Raw Lab Created Ruby, Sapphires and Emerald
Grown in a high tech lab in fascinating process, these gems are the exact same material as natural sapphire. Yet they cost a fraction of natural stones and the environmental impact to produce them is vastly less than traditionally mined gems.
A synthetic gem material is one that is made in a laboratory, but which shares virtually all chemical, optical, and physical characteristics of its natural mineral counterpart.
Some gemstones are very rare, since they don't occur as frequently in nature as other varieties. They can also be more difficult to extract from the Earth, which makes them harder to obtain. Mining stones that are difficult to find uses more resources and takes more exploratory searching which are both hard on the environment. So the rarity and toll on the Earth tends to make these kinds of gemstones much more expensive than more abundant varieties. That's why lab-created gemstones make a great alternative.
Lab created gem crystals have been manufactured since the late 1800s. The first success was producing synthetic ruby of faceting quality. Lab grown crystals were used for gemstones, but also in industrial applications, such as communications and laser technology, microelectronics, and abrasives.
Diamond, emerald, and corundum are favorite lab-created stones. Sapphires and Rubies are both corundum, but the change in color is due to different trace minerals when the crystal is forming. This is one reason natural sapphires come in a wide range of tones.
Stones created in a lab are chemically, physically and optically identical to those mined underground — and have many advantages over a natural stone. The created gemstones are not imitations; they are the real minerals in every way except the elapsed time and location of their growth.
Natural Sapphire Crystals
In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission requires that any gem material produced in a laboratory be described in a way that leaves no doubt about its origin. It is considered to be a deceptive practice if synthetic gem material is not clearly disclosed to the consumer. There are also a number of industry organizations such as the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) that have formulated specific guidelines regarding the disclosure of synthetic gems at the time of sale.
During the last century, researchers have developed a number of different ways to create synthetic gem materials in the laboratory. Most of these methods fall into two major categories – melt or solution.
In melt processes, the chemical composition of melt is the same as the composition of the resulting crystal. The first commercially successful synthetic gems of this type of process were created by Flame Fusion. This process involves dropping finely ground chemicals through a high-temperature flame, where they melt and fall onto a rotating pedestal. This action produces a synthetic crystal.
The crystal still needs to be cut, faceted and polished the way a natural gem does, and in this respect there is no difference between the two. Skilled cutting is an important part of the beauty and sparkle of any stone.
There is another melt process called Crystal Pulling. Here, nutrients are melted in a crucible and the synthetic crystal grows from a seed that is dipped into the melt, and then slowly pulled away from the melt as it grows. The only difference in these two types of melt process is the way the mineral it is formed.
In Solution processes, the solution has a different chemical composition than that of the resulting crystal. Constituents are dissolved in the solution or melt at high temperature, and the crystal forms initially on a seed crystal as the melt temperature is lowered.
One set of techniques in this process is called Flux Growth. Flux is a solid material that, when melted, dissolves other materials in the same way that water dissolves sugar. As the dissolved chemical solution gradually cools, synthetic crystals form.
Growing a synthetic gem by the flux method requires patience and a significant financial investment. Crystal growth can take up to a year, and the equipment is very expensive. But the results are well worth the time and effort.
There is another technique called Hydrothermal Growth. Like the flux process, the hydrothermal growth process is slow and expensive. But it’s the only method for successfully growing synthetic quartz.
This process requires heat and pressure and imitates the conditions deep in the earth that resulted in the formation of natural gems. Nutrients are dissolved in a water solution, and then synthetic crystals form as the solution cools in a specially designed chamber under great pressure. This is the closest process to the natural formation of gem minerals, but also one of the more difficult to produce. The pressure is necessary to form certain types of crystals, such as diamond.