Stones created in a lab are chemically, physically and optically identical to those mined underground — but they have fewer flaws, a lighter carbon footprint and cost less, too.
The more expensive and hard-to-find natural gems in jewelry, such as diamond (white and fancy color), sapphire (blue and other colors), emerald, ruby and opal, are favorite lab-created stones. They're not gem imitations; lab-created gemstones are the real deal. They are grown in a laboratory but are identical chemically, physically and optically to natural gems. An imitation gemstone, while also artificially made, does not follow nature’s recipe, so it’s completely different physically, chemically and optically from the natural gem it copies.
How they’re made
The mineral composition of lab-created stones is created through a process similar to what nature does beneath the earth over millions of years, but in a lab at a fraction of the time, and for a fraction of the cost of mining.
The average person would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a natural and lab-created stone. It takes a trained eye, high magnification and other instruments.
The main distinction is natural gems typically have inclusions from the crystallization process — gases and other minerals mixing during the molten stage of stone creation. Because lab-created stones rely on a steady, controlled process of applying minerals, heat and pressure, they usually have fewer inclusions.
So you get high-quality lab-created stones, and their prices are significantly lower than their natural gemstone counterparts. With different setting options, from sterling silver to gold in many colors and karats, lab-created stones provide choices Mother Nature can’t give in the same way.
In addition to getting a rare, top-quality fine gemstone look for less, many consumers are attracted to lab-created stones for other reasons. Environmentally speaking, lab-created stones do not tax natural resources the way the process for natural gems does — no mines are dug, the labs use a fraction of the utilities and resources necessary for a mining operation and leave behind less pollutants.
Whether you’re buying a gift or treating yourself, purchase lab-created stone jewelry from a trusted jeweler, who discloses what your stone is and how to care for it. Just as there are different quality levels in natural gems, the same goes for lab-created stones. Make sure you understand what you’re getting for the money you’re spending, especially when paying a premium for a piece.