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Gemstones: Real, Fake or in Between?

Apr 21, 2008
The technology surrounding the gemstone industry has been advancing at earth shattering speed. In the last 50 years, improved mining technology, newly developed treatments, the synthesis of gemstones and more wealth among consumers has made the gemstones market almost unrecognizable. For people shopping for gemstones, it can be intimidating and confusing to understand what they are buying. It turns out, it is not so simple as "real" or "fake": there is a continuum of possibilities. Below is an outline of the different conditions that exist among the gemstones we find in jewelry.

Untreated: Gemstones with this label are the "purest" kind. These gemstones have not been manipulated by humans in any way (except for being cut and polished). In some gemstone categories, treatments are so common that it is close to impossible to find an "untreated" one and they can be very expensive. They are expensive because being untreated implies that they were of good clarity and color naturally: such gemstones are very rare.

Natural: Natural is a term that usually means "not man made". This label is used for any gemstone that has come from the earth. Generally speaking, it does not necessarily mean it is "untreated". Many gemstones can be called "natural" and still have gone through some kind of treatment to modify their appearance.

Genuine or "real": These terms are used to assure us that the gemstone we are about to buy has all the mineralogy (physical, optical and chemical properties) of the gemstone it claims to be. It is important to know that being genuine does not necessarily mean it is natural, and it certainly does not mean it's untreated. For example, a man made sapphire is still a "genuine" sapphire because it is the same substance. Any piece of blue corundum, no matter its origin, is a real blue sapphire.

Treated (Permanent treatment): The most common treatments among gemstones are usually permanent treatments. These are used to improve the appearance of the gemstone, usually its clarity and/or color. A permanent treatment is one that will not fade or wear off with time. Permanent treatments are more accepted than non-permanent treatments and these gemstones will be more valuable than those with non permanent treatments. The most common permanent treatment is heat treatment, but treatments vary significantly depending on the stone.

Treated (non-permanent treatment): Non-permanent treatments are less accepted and less valuable than permanent ones. This is because the attractive qualities that the treatment provides to the gemstone will not last forever. An example of a common non-permanent treatment is dying. Most dyed colors will eventually fade. In some gemstone categories, these treatments are even considered deceptive.

Synthetic or "created": Gemstones that are given these labels are "genuine" gems that have been made by humans in laboratories. Not all gemstones can be made synthetically. Many gemstones that can be made synthetically are not because the costs of creating them are not much lower than the costs of finding them naturally. Commonly created gemstones include sapphire, ruby and spinel. In the case of pearls, this process is so accepted that it the norm, rather than the exception.

Imitation or "fake": In the final category on this continuum are substances that pretend to be something they are not. For example, a jewelry maker can put a cut piece of blue glass in a ring and call it "imitation blue topaz". In the case of "fake" stones, the value of the jewelry or the gemstone is not at all affected by what it is pretending to be. Such gems should only be bought for personal enjoyment or for fun, with the understanding that it is not something of great value.

Before buying a gemstone, it is important to research the possible treatments, synthetics and imitations beforehand and to ask the seller the right questions so that you know what you're getting.
About the Author
To learn more about gemstones and how to shop for them, visit ShopGemstones.com - your guide to buying gemstone jewelry.
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