The history of lab-created or synthetic gemstones is much longer than you might think.  Scientists began making synthetic ruby back  in the late 1800’s.  Initially, rubies were made for industrial rather than decorative purposes.  Ruby is harder than steel, so it can hold up to moving metal parts.  It actually helps reduce friction in devices like watches or compasses, allowing the metal pieces to move with a consistent pattern.  

In the early 1900’s, a young boy named Carroll Chatham tried to grow diamonds in his garage.  He was fascinated with the work of Henri Moissan, a French chemist who also tried to grow diamonds but ended up with Moissanite.  Making diamonds requires more heat and pressure than Chatham could produce at the time, so he re-directed his focus to emeralds. Even then, the work wasn’t easy.  In fact, his first emerald crystals were accidentally formed.  By this time Chatham was in college, and it took him three years to figure out how to replicate the “accident.” 

          Lab-created Emerald Rough Crystals

Lab-created Cut and Polished Emerald

 

 

 

 

By 1938, Chatham had perfected the process of growing emeralds for jewelry, and he moved on to creating other valued gems like sapphire, ruby, opal, spinel, and alexandrite.  Chatham began selling his lab-created gems under the Chatham label.  The company is now 80 years old and is one of the leaders in the making of lab-created colored gem stones.  Carroll never gave up on his dream of growing diamonds and, in the late 1980’s, the company was successful.  Unfortunately, Carroll didn’t live to see this dream come true.  

In 2018 there are many, many companies that produce diamonds–companies like Brilliant Earth, Clean Origin, and EcoStar.  Years of refining the High Pressure, High Temperature technique has led to better quality diamonds.  While diamonds have many industrial uses, today’s lab-created diamonds are beautiful and can also be used in jewelry.  Anyone purchasing an engagement ring today has a decision to make that his/her parents and grandparents didn’t have to make–Should the center stone be natural or lab-grown?  

                                    Photo courtesy of Rogers & Holland

There are pros and cons to purchasing a synthetic diamond or colored gemstone.  Some of the advantages are 1) synthetics are less expensive than their natural counterparts; 2) growing synthetics is kinder to the environment than mining for natural stones; and 3) gem cutters can sacrifice more synthetic material to create the perfectly cut gem because, well, you can always grow more!  Partly because of these advantages, we’ve seen more customers move towards this option.  

One big disadvantage of a synthetic stone is that it’s, well, synthetic.  Fine jewelry symbolizes pure and natural feelings of love, gratitude, or friendship.  How will it feel to wear or give jewelry that has a lab-created stone?  Another disadvantage is that synthetic stones will only go down in value.  They are a manufactured item and, as the technology improves in the making of them, the cost to produce will decrease.  Fine natural gems are rare, and that rarity will keep values high.  

It’s a decision every consumer has to make for him/herself.  What’s imperative is that consumers are presented with clear options, and that they know what they are buying.  Gemstones are not obviously natural or synthetic, so customers must rely on reputable jewelers to distinguish between the two.  For an important jewelry purchase, go to an A.G.S. (American Gem Society) member store.  There you will find associates dedicated to the highest integrity in the jewelry industry.  Ask questions and do comparison shopping.  And feel lucky to live in a time when there are so many gem stone options.