Some people make distinctions between different kinds of synthetic or lab-grown gems. In fact, you may even find different definitions of synthetic material. (Editor’s Note: Look no further than Part 1 of our guide to synthetic gemstones). Two terms commonly encountered are simulated and created gemstones. To clarify matters, here are some general definitions of these words.
Many terms are used interchangeably with synthetic. Artificial, lab-grown, lab-made, “man-made,” etc. All these terms identify gemstones that are created in laboratories, not in nature. There are many processes for synthesizing gems. Some are inexpensive, some are very expensive, but they’re all conducted artificially, in a lab. They may mimic or reproduce natural processes and use the same ingredients found in the natural stones. However, these processes are not occurring in nature.
Some synthetic stones are chemically and optically identical to their natural counterparts. For example, a synthetic emerald may be a real emerald but not a natural emerald. Depending on the process used, synthetic gemstones may even have the same inclusions and flaws found in natural gems. Or, they may have telltale signs they’re synthetic. Distinguishing between synthetic and natural gemstones can be very difficult.
However, some synthetic stones are made just to imitate natural stones without being chemically and optically identical.
Gemstones synthesized in a lab to imitate natural stones are called simulated gemstones or simulants. However, not all simulants are synthetic. Glass pieces and assembled stones like doublets and triplets are often used to simulate natural gems. Sometimes, one kind of natural gemstone can be presented as another kind. For example, a garnet doublet may be cut to look like a ruby. (Sometimes, gems are sold by using misleading names).
Regardless of its origins, a simulated gemstone is a piece intended to “look like” another gemstone. A close gemological analysis would reveal what it really is. Simulants are also called imitations, faux, and fakes. While a garnet simulating a ruby may be a real garnet, it’s a fake ruby. Some vendors may be honest about selling simulants. Others may not disclose what the gem truly is. Buyer beware.
People who sell synthetic gems rarely use the word “synthetic.” You’ll almost always find “created gemstones” instead of synthetic gemstones for sale. Although a synthetic may be a real gemstone, the term “synthetic” has strong popular connotations of being “not real” as well as being “not natural.” Gemologically, a synthetic stone may be both real and not natural. Nevertheless, this distinction might be a hard sell to some consumers. Referring to created gemstones may help skirt those associations altogether.
Synthetic or created gemstones have been on the market since the early 1900s. Simulated gemstones or “lookalikes” have been around as long as people have valued gems. Don’t assume that an old stone is a natural stone.
Should Treated Natural Gemstones Be Considered Created Gemstones?
There are many gemstone treatments and enhancements used to improve natural gemstone rough. For example, heat is often used on sapphire to improve color and melt silk inclusions. Some people would say all treated stones should be considered synthetic or created gemstones. Personally, I don’t generally agree with this view. However, I think there is a gray area. If a natural gem receives extreme treatments, it should be considered a synthetic gem. (Editor’s Note: For an example of what might constitute “extreme treatment,” consider the acid treatment Type B jade receives).