Here on the internet it is very common to see the terms synthetic, lab grown, lab created and simulated used interchangeably.
So what is the difference?
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the terms synthetic, lab grown and lab created should only be used to define gemstones that share virtually all chemical, optical, and physical characteristics of its natural mineral counterpart.
The Federal Trade Commission requires that any gem material produced in a laboratory be described in a way that leaves no doubt that is not a naturally mined gemstone.
Simulated is the term used to define stones that look like a particular stone but do not have the same chemical and hardness properties.
Below are some of the ways in which synthetic gemstones are made.
Flame fusion - Verneuil Process
Flame fusion created the first commercially successful synthetic gemstones. This process involves dropping powdered chemicals through high-temperature flames. The powder then melts and falls onto a rotating pedestal where it produces a crystal. Today flame fusion remains one of the least expensive and most common ways to create synthetic gemstones. Corundum and spinel are examples of the gemstones usually created from the flame fusion process.
Synthetic Pink Spinel
Crystal Pulling - Czochrakski Process
Crystal pulling began in the early 1900s. This process involves nutrients that are melted within a crucible. The crystal grows from a seed that is dipped into the melted nutrients and then it slowly pulled away from the liquid as it grows. Alexandrite, chrysoberyl, corundum and garnet are examples of gemstones created from the crystal pulling process.
Flux Growth Process
Flux is a solid material that dissolves other materials, similar to the way that water dissolves sugar. As this dissolved solution cools, synthetic crystals form. The Flux method can take up to a year to grow a crystal and the equipment to do so is extremely expensive. Emerald, ruby, sapphire, alexandrite, and spinel are some of the gemstones that can be created using the Flux method.
Hydrothermal Growth Process
Like the flux process, the hydrothermal growth process requires patience and money. It is the only method for successfully growing synthetic quartz. In this process, heat and pressure imitate the natural conditions found deep within the earth that result in the formation of natural gemstones. Nutrients are dissolved in a water solution. As this solution cools, synthetic crystals grow. Amethyst and citrine are gemstones commonly created from the hydrothermal process.
*Synthetic diamonds, emeralds, aquamarines and alexandrites are still very expensive gemstones. In fact, a beautiful synthetic can cost just as much as a naturally mined stone.
- Star Sapphire
As of today, there are no lab creation processes producing synthetic tourmaline, topaz, peridot or tanzanite. In these stones, either they are naturally mined gemstones, or they're simulated (stones that look like these stones but are in fact glass or some other man-made material).