Should Beginners Practice Faceting on Natural or Synthetic Quartz?

synthetic quartz pendant
The final version of this engraved pendant will be 18k gold and feature a 23-ct tanzanite. For now, this is a sterling silver test with a “cobalt blue” lab-created quartz. “Sterling Trial Run 1” by Jessa and Mark Anderson. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

A novice faceter recently asked me this question:

As a beginner, I know I should start learning on quartz. However, I stumbled across a facet rough seller that lists a lot of synthetic quartz. Is there any reason I couldn’t start with the lab-created rough? Will synthetic quartz give me problems that natural quartz won’t?

From a faceting standpoint, starting on natural or synthetic quartz makes no difference. Depending on the manufacturing process, lab-created quartz has some standard types of flaws, such as bubble lines. However, these fairly predictable flaws should pose no problems.

Nevertheless, I recommend starting with natural quartz for several reasons.

synthetic quartz - hydrothermally grown
“Synthetic Quartz,” grown via the hydrothermal method, by Didier Descouens. Licensed under CC By-SA 4.0.

Some Problems Novice Faceters Should Experience

When you work with natural quartz rough, you’ll discover many types of flaws and inclusions, such as color zoning. As a result, you’ll learn how to recognize and work with them. In addition, you’ll deal with other types of problems, such as gem orientation. Learning these lessons now will help you later in your faceting career.

One day, you’ll likely cut more expensive gem rough, not just quartz. Knowing how to select rough, how to spot problems, what flaws you can live with, and what’s not acceptable in a finished gemstone are vital skills for a faceter.

Beginners need practice. In particular, they need to practice on a gem material that’s relatively easy to cut but still poses challenges, like natural quartz. (As you advance, other rough gems will present additional challenges).

natural vs. synthetic quartz rough - inclusions
Colorless quartz with a single greenish-blue hexagonal apatite crystal inclusion, 10.67 cts, corner triangle cut, Minas Gerais, Brazil. © Rob Lavinsky, Used with permission.

Inexpensive Natural Rough Can Still Yield a Valuable Finished Gem

Beginners also need relatively inexpensive material to practice faceting. Both low-end natural and synthetic quartz rough fit the bill. However, I think you should still choose natural quartz.

You can easily find a huge, nice, natural, clear quartz for less than $100 a kilo. For not much more money, you can acquire a lot of nice colored quartz rough, too. Quartz only gets expensive in the top high-grade commercial colors.

Don’t underestimate how truly gorgeous a properly cut piece of clear quartz can be, especially in larger sizes. Even if you’re just starting to facet, cut something that’s worth your time. That way, when you finish cutting a piece of natural quartz, you’ll have something valuable. While it may not be worth a lot, it may be at least sellable and, thus, worth something.

natural vs. synthetic quartz rough - rock crystals
“Burmese Rock Crystals (Quartz)” by Mauro Cateb. Licensed under CC By-SA 3.0.

I actually sell large, light-colored finished natural quartz stones fairly easily. Since the rough is inexpensive, I make a decent profit. On the other hand, you won’t be able to sell your finished synthetic quartz gems for much of anything. Even though synthetic rough is also inexpensive, you won’t make any profit from your hard work.

Use Synthetic Quartz for Competition Cutting

If you plan to cut quartz for a competition, use synthetic quartz if the rules allow it. This will save you a lot of time and trouble, which merits making an exception in this case.

natural vs. synthetic quartz rough - citrine
Citrine (Quartz) rough. Synthetic (Left) and natural (Right).

About the author
Jeff R. Graham
The late Jeff Graham was a prolific faceter, creator of many original faceting designs, and the author of several highly-regarded instructional faceting books such as Gram Faceting Designs.
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