When you're shopping for gemstone jewelry, it can be confusing to determine exactly what you're buying because the industry uses specialized terms and classifications which are not common knowledge. One of the most commonly asked questions when jewelry shopping is: what is the difference between natural versus created gems? For example, you may find a lab created sapphire pendant in the display case at the jewelry store, while the natural sapphire pendant sitting next to it looks almost identical but is many times the cost.
The term 'natural' has positive connotations in common use. Marketers of everything from food products to shampoo are always trying to present their products as "natural", because natural products are seen as being healthier, rarer and more authentic. Jewelry sellers are no exception; natural gemstones command many times the selling price of lab created gems, even though they may look very similar. It's important to understand what exactly the difference is between the two, and if the extra cost is worth it to you personally.
On a molecular level, lab created gemstones have the exact same composition as natural gemstones. Gemstone labs mimic the incredibly high temperature and pressure conditions required to create jewels in nature, in a carefully controlled laboratory environment. Makers of created gems can exactly replicate the attributes of natural gemstones, such as hardness, luster, composition and color. In a strange way, lab created jewels are actually too flawless; gems grown in a lab do not contain the trace impurities found in natural gems. Jewelry assessors are trained to look for these impurities and assign lower values if they are not found. It may seem odd that customers are willing to pay more for "imperfections" in a gemstone, but the power of marketing and consumers' desire for non-artificial products mean that these natural gems will always sell for a premium.
The most commonly encountered lab created gems are rubies and sapphires because they are easy to create in the laboratory. Aquamarines are a bit more difficult to synthesize, but are still a common sight in jewelry cases. Emeralds are one of the most difficult gems to synthesize and as such most emeralds you will find for sale are natural.
While lab created gems are molecularly indistinguishable from natural ones, simulated gems are made only to look like the real gem they are imitating and do not share any chemical properties with the real thing. Simulated gems can be made from other mineral crystals; for example, cubic zirconia or moissanite is often used to simulate diamonds. Alternatively, they can be made of cut, polished glass or even synthetic materials like plastic. Although some simulated gemstones can be somewhat convincing in appearance, any close examination tells another story.
Now that you know the three major classifications of gemstone value, you need to determine if the high price of natural gems is worth it to you. If you simply need to have the rarest and most precious gemstone, or if you have strong beliefs in the spiritual and symbolic value of gems, then natural gemstone jewelry may be right for you. If you want the most brilliant sparkle and richest color possible, at a discounted price, then lab created gems are the right choice. Finally, those who are looking for casual wear jewelry, costume pieces or who are concerned with the possibility of theft, should take a good look at imitation gemstone jewelry. There's no right choice for everyone, which is why online jewelry stores like Sears have a huge selection of jewels to fit every budget and taste.