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How to Determine if an Emerald is Real or Synthetic

Updated on June 24, 2014
Natural Colombian Emeralds (No Oil)
Natural Colombian Emeralds (No Oil) | Source

Flawless natural emeralds are extremely rare and are the most expensive, well-known gemstones second only to diamonds. This green variety of beryl gets its color from chromium or vanadium impurities.

With the huge increase in the number of synthetic emeralds being produced around the world, how can you know if you're emerald is natural or synthetic?

Emeralds are created by similar methods both in nature and in the laboratory. Heat and pressure and the correct elements produce this magnificent green gemstone.

Because synthetic emeralds are created in the laboratory there is no limit to the number of gemstones that can be created. Natural emeralds are however very limited and quite rare due to the unique natural circumstances that must occur in order for emeralds to be created in nature. Because of this, natural emeralds are considerably more valuable than laboratory-grown emeralds.


What are the Differences Between Natural and Synthetic Emeralds?

Natural and synthetic emeralds have the same chemical composition and crystal make-up. This makes it difficult to tell the difference between them. In fact, it is nearly impossible for someone other than a gemologist to determine which is which.

Here are some of the major differences that the experts can use to determine if an emerald is natural or synthetic:

  • The specific gravity of natural emeralds is higher than that of synthetic emeralds.
  • A Refractometer is used to calculate the speed of luminous rays arising from the emerald. The refractive indices of natural emerald are higher in natural emeralds than synthetic emeralds.
  • Synthetic emerald contains feathery inclusions which are not found in natural emeralds.
  • Synthetic emeralds may contain air bubbles which are not found in natural emeralds.

Which is Better, Natural or Synthetic Emeralds?

Be aware that the term "Genuine Emerald" can apply to both natural and lab created emeralds. Both natural and lab created emeralds are made from the same chemicals, minerals or elements as those made by nature.

From a collector or investor's point of view, natural emeralds are far better than synthetic emeralds.

The ability to produce an unlimited supply of synthetic emeralds considerably lowers the value of synthetic emeralds versus their natural counterparts.

If using emeralds in jewelry however, synthetic emeralds are often the better choice.

Natural emeralds are notorious for their flaws. Flaws are often masked by filling fractures with artificial material to help hide the imperfections and improve the gemstones strength. Natural emeralds are often oiled to help improve their appearance.

These flaws are not normally present in laboratory created emeralds making them a better choice for use in jewelry. Laboratory created emeralds are more durable and have better color than their natural counterparts of the same cost.

For companies that produce large quantities of jewelry, they need a consistent supply of durable gemstones. Synthetic emerald helps meet that need for consistency.

Most emeralds found in chain jewelry stores today are synthetic emeralds. These emeralds are often marketed as "genuine emerald" because technically they are genuine because the composition of the emerald is identical to natural emeralds.

Although synthetic emeralds are often called "genuine emerald" they should never be called "natural emerald".

Emerald crystal in calcite and shale matrix from Colombia.
Emerald crystal in calcite and shale matrix from Colombia. | Source

Selecting a Natural Emerald Gemstone

When selecting gemstones most gemstone dealers refer to the four C's to help determine a gemstones value. The four C's are Color, Clarity, Cut and Carat Weight.

Color:

The most valuable emeralds usually have a pure green to blueish green color. The green color should be quite intense with vivid color saturation.

Clarity:

Natural emeralds usually have inclusions or imperfections within them due to the way they are created in nature. Synthetic emeralds often lack these natural inclusions.

Although natural emeralds usually have inclusions these inclusions should not distract from the beauty of the gemstone and the gemstone should be clear and not cloudy or or lack transparency.

Cut:

Emeralds are usually found in a specific crystal shape in nature. Because of this most emeralds are cut in a rectangular shape called an emerald cut.

Although the emerald cut is the most common gemstone cut, emeralds can be cut to any shape other gemstones are cut.

Carat Weight:

Carat Weight refers to the gemstones weight. Emeralds are lighter than diamonds so a one-carat emerald will be larger than a one-carat diamond.

Where do Emeralds Come From?

Emeralds can be found in many locations around the world. The most valuable emeralds found today come from Colombia, South America.

Over 60% of the worlds emeralds com from Colombia. High quality Columbia emeralds have a brilliant deep green color due to their chromium content. This color makes Columbia emeralds are highly sought after and emeralds that are found in other parts of the world are often marketed as Columbia emeralds in an attempt to get a higher price.

Large quantities of emeralds are not only found in Columbia but also in Brazil and Zambia. Smaller quantities of emeralds also come from the United States, Australia, Afghanistan, Russia, and Pakistan.

If the Emerald Has Flaws it Must Be Real, Right?

In an effort to create more natural looking lab created or synthetic emeralds, some emeralds are created with intentional flaws to make the emerald more difficult to differentiate from it's natural counterpart.

Although flaws are most often found in natural emeralds the presence of flaws does not guarantee that an emerald is natural.

Beware of Fakes

Due to the high cost of emeralds there have been many ways invented to fake them over the years.

Faceted glass may give the illusion of emerald but it does not have the durability or value of an emerald.

Many of the fake versions of emerald are very difficult to detect unless it is evaluated by a professional gemologist.

If you intend on purchasing a genuine natural emerald you should have the gemstone evaluated and certified by an expert gemologist before purchasing.

Caring for Your Emerald

While emerald is actually quite hard with a Mohs hardness of 7.5 to 8, it is prone to having internal cracks and flaws that make it easily damaged by hard blows or by rapid temperature changes.

  • Don't clean natural emeralds using steam or ultrasonic cleaners.
  • Keep your emeralds away from high heat. This could damage the fillers and oils used in treating your natural emerald.
  • Do not use your emerald jewelry in an environment where it would be damaged from blows or heavy impacts.
  • Keep your emeralds away from other gemstones that are harder than it to prevent scratching. Diamonds, rubies and sapphires all have the potential of scratching your emerald.
  • Over time, the oils or fillers used to treat your natural emerald may diminish. As the gemstone looses these treatments from years of wear, the gemstone may become more brittle and prone to damage. If this is the case, a professional jeweler can retreat your gemstone.
  • To clean your emerald, wash it in room temperature water to prevent it from being shocked by rapid temperature changes. Never clean your emerald with harsh detergents, petroleum distillates or organic solvents.
  • Store your emerald jewelry in a place that will protect it from dust, heat and dampness. You should also protect it from being bumped by other pieces of jewelry.

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

    Jyoti Kothari 

    3 years ago from Jaipur

    Marty Andersen,

    Thanks for an insightful article. Rated up and useful. Good work, keep it up. It has given a good detail about the topic.

  • jellygator profile image

    jellygator 

    5 years ago from USA

    Very interesting!

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