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Synthetic Gems and Enhancements

Ever looked at grandma’s ring with the large red or blue coloured gemstone mounted in the center, and wondered how much it is really worth? Chances are in terms of monetary value; it is probably not worth much.

The majority of pieces produced during the 1930s contained synthetic stones. As we developed and progressed into the industrial era, the price to reproduce a synthetic gemstone became far more reasonably priced and extremely popular – thus almost everyone from that era had at least one ring containing synthetic gems.

Natural amethyst and rock crystal quartz crystals (left) and synthetic amethyst and synthetic rock crystal quartz crystal (right).  Image and text supplied by GIA

People have tried to create gemstones for many years, however, the process only began to become successful around the 1800s. In 1877, Edmond Fremy, a French chemist grew the first synthetic gem quality stones of reasonable size.

In 1900, August Verneuil, devised the technique to create Ruby – this basic method is still used to grow crystals today. The technique involves dropping powdered raw materials into a furnace at temperatures in excess of 2000°C. The materials melt and form droplets which are drawn out of the furnace as “boules”. From this roughly cylindrical shape the gemstone is then faceted in the same manner as natural gems are.

synthetic gems
Synthetic ruby can be produced via flux growth processes (crystal and cut stone on left), and flame fusion (boule and cut stone on right).  Image and text supplied by GIA

There are obviously thousands of different colours and shapes available and they are mostly distinguished from natural gemstone by the shape of the “growth lines” and the type and nature of the inclusions present in the gem.


There are other sneaky and tricky things that humans have discovered that they can do to natural gemstones in order to make them more attractive to our senses.

Some diamonds are made in high pressure high temperature environments, including this collection of synthetic diamonds in a variety of colors. Image and text supplied by GIA

The first and most common form of enhancement performed on gems today is known as irradiation and can be in several forms, from the Indian’s leaving Carnelian out in the sun to create a more orange colour, to modern gemmologists exposing gems to all sorts of radioactive materials (this process takes thousands of years to occur in nature).

Gems can also be dyed if they are porous. Some gemstone colours become more intense and even change colour when heated to specific temperature.

Oils are another enhancements that have been used for thousands of years to fill visible inclusions and slight blemishes; this technique is most common with emeralds.

Some stones are even bonded together to create the impression of pleochroism; like the garnet topped doublet which consists of a coloured glass base bonded to a thin top section of garnet. Pleochroic gemstones refers to gems that appear to have different colors or depth of color when viewed from different angles

Some purists feel it is not good practice to use or supply gemstones that have been enhanced or man made.

I personally feel that jewellery is an extremely personnel thing and people are very sentimental about their little treasures, some of which are worth tens of thousands of rands. Wear what you like and want to wear, if it’s beautiful or means something to you, no amount of money can replace that value.

— Zak


Goldfish Jewellery Design Studio works with all precious metals, stones and diamonds. For further information, please contact us.