distinguish synthetic or natural gemstones


When you think of the term “synthetic,” what’s the first thing you associate it with? Perhaps rubber? Perhaps textiles like rayon, polyester, or acetate? These are some of the best known types of synthetic products; and in each case, the synthetic has a different chemical composition and name from the natural material it replaces, whether it be rubber, silk, or cotton.
In the jewelry trade, the word synthetic is used differently. It describes a gemstone made in a lab which has the same chemical, optical, and physical properties as its natural counterpart. A natural gemstone comes from the ground and is a product of natural, not of man. Imitations, on the other hand, do not have the same chemical composition as the stones they resemble, and they may be made by natural or by man. Glass and synthetic spinel, for example, are man made imitations of corundum. Garnets used to mimic rubies would be natural imitations.
Since consumers tend to interpret the word “synthetic” differently than jewelers, people who sell synthetic rubies and sapphires usually prefer to describe them with terms such as created, lab-grown, cultured, or man-made. Synthetic gems are not just a recent phenomenon. Synthetic corundum has been sold commercially since the early 1900s; so if your grandmother has some ruby jewelry, the stones could have been made in laboratory. Today, synthetic corundum is even more common especially in birthstone jewelry and class rings. It’s also finding in designer jewelry, sets with diamonds in gold or platinum.
Perhaps you are wondering how anyone could tell the difference between a synthetic and a natural ruby. Even though they each have the same chemical composition, their flaws can be very different. They may also be cut differently. And the coloring agents used in them may cause them to absorb light differently than natural stones.   
Some of the warning signs of imitation stones are valid for synthetics as well, an exceptionally large size, an unnatural color, a closed back setting, a flawless clarity, and a price that’s too good to be true can indicate that a stone might be a synthetic. However, tests that measure refractive index, hardness, and density will not separate the two because these characteristics are the same for both natural and synthetic corundum. Other ways of detecting synthetic stones are shape and cutting style test, the curved line and band test, crossed-polaroid test, two-colored test, bubbles test, etc.

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