When shopping for diamond or gemstone jewelry, simulants and synthetics are bound to catch your eye. These beautiful gems tend to cost a whole lot less than natural stones, yet they can look exactly the same! You might be wondering exactly what these stones are and how they differ from their natural counterparts. If so, you’re in luck! Today we dive into the differences between natural, synthetic and simulant gemstones so you can make the best choice for you!
A natural gemstone is just what it sounds like: it’s any gemstone that was formed by nature. Many gems—like diamonds and rubies—are formed by the earth itself, while others—like pearls and abalone—are formed within mollusks and oysters. All of these processes are “natural” because human beings didn’t play a role in them.
These natural processes are usually very slow and only happen under the right conditions. Plus, after the natural gem is formed, intensive mining is usually required to extract it. In the case of natural pearls, underwater diving is necessary to collect oysters—none of which are guaranteed to have pearls within them.
In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find truly natural pearls on the market today. That’s because finding and harvesting wild oysters is so difficult and labor intensive that it simply isn’t done much anymore. Instead, pearls are “cultured” on farms, which is what you will find in the vast majority of jewelry stores today. Cultured pearls are like natural pearls in every way except for their “seed.” In nature, an irritant just happens to enter the oyster, beginning the pearl-producing process. On a pearl farm, the “seed” is surgically implanted—but there’s still no guarantee a pearl will form!
All of these factors contribute greatly to the value of natural gemstones and pearls. Their price reflects not only the miracle of their existence, but also the amount of hard work required to bring that gem to you.
Synthetic gemstones are chemically and physically identical to their natural counterparts, but they aren’t formed naturally. Instead, modern science and technology are put to use to create gemstones in the lab! That’s why synthetic gemstones are sometimes called “lab-created” as well.
If you’re a lover of flawless gemstones, synthetic or lab-created gems might be for you! That’s because lab conditions can be completely ideal, allowing the gemstone to grow without interference from contaminants or sudden changes in pressure and temperature. The result is a perfect stone—at a fraction of the price!
That being said, lots of people love inclusions in their gemstones. They can add a sense of uniqueness, and some natural gemstones—like emeralds—are rarely found without them. Luckily, lab-created gems can be formed with inclusions too. That way, you can get the natural look without the natural price!
Today, labs can grow almost any gemstone under the sun—including diamonds—so they’re definitely something worth considering. Synthetics can give you greater carat sizes, higher quality and a wider range of colors at a lower price.
A simulant is not the same as a synthetic, but people often get these terms confused. A simulant simply looks like a particular stone, but it is not chemically identical. For example, a natural emerald and a synthetic emerald are both emeralds. The only difference between them is how they were formed. An emerald simulant, however, is not an emerald. It is simply a green stone that looks similar to an emerald. For this reason, simulants are sometimes called “imitation” stones.
Cubic zirconia (CZ) is probably the best known simulant today, as it is commonly used to mimic the look of a diamond. However, a CZ is not a diamond. These two glittering gemstones are made of completely different minerals and have many optical differences. In fact, CZ is an entirely synthetic gem in its own right—since it is made exclusively in the lab—but it is not a synthetic diamond.
Over the years, many colorless gems have been used as diamond simulants, because high-quality diamonds can be very expensive. White sapphires, zircon, white topaz, and even glass have all been used as affordable imitation diamonds.
Today, moissanite is a very popular diamond simulant. Like CZ, moissanite is another purely lab-grown gemstone—at least on earth! Super rare bits of natural moissanite have actually been found in meteorites, but you won’t find those in your local jewelry store.
The benefits of simulants are similar to the benefits of synthetics—you can get the look you want for less! A main difference to consider, however, is that a simulant’s hardness and durability will likely differ from a natural or synthetic stone. This can be good or bad, depending on what you’re needs are.
Say, for example, you love the look of opal but are concerned about having to be careful with it. A much more durable opal simulant could be perfect for you! On the other hand, no simulant can compare to a natural or synthetic diamond’s durability. Diamonds rank in at the very top of the Mohs scale of hardness, while CZ scores 8-8.5 and moissanite 9.25.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to choosing the gemstone for you, the most important things to keep in mind are cost, durability, and your desired look. For some, absolutely nothing compares to the miracle of a natural gemstone. Knowing that it was formed by the earth or inside a living thing is truly special and unique.
For others, the scientific marvel of a synthetic gemstone is hard to beat. It’s astonishing that laboratories can replicate the immensely complex processes required to form gemstones—to say nothing of how much faster they can do the job!
For others still, it’s more about the way the stone looks and holds up day-to-day. Whether you’re simply looking for a specific color or a durable look-alike, simulants can be a great affordable choice.
At the end of the day, it’s all about what you prefer! If you’d like to learn more or need help deciding, we’d love to be of service! We can even show you natural, synthetic and simulant gemstones side-by-side for easy comparison. Drop by one of our stores or contact us for more information. We hope to see you soon!