To Be or Not To Be…Real

Last week I received an e-mail newsletter about the differences between natural, synthetic, and imitation gemstones. I thought this might be an interesting topic to cover, so I decided to do a little more research on it.

Of the three descriptive words above, natural is probably the most easily understood. They come from nature. Easy, right?

Natural gemstones are formed in nature without the aid of humans. They form over long periods of time using a vast array of minerals, elements, and effects from the Earth and their surrounding environments. They can be found miles under ground, in the most remote areas of the world, and even along muddy riverbeds. Often when we find gemstones in nature, we don’t even realize they are what they are immediately. Most gemstones look like your average rock when they are in their rough form. They are dirty, dull, and have rough, uneven edges.

These stones have to be polished and often they are treated before they are used in your jewelry. Many of the stones are stabilized with resin, bleached, dyed, or heated. You can find a list of different types of treatments in a previous blog entry here: Gemstone Treatment Definitions

The other two terms, synthetic and imitation, may sound as if they are the same concept, but they are actually different.

Both terms mean “fake”, but synthetic gemstones are more similar to natural gemstones than imitation gemstones. Synthetic gemstones are created in a laboratory using modern technology to replicate the conditions and elements in the earth which create various gemstones naturally. These stones also take a much shorter time to be created than the natural versions.

Synthetic stones can be cut, colored, and polished to look just like their natural counterparts. The technology has gotten so good, that some experts even have trouble telling the difference without analyzing them under a microscope. One of the biggest differences between natural and synthetic gemstones is the lack of inclusions in the synthetic gemstones. Inclusions are small flaws or imperfections that are found in natural gemstones due to their creation processes. It is like a stone’s fingerprint. If a person is looking for a truly flawless stone, this might be the way to go, but if the difference between “real” verses “fake” is important, this needs to be considered.

To go even further from natural gemstones than synthetic stones, we have imitation gemstones. Imitation gemstones are also referred to as simulated gemstones. They do not have any of the same chemical properties as their natural counterparts like the synthetic stones have. Made of glass, plastic, ceramic or other materials, imitation gemstones are designed to look like natural stones and sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two.

To the untrained eye, it can be very difficult to tell the difference between natural, synthetic, and imitation gemstones. For this reason, it is important to always work with a reputable jeweler when purchasing gemstone jewelry, especially if you are looking for natural gemstones. Do not be afraid to ask if a stone is natural if that is what you are shopping for and the jeweler does not disclose that information or is not clear about it.

I hope this brief summary of the differences between natural, synthetic, and imitation gemstones has been helpful for you. If you have any questions, please let me know!

Thanks for stopping by!


Emerald – May’s Birthstone

Now that we are almost to the end of May, I thought I would do a write-up on this month’s birthstone, emerald.

Emeralds come from the mineral beryl, a colorless stone which has impurities in it to give it the green color we associate with emeralds. I have previously discussed aquamarine, which is also from the beryl family.

Although they are a hard stone (7.5–8 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness), emeralds have many inclusions in them, which cause them to lack in toughness. An inclusion is anything that is enclosed within a gemstone. These inclusions can often be air pockets and small fractures, which can cause the gemstone to break more easily therefore reducing its toughness. (Please note hardness and toughness are not the same.)

The inclusions in the stones are generally filled with oils and/or polymers to help make them stronger. These treatments are regarded as standard practice for emeralds; however, there are different amounts by which a stone may be treated and it is always good to ask your jeweler for a treatment report. Knowing how your stone is treated will save you headaches in the long run. Because most emeralds have inclusions, if you put them into an ultrasonic cleaner, they will break or fracture at the inclusions.

According to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), “the first known emerald mines were in Egypt, dating from at least 330 BC into the 1700s. Cleopatra was known to have a passion for emerald, and used it in her royal adornments.” Today, Colombia is one of the largest sources of emeralds and Colombian emeralds are also highly sought after for their beautiful color.

If you are interested in the metaphysical properties of the emerald, it is thought to make its wearer more intelligent. It was also once believed to cure illnesses and the green color is thought to reduce stress and relieve eye strain.

I keep thinking about working an emerald piece into the Gretchen Smith Jewelry lineup, but I haven’t decided what I want to do yet. Do you have any ideas?

Thanks for reading!

Where do my stones come from?

Let’s shift topics a bit here. I am currently working on obtaining a certification through the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), who is regarded as the world’s foremost authority in gemology. The certification is titled “Accredited Jewelry Professional (AJP)” and through the courses I’m taking I’m learning a lot about the elements that go into each piece of jewelry. One of the subjects we looked into was the origin of gemstones. I was very fascinated by this and would like to share it with you.

Where I come from (Central Pennsylvania), we are not really known for our jewelry-quality gemstones. However, we do have some supplies of quartz, agate, amethyst, fluorite, magnesite, and corundum (which can appear as sapphire or ruby). Have you ever wondered where your gemstones do come from? It’s an interesting and eye-opening subject to research, that’s for sure.

The most beautiful gems come from some of the farthest reaches of the Earth. In these locations, mining is often done by companies with limited capital and primitive equipment, which can put the workers’ safety in jeopardy. Most of the work is done by hand with picks, shovels, and washing pans (pans with fine screens in them used to separate the other rocks and debris from the gemstones) so it is very labor intensive.

These areas do not have the safety standards we find in America, so the mining operations are not only labor intensive, but they can also be dangerous. Mine floods and collapses are very serious and possible risks. However, because the residents of these countries live in such poverty, they are willing to take the chance and risk their safety in order to make money to support their families.

Gemstones make an interesting journey before they end up in your jewelry box. As I noted above, they start out as rough stones in mines throughout the world. Then they are carefully removed from the mines often through manual labor. They are then shipped to a manufacturer who cuts and polishes the stones. The way a stone is cut is often related to the way it is shaped when it comes out of the mine. This is done to ensure the least amount of stone loss during cutting as possible. After a stone is cut and polished, it is sent to a dealer who will sell it to a retailer. You then purchase the stone from the retailer. Many companies are trying to reduce the middle man in this operation in an attempt to cut costs. They are aiming for the manufacturer and the dealer to be one person or company instead of two.


Here is a list of some of the places that are commonly known for their exquisite stones:

Myanmar (Burma) – Rubies

Kashmir (region straddling India and Pakistan) – Sapphires (also called Kashmir Sapphires)

Colombia – Emeralds

Brazil – Emerald, tourmaline, topaz, amethyst, alexandrite, and opal

Tanzania, Africa – Tanzanite

Austrailia – Black opal


Are there any gemstones found in the area where you live? What are they?

As always, thank you for stopping by and reading!