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How to Avoid Buying Synthetic Gemstones

Updated on July 15, 2013

How to Avoid Buying Synthetic Gemstones

If you like the idea of buying loose gemstones and you want to avoid buying synthetics, the best way to do that is to avoid buying gemstones that are able to be synthesized. As a certified gemologist, I have had thousands of gemstones pass through my lab, and the amount of synthetics I weed out is very high. But believe it or not, there are a lot of gems on the market that don't yet have a synthetic counterpart. Some gemstones are either not popular enough to make it worth the time to synthesize, or else their crystal structure is complex enough that they haven't been able to be synthesized yet. There are others that have been able to be synthesized for over 100 years. That's right, the first synthetic gemstone was a synthetic ruby created in the year 1907 using the Flame Fusion process, also known as the Verneuil process. Below I've listed two types of gems, those which have a synthetic, and those which don't. I've also listed the prevalence of the synthetics in the market. If you have any questions about synthetics or gemstones in general, feel free to ask in the comments section.

One of my favorite gemstones in my collection.
One of my favorite gemstones in my collection.

Common Gems and Synthetics

Gemstone
Able to be Synthesized?
Prevalence in the Market
Amethyst
Yes
Very High
Aquamarine
Yes
Medium
Citrine
Yes
Very High
Diamond
Yes
Medium
Emerald
Yes
High
Garnet
Yes
High
Opal
Yes
Medium
Ruby
Yes
High
Peridot
Yes
Medium
Sapphire
Yes
High
Topaz
No
None
Tourmaline
No
None
Tanzanite
No
None

Word of Warning on Topaz and Tanzanite

Even though I just wrote that Topaz and Tanzanite can't be synthesized, they both have imitation stones that are very convincing to an untrained buyer. I get Topaz imitations all the time that look just like the real thing.

Gem Buying Tips

As a certified gemologist and a gem dealer, I've had thousands of gemstones pass through my lab. I buy constantly and get synthetics constantly. Synthetics have been around for a very long time. They've been able to almost perfect the craft of synthesizing many types of gems. If you want to buy gems and want to avoid buying synthetics, here are two good tips:

  1. Buy Lesser Known Gems -- Gemstones like Iolite, Zircon, Sphalerite, Kunzite, etc. all don't have synthetic counterparts, mostly because they're not very popular. They're still quite beautiful though, and very affordable for nice looking gems. Zircon is one of my favorite gems. It comes in a nice bright blue, just like Topaz, and has lots of fire. It's a real gemstone, not to be confused with the synthetic Cubic Zirconia.
  2. Specialize in One Type of Gemstone -- With so many different types of gems out there, it can be overwhelming, even for a certified gemologist like me. That's why specializing in one type of gemstone can be very handy. Did you know that Tourmaline is so varied that it can literally come in a million different colors. And it's mined worldwide, even here in the United States. It's my favorite gemstone by far, and very under appreciated. The more you become familiar with what a gemstone is supposed to look like, the easier it will be for you to spot an imitation.
  3. Buy Tourmaline and Ethiopian Opal -- These two types of gems are both very prevalent in the market right now and the likelihood of getting synthetics and imitations is low, even on a site like Ebay. They're both very beautiful gemstones and are going for inexpensive prices. Tourmaline can't be synthesized because of the complexity of its crystal structure, and Ethiopian Opals are all over the market right now and are very beautiful.

Synthetic Gems vs Treated Gems

In today's gemstone market, you unfortunately have to worry just as much about treated gemstones as you do synthetic gemstones. What happens to treated gemstones? Gemstones are treated in order to enhance their color, clarity, or both. Most gemstones on the market are able to be treated, but there are a few that don't have many treatments. If you want to avoid synthetics and treatments altogether, your best bet is to go with a gemstone that's relatively unknown, something like Iolite, Sphalerite, Zircon, etc. Because these gems aren't very popular, the cookers out there haven't taken the time to come up with treatments for them. So it's relatively safe to buy them and not get a treated gemstone. But be wary even of big websites. JTV was caught in a scandal over the gemstone Andesine only a few years ago, where their gemstones were shown to be fake. And Cosco got in trouble only a short while ago because their Diamonds weren't real. So be careful where you buy.

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