Friday, April 30, 2010

In Praise of Synthetic Gems

When I was in art school, we spoke of synthetic gemstones in gemology class - how they are created in the laboratory and how to tell when a gem is a knock-off. But we were never encouraged to use them in our work. Deemed second best, these humble lab-grown gems were destined for "practice" stone setting, never to let their dazzle delight the senses of anyone with a refined sense of style.

I feel as though I have to stand up for the humble cubic zirconia, the disrespected laboratory corundum, the reconstituted "ambrelle" and hematite, the "black onyx" which is actually just a kind of quartz, the lovely copper coloured glass that we label "goldstone". These tiny pieces of beauty are a tribute to the innovation of humans. Nobody died for them. No land was destroyed to get them. Massive amounts of money and resources were saved in their creation. Add to these things the fact that these gems are more colourful, more dazzling to the eye, cleaner, clearer, and, in some cases, more durable, than their natural counterparts, and sell at a fraction of the price, and I would say that my choice is clear. I choose synthetic.

People want something rare, though - something that was suffered for and meticulously excavated. Princesses want their heros to fight dragons, not slave over an alchemist's tools. Even if it means that the end result is a dirty, included, foggy old emerald instead of a clear, forest green laboratory beryl? I find something flawed in that mentality. This point was driven home to me in gemology class as we learned about the Diavik diamond mine. An aerial photo shows an enormous open mine with a huge sea wall built around it. In the often harsh northern climate of the Northwest Territories, people must be flown in to work, fed, housed, and paid. Diamonds are beautiful, durable and (maybe not as) rare (as the industry would have us believe), but there is nothing in this photo of the Diavik mine that convinces me that spending this much energy and expending these resources (not to mention the casual pillage of the land) is worth it for the gem that will come out of that land. It's white (mostly), extremely hard, shows wonderful prismatic colours, returns a lot of light to the eye when it's cut properly, and should last forever. So does a moissanite or a cubic zirconia.

I always had a crush on that geeky alchemist. The hero was always just a little too full of himself.

top: Silver ring with synthetic ruby (lab corundum)
middle: The Diavik mine north of Yellowknife, NWT
left: earrings with goldstone navette gems (glass with copper dust inclusions) and reconstituted hematite cabochons.

Jewellery by Gracebourne. See listings on Etsy:



  1. Lovely jewelry. All too often people get caught up in having the "real thing", when they couldn't tell the difference between a synthetic lab grown crystal and one mined from the earth.

    Oh yes and that huge pit you've pictured is one prime reason to use man made gemstones. Incredible what scars we inflict upon this lovely planet of ours...all in the name of greed. :(

  2. That picture of the Diavik mine affected me very deeply. Showing it beside the end product kind of desecrates the beauty of the diamond, no? I think that, included in the paperwork for the diamond that you buy, should be a big picture postcard of that ugly mine.

  3. wow it's the very nice message and very cute images i like it thank you for posting....

    Synthetic Gemstones