Natural vs. Lab Created Sapphire
Sapphires are very precious and desirable gemstones, greatly appreciated and sought after by jewelry lovers. It's easy to see why: The colors of natural sapphires are gorgeous, and they're extremely durable. As with most gems, you have the option to choose between natural stones and man-made, lab-created sapphires. Here's a quick rundown of the different characteristics of the two.
Naturally vs Synthetic Gemstones
Many people confuse the word “synthetic” with “fake.” In many cases, that's inaccurate. “Synthetic” typically refers to something in nature that is developed, component for component, in a controlled lab environment. Such is the case with some gemstones.
Sapphires are made from corundum, both in nature (where they’re mined) and in labs (where they're harvested once the predetermined development period is over). Because no synthetic material is used to replace the corundum used to create sapphires, real and synthetic sapphires are indistinguishable from one another by hardness and visual characteristics alone. To find the differences between the two types of sapphires, you have to look closely at the methods of formation and the environments in which both kinds of stones are developed.
Origin of Natural Sapphires
Sapphires, along with just about any of the harder gemstones (diamond, moissanite, etc.) aren’t just used for jewelry. They also have many industrial uses, from windows to lenses on a variety of devices and tools. The first such use of sapphires occurred over three centuries ago, when industrial-grade sapphires were used as bearings for time pieces such as watches and clocks of that time period.
Various sapphires have differing origin stories. Blue sapphires were among the first sapphires discovered, in places like Kenya, Ceylon, Australia and Vietnam. Other shades of sapphires, such as green, pink, purple, and the ever-popular multi-colored (parti) sapphires, have been discovered in more recent decades, in mines within or near the same regions as traditional blue sapphires.
One interesting note about the origins of natural sapphires: The region from which they originate, or the age of a particular fancy (different-colored) sapphire, can have a bigger impact on a gem's market price than its official grade and rating from the GIA (or other expert gemological facility or organization). Natural sapphires of all colors that are rated as gemstone quality and marketed as such are rare enough. Sapphires from certain regions and time periods, such as those from Burma when it was still known as Myanmar, are more valuable than some mined recently in Australia — regardless of flaws or the overall quality of the sapphires.
Origin of Synthetic Sapphires
The creation of synthetic sapphires followed the discovery of synthetic forms of corundum and the introduction of synthetic rubies in the late 1800’s. Both rubies and sapphires form from varieties of corundum, which is why there are no true red sapphires (although shades of pink sapphires exist, and are quite rare and valuable).
Since their first uses in the industrial market, synthetic sapphires have been created in various gem labs as a less expensive and more easily duplicated alternative to naturally formed sapphires.
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Price Difference Between Natural and Synthetic Sapphires
The prices of different gemstones vary, depending on the hue and/or saturation and purity of the gem, clarity, facet shape and quality, and number (or lack) of inclusions, or flaws. A gem’s value may be decided based on where, how, and when it was mined.
Depending on their size, original blue-colored loose natural sapphires of average to higher quality can cost more than $30 per carat. The best quality and highest-rated sapphires could cost around $50 or more per carat. Their synthetic counterparts are about $8 to $10 less expensive per carat. In some cases, the environment in which the stones were synthesized was so similar to “real” sapphire formation that it produced a gemstone almost identical to natural. These synthetic gems could fall into a price range almost equal to natural sapphires of the same or similar quality.
Note that these are often not the final prices for gemstones on the jewelry market. Their pairings with other gemstones, jewelry settings, cuts, etc. will ultimately affect the sapphire’s retail price.
If you consider buying a real and authentic stone for its value and properties, it's essential to deal with a well-known, reputable dealer you can trust. This is because the differences between the stones can only be differentiated by an expert. If you're looking for such a dealer, contact us today!
Ways to Tell the Difference Between Natural and Synthetic Sapphires
While research and discussions with gem experts and jewelry retailers will help you understand the differences between natural and man-made sapphires, there is little visual or physical evidence that differentiates one from the other.Some of the differences between natural sapphires and synthetic ones include:
- Flawlessness: Natural sapphires always have inclusions (flaws) when mined from the earth that formed in the sapphire crystal as the gemstone developed. Synthetic sapphires, as with other lab-created gems, form without these inclusions, because the natural variables to which the natural sapphires were exposed do not exist inside the laboratory conditions.
- Price tag
- Location: In regions where no sapphire mines have been located, but sapphire prices are seemingly low.
Tips for Choosing Which Type of Sapphire is for You
When choosing between buying a natural or synthetic sapphire, here are some things you might want to keep in mind:
- Desired carat size